Financial Data
Updated 30 Mar 2020

The importance of creating a seamless customer experience

If you want to stand out in the retail environment, you need to give your customers something that your competitors aren’t – and we’re not talking about your products. 

Nadine Todd, 05 December 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Ian Fuhr, the founder of Sorbet, has a retail customer service story that he loves to share. He was attempting to return a pair of shoes to a major retailer. It was not a simple affair, largely because of ‘company policies’ that the young clerk trying to assist him could not sidestep. Everyone was in agreement that the unworn pair of shoes should be returned, but the item had since gone on sale, complicating things.

The result was that the customer service department was anything but, leading Fuhr to request a ladder so that he could take down the sign, since it was clearly false advertising.

Related: These 3 Hs will always fix a bad customer experience


A dissatisfied customer will tell between nine and 15 people about their experience. 13% will tell more than 20 people. – White House Office of Consumer Affairs

The customer is always right

One of Fuhr’s greatest irritations in life is poor customer service, and he has built an entire retail model around ensuring that Sorbet clients never, ever receive poor service. In Sorbet’s world, the customer is always right, no matter what.

Franchisees are instructed to accept any returns, even if the packaging has been opened, and the product has been used – or is even almost finished. He has worked out that the average Sorbet customer spends R5 000 a year, and replacing one product compared to that is worth the minor cost.

As a retail owner, have you worked out what your average customer spends, and what their loyalty is worth to your business?

Keeping customers loyal

Customers -loyal

Basil O’Hagan, founder of O’Hagans, the Brazen Head and BOH Marketing, has a simple rule: Marketing gets customers through the door, but great customer service keeps them there.

Customer service is more than just the overall service you offer people once they walk through your doors though. It’s equally important how you make them feel when entering your retail space. “The mood of your store is important for staff and customers,” says Miles Kubheka, owner of Vuyo’s. “The right mood keeps staff productive and personable towards customers, but it also allows you to make a clear impression on anyone entering your space.

“What do they see, feel, hear and smell when they enter? These are all things that you can control.”

Nicholas Haralambous, owner of male accessories boutique NicHarry, agrees. He has carefully designed his retail experience to touch the senses of his customers.

“We have developed our own scent, which subtly permeates each store. When a customer walks into a store it’s a familiar trigger, warm and inviting. When they unwrap their purchase at home the scent lingers. In the same manner, if they order online, we include the scent in the packaging as well. It’s a great way to illicit a memory response to our products.”

Haralambous also controls the music in his stores, adding to the overall experience he is crafting.

“There’s a lot to take into account when you’re designing a retail environment,” he explains. “Staff in particular get bored, and want to listen to their music. We’ve had to educate our team on a few base judgement calls. For example, if you’re in a store and the music is too loud and full of swearing, does this make you want to purchase socks? It’s easy to get consensus that no, it doesn’t. Once we’re all on the same page with this, I then make sure they have a wide selection of songs to choose from, even if they are all songs I have chosen.

“I subscribe to Google Play Music for R50 per month and I’ve created an extensive play list. We have a range of 4 000 songs and in-store staff can pick anything they want to play, and create playlists of the day.”

Related: How to keep customers coming back and repurchasing: Developing a back-end

Going above and beyond

Haralambous also believes that content is king, and retail employees should be able to talk about more than their products. “Each employee chooses a book to read a month, and then gives me a one-page summary. We want our sales staff to be able to have interesting conversations with our customers that aren’t all just sock-related.”

O’Hagan agrees. He advises using language that encourages customers to share their needs with you, particularly in a retail environment, and this involves more than a product pitch.

“Use language that encourages a conversation,” he says. “Don’t just ask, ‘Do you need help?’ The answer will be a reflexive, ‘No thanks, I’m just browsing.’ You won’t make a connection.

“Instead, ask questions that reveal the customer’s real needs. If your employees are selling cosmetics, they should be asking your customers questions specific to their reasons for being there: Has the dry weather been affecting your skin? This will propel you right into your customer’s world. You’re looking for a way to get them to open up, feel heard, and feel like you’re addressing their specific concerns.”

All of this works together to create a seamless customer experience that makes sales, but also creates a loyal customer who will return.


Consider your retail space through your customer’s eyes: Is it easy to navigate? Is it appealing to all five senses? Are your staff polite, informative and helpful? If you were a customer in your store, would you want to come back?

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About the author

Nadine Todd

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