The importance of product knowledge is a feature of your customer service that it may be easy to overlook. We don’t think you should, and here’s why:
It’s one of the jobs of our sister company, Customer Perceptions, to figure out what your customers are thinking, to pick up on the things you may not. With that in mind we recently conducted a survey on the Retail and Hospitality industries. We asked YOUR customers what they felt were the key elements in determining a positive experience in a retail store or restaurant. There were some interesting results that might help direct some of your energies going forward.
The top result in the retail sector was perhaps obvious: 99.7% of respondents rated friendly and courteous staff as either important or very important. What may not be as obvious was the second most common result: 99.3% of respondents rated knowledgeable staff as either important or very important. Even in hospitality, 98.6% of respondents cited knowledgeable staff as important or very important. That means in hospitality, while it was regarded as less important than hygiene (rated 99.3% important or very important) or clear menu and pricing displays (99.7%), it obviously still represents a hugely significant element of the customer experience. That being the case, it’s worth spending some time considering how best to communicate product knowledge to your customers.
Moment 1 – Clear display
The survey underlines a difficulty inherent in all customer service – different people want different things. One customer suggested “I feel that Staff (sic) should be trained on approach to customer and staff should be willing to engage with customers…”, then the next suggested “I prefer to ask for assistance than to be badgered about whether I would like assistance…” Even in the hospitality sector the same grey area was in evidence: one respondent suggested that “Servers should be attentive without being annoying”, and another wrote “Never leave customers for too long but don’t be over at the table every 2 minutes…”Obviously these are judgement calls for your staff, and what constitutes badgering for one customer might for another customer constitute lack of attention.
It’s therefore important to emphasise the significance customers place on clear display of prices and product range, etc. This was especially true in hospitality, where 99.7% of respondents selected it as important, but even in retail 98.3% suggested that attractive display and clear pricing were either important or very important. Therefore the first and potentially most important way to impart product knowledge ought to be by display. There’s very little detail possible by this method, but key elements like price and range can be imparted to the customer in this very effective and direct way, and our surveys confirm customers like and actively look for it. It has the added bonus of taking some pressure off your staff – if customers find the information that they’re looking for right out in front of them, it may help your customer service or waiting staff judge better when their attention is required.
Moment 2 – Staff interaction
The second avenue through which product knowledge can be imparted is the most obvious and the most important – your staff. The percentage of respondents who rated it important or very important (99.3% in retail, 98.6% in hospitality) was enormous. Even in the comments section, 62 of our 281 respondents mentioned product knowledge again specifically for retail, and 59 for hospitality. When a customer reaches an impasse and can’t find the information they are looking for they turn to the staff, and almost 100% expect the staff to be able to answer. The importance of training your staff in the products or services you provide cannot be over-emphasised. Your staff must understand the products they are selling, or at the very, very least be able to lead a customer directly to someone who does.
Moment 3 – Returning Feedback
So far, so obvious! There is one final step to consider though. It may seem redundantly obvious to say that customers want to feel confident in the knowledge and expertise of your staff, but how obvious is it to your staff exactly what product information is most important to your customers? Only a small amount of product information can go on display, so make sure you’re catching the customers’ imaginations with what you put up there. When a staff member is asked about a product or service, what are the key points that they should hit to engage the maximum number of customers possible? By far the best way to gauge that is through your staff- what are customers asking about? What are the aspects of this product or service (or indeed any other product or service you may provide) that most effectively meet these customer needs? The most attractive displays are useless if they’re not displaying the information most relevant to your customers, and likewise staff that can ream off a list of product features are not as effective as staff that can identify what specific features will be of interest to your customers.
The product knowledge process should be seen as a circular one, where information is not only presented outward to customers, but returned from customers also. It’s a process that requires some investment of time and consideration not only in your in-store marketing/display and staff training, but also in a willingness to adapt and change in response to the feedback you’ll certainly receive.