The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.
By Charlena Berry
Service is the cornerstone of any retail experience, but it’s particularly important in the cannabis industry. Because of all the unique aspects and challenges to our product, our service needs to be on an entirely different level from many other retailers.
We must build trust with the customer to overcome their fears and worries; create an environment of inclusion so that all our customers, from the novice to the connoisseur, feel comfortable and welcome; and be educated enough to provide expert advice.
As retailers, we’re on the front lines of breaking the stigma against cannabis, and our service employees, whether you call them budtenders or sales associates, are the vanguard. They’re the ones directly interfacing with customers, which means they can have a huge impact in breaking the stigma, creating a delightful customer experience, and ultimately building loyalty and increasing sales.
Since it’s so important, let’s look at five strategies you can use to improve service for every customer who walks through your doors.
We’ll start with a simple but important tip: greet every customer who walks in the door. Your greeting is a customer’s first impression of your store. A warm welcome and a smile can go a long way to easing a customer’s worries and making them feel more comfortable. In most states, you’re required to check customers’ IDs as they enter anyway, so it’s easy to add a greeting.
The greeting is a perfect opportunity to begin assessing the type of customer you’re working with so you can tailor the experience to their needs. A great question to ask is “Have you been in before?”
If the answer is yes, then you know they’re probably not a first-time user, and you can say, “Welcome back!” If the answer is no, it could be a sign they’ll need a bit more guidance, and you might decide to pass them off directly to a sales associate, saying something like, “Welcome in! Karl will help you out and can answer any questions you might have.”
In assessing customers, you should also teach your employees to practice reading body language. New users often seem nervous or uncomfortable, while more experienced users tend to walk and carry themselves like they know what they’re looking for. Different customers give off different energies, and a good greeter will learn how to pick up on that.
After the greeting, initial assessment, and any browsing that’s needed, it’s time for the one-on-one sales associate–customer interaction, which should be adapted according to the type of customer: novice, connoisseur, or someone in between.
The first step of the interaction is thus identifying where the customer is in their cannabis journey. You may already have a rough idea based on the greeting assessment and their body language. From there, ask an open-ended question like “What are you looking for today?” or “What are you interested in?” The answer to that will be your guide for the remainder of the interaction.
A novice user might answer, “I’m not sure” or identify themselves as a new user, while a more experienced user will respond with something specific. You can then tailor the interaction according to the customer.
For example, if your customer is a novice user, keep explanations simple, and be careful with cannabis-specific jargon. You don’t want to overwhelm new users with information. They won’t be able to remember it all, and it could increase their anxiety.
If your user is a connoisseur, on the other hand, you don’t need to explain terminology or different consumption methods. Your job is simply to match them with the right products and, if possible, introduce them to something new. When you’re working with a connoisseur, it’s important to know your stuff, focus on specialty products and new offerings, and tell them about deals.
A key principle in retail is upselling (suggesting a customer buy a higher-quality, more expensive product) and cross-selling (suggesting a customer buy an additional product). Both of these strategies make you more profitable, but increased profit can’t be your only motivation, or you’re going to create a poor customer experience. For upselling and cross-selling to be most effective, you need to do them in a way that delights the customer.
With both upselling and cross-selling, the goal isn’t to make the customer buy something they don’t need; it’s to show them something they didn’t realize they needed. For instance, if a connoisseur comes in to buy a pre-roll, you could try upselling them to a new infused pre-roll that just came in.
That upsell makes sense. You’re letting them know about a cool new higher-quality product they might be interested in and weren’t aware of before. Essentially, cross-selling is about showing your customers their options.
As you upsell and cross-sell, don’t be pushy. If someone tells you they have a strict budget or they’re clearly in a hurry, don’t waste your time or theirs trying to force an upsell or cross-sell.
An old saying in business is “What gets measured, gets done.” If you want to improve your service quality, you need a way of measuring it.
Start by looking at your customer reviews—on Google, Leafly, Weedmaps, Instagram, and so on. Look for patterns and trends, both for things you’re doing right and things you’re doing wrong. Use this information to adjust store policies and coach sales associates on better service.
In addition to monitoring customer reviews, you should also conduct customer surveys. I recommend collecting customer emails or phone numbers in order to send out surveys. You could also include survey links at the bottom of the receipt, but since more and more people don’t want a receipt or throw it away immediately, I don’t recommend it.
For surveys to be most effective, you want to get as many responses as possible, so make the surveys convenient and quick to fill out, with only a few questions. Also give customers an incentive to complete the survey, like entering them into a sweepstakes to win a gift card or offering extra points in your loyalty program. As with customer reviews, make sure you follow up on any poor customer experiences.
In addition to looking over customer reviews and surveys on a weekly basis, you should track and monitor a number of service-related metrics, including:
These metrics are important because they can give you insights into customer behavior and allow you to forecast trends. For instance, you might find patterns in which types of products are often paired together, which will help you cross-sell more effectively, or you could better plan for a big holiday, like 4/20, by looking at your numbers from the previous year. You can also use these metrics to set goals.
Remember, though, that while metrics are important, the customer experience is always more important. You should measure all these things and strive to improve them, but don’t put so much pressure on your sales associates that they prioritize meeting their metrics over meeting the customer’s needs.
Right now, our product basically sells itself, but with growing competition, your service will become more and more critical. If you don’t put effort into this, other retailers will, and they’ll take your business.
What’s more, we have a responsibility as retailers to educate our customers. From the novice users to the connoisseurs, we can break the stigmas and create a delightful customer experience by building trust and providing expert advice.
In my opinion, service is one of the coolest parts of our job. We have an amazing product that people want, and through service, we can solve customer problems and make people happy. No one’s going to remember what they bought from you, but they will remember how you made them feel. With delightful service, you can create a feeling such that, if given the chance, the customer will return to you.
For more advice on how to create a delightful customer service experience for every person who walks through your doors, you can find Breaking the Stigma on Amazon.
Charlena Berry founded Cannabis Business Growth after spending more than a decade in Supply Chain and Retail Operations for Fortune 500 companies like Whirlpool and Office Depot/Office Max. A global cannabis business executive and the company’s principal consultant, Charlena forms strategic partnerships, guides entrepreneurs, and leads projects in all sectors of the cannabis industry, from cultivation and manufacturing to commercial retail and distribution. A witness to the impact of addiction and the illicit market, Charlena is a proud advocate for cannabis and its potential for healing and personal growth.
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