Garden centres: focus on your customer service or risk losing out

Company offers advice while promoting customer service at start of peak season.

Customer service: trained staff are valuable for centres
Customer service: trained staff are valuable for centres

Garden centre staff need to look beyond simply working on tasks and towards interacting more with customers as the peak season begins, according to a former senior Wyevale Garden Centres area manager.

Mel Evans now owns Shoppers Anonymous South Wales (part of Shopper Anonymous UK) after having left Wyevale and is promoting good customer service in garden centres this spring.

As the season gets into full swing, customer service-trained staff are more valuable than at any other time of the year because there will be so many seasonal workers at centres.

Evans explains that a garden centre mystery shopper will see customer service levels through a customer's eyes and identify the gap between the belief and the reality of service being offered in most garden centres.

Training plan

Shoppers Anonymous aims to identify the gap with their clients then put together a plan to help businesses train their staff and monitor the results through ongoing mystery shopping. Evans then offers follow-up coaching, training and staff engagement workshops, and this tends to refocus the businesses' customer service strategies and builds a foundation to deliver a good customer service culture.

Evans says: "In my many years' experience in the sector, garden centre staff are generally task-focused due to the nature of the environment and the workload. Staff levels are never where they need to be to meet customer demands and deliver exceptional customer service. That's then compounded by the 12-week spring peak with seasonal recruits who are usually not trained to a standard to be confident in dealing with customers."

She says Shoppers Anonymous offers a long-term partnership with businesses and "help to see things through a third party's pair of eyes". It is important that every business has a customer service strategy and that all staff are made aware of the key performance indicators for the business, she adds, and that way the whole team feel like they are part of something positive.

"Staff engagement is a key factor to businesses and we do a lot of work with clients on staff engagement and staff training, which helps with motivation and confidence of the team and is without doubt a key factor in improving the service levels of any business."

Evans says things have improved in garden centres thanks to training, e-learning and better awareness. "But customer expectations have got higher and those retailers and garden centres that don't adapt will lose out. Everyone is fighting for a market share and you have to offer a differential through service levels in order to maintain and improve your position in the marketplace."

Advice for centres

For peak times, Ovation business consultancy managing director Neville Stein advises: "Get everyone on the shop floor selling," while Hilliview Group managing director Boyd Douglas-Davies says: "At our centres we're making sure that everything is on the shop floor and there's no work to be done so we can focus 100 per cent on selling. It's got to be about customer service. If you don't give good service, you're going to miss out."

The HTA, Garden Centre Association (GCA) and Wyevale run a range of garden centre e-learning modules including one on customer service, while Dobbies is set to introduce a scheme, with chief executive Nicholas Marshall having introduced it to Wyevale before the GCA and HTA took up the idea.

Tips - Advice for garden retailers

Top three "watch outs" from Shoppers Anonymous:

1 Do the basics well and do not over complicate the customer offer, making it easy to spend money.

2 Engage and reward your staff for good customer service - have fun with it.

3 Furniture and barbecues are high-value sales and well worth a nominated key service member of staff throughout the day in spring and summer.

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