Service Speed in Retail: Why Is It Important (And How Can You Improve It)?

Photo by Patrick Tomasso

Prioritizing good customer service has become the mantra of modern retail and a cornerstone for numerous successful brands including Amazon and Trader Joe’s, to name but a few. However, the customer service landscape is no longer just about quality service to consumers, but also about service speed and efficiency, too.

In today’s article, therefore, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the realms of speedy customer service, discussing why it’s now such an important factor, as well as offering actionable advice on how retailers can work to improve it for their own brand to bolster purchases, customer satisfaction and, more importantly, customer loyalty.

The need for speed with delivery

With so many retail brands and service providers now offering guaranteed next-day delivery on purchases online or in-store pickups, it’s no wonder that consumer’s expectations for speedy transactions are higher than ever. With many shoppers now browsing and buying all-manner of goods online, the need for speed in the order fulfillment process is paramount to meet this demand. If you’re unable to deliver products within a reasonable timeframe, it’s almost a guarantee that one of your competitors will and they could steal the sale right from under your nose.

Of course, pulling off speedy and efficient delivery logistics is often easier said than done, particularly for smaller enterprises with limited resources – but it isn’t impossible. With a robust order fulfillment strategy in place, processing customer purchases can be much simpler and streamlined, ensuring goods arrive on time.

Start with breaking down the order transaction process and analyzing all the elements needed to fulfill the order. From monitoring inventory and alerting stock pickers of a new order to packaging and logistics, find the best way to marry these fundamentals together into one slick process and orders will fly out seamlessly. One idea is to invest in some supply chain management software that will give you real-time data on stock levels, order statuses and more, ensuring any glitches or issues within the supply chain are highlighted and resolved quickly.

It goes without saying that within this whole speed service you should always keep an eye on ensuring you deliver a quality service, too. For instance, you may find a third party logistics supplier who guarantees quick dispatch, but you also want to be sure they take care of packages on route – nothing will disappoint a consumer more than a broken or damaged product, even if it did arrive bang on time.

For in-store pick ups, you can easily speed up the collection process by taking a leaf out of Amazon’s book with their Amazon Pickup Points. Naturally this is executed on a huge scale, but for smaller setups, consider installing secure lockers in retail outlets, giving customers the option to pick up items from their closest store without having the hassle of queuing at the till.

Be quick to respond to customer queries

Fast order dispatch is just one aspect of speedy customer service, however. Another key measure is also how quickly you respond to customer inquiries, whether that’s in store or online. After all, nothing dampens the prospects of a sale than a slow or in some cases non-existent response to a customer query. Plus, in an age where customer review sites and social media reign supreme, without prompt and quality responses to customer questions you could easily face a backlash within the online community – which is not good for any brand’s reputation.

With this in mind, when it comes to online communications think beyond offering the old school methods of talking to customers via phone, email and dare we say it, snail mail. These are still relevant in some cases, but are now rarely the go-to choice for busy shoppers, who want instant answers to those burning questions which, on the large part, can be found through live chat bots on websites or via social media pages.

Regardless of which lines of communication you offer consumers, the key here is to ensure they are well managed – answering customer questions as quickly as possible or at least offering them a timeline such as ‘We will respond to your query within 24 hours’. This will help to manage the customer’s expectations and demonstrate a level of good customer service. It also goes without saying that if you promise a response within a certain time period, always make sure it happens – even if you don’t have the answer right away, a courtesy reply saying you’re looking into it will generally be better received than a late reply.

In terms of brick-and-mortar stores, similar rules apply. Try to be proactive in ensuring sales assistants are attentive and visible on the shop floor to answer any potential queries – resolving their questions right away. This will negate the frustration of shoppers having to trawl the whole floor to find a person to talk to. In larger stores, you could even consider having customer information points dotted throughout.

Speedy check-out is a must

Another essential element of speedy service is the checkout process. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to wait in a long line to buy your purchases in a store or jump through a million hoops just to buy something online. Whether you’re operating in physical shops, online or both, be sure to optimize your payment process to give customers a fast and efficient experience of buying with you.

For brick-and-mortar shops, you should always make sure you offer multiple ways for shoppers to pay for goods to ensure a swift and streamlined checkout from the off. This should include the obvious cash, as well as contactless, mobile paying and wireless terminals. For some stores it could also be beneficial to install self-check out points of sale.

Within this it also goes to say that training staff on how to use each system is key, as well as investing in a fast internet connection and a sleek and efficient POS software program. Outdated and hard-to-use systems can add valuable seconds and minutes to the check out process, so you should do everything you can to claw back that time.

When it comes to ecommerce checkouts, shoppers want to be able to purchase items at the click of the button. Therefore, where possible online retailers should simplify the online buying process, ensuring users don’t have to fill in the same details more than once and only asking them for the essential information needed to make the transaction. For repeat customers, you could offer the option to save their details by creating a user account, which also works for you in terms of potential marketing and upselling opportunities if they opt in for this. You should also make the actual card payment process as quick, secure and reliable as possible – a timed out payment screen is never a good sign to a customer.

Finally, be sure to provide the shopper with key information about their order right away – either on screen, via email or preferably both. This will ensure they have everything they need to know regarding order tracking, payment and refunds at the click of their fingertips.

Outstanding customer service is an important part of gaining customer buy-in and loyalty, and typically involves a lot of different facets. However, one increasingly important factor is speed – and we hope that, with the above advice, you’ll fully understand it’s growing relevance and how to implement strategies of your own to improve the speed and effectiveness of your business’s service.

by Tom Brialey, Founder and Director of Action Storage