This article was contributed by Spencer Hoffman, Vice President, Sales and Product at POS Nation. In his 12 years at POS Nation, Spence has climbed the sales ranks, excelling in every role he’s stepped into. His most recent role as vice president of sales includes mentorship and growth across the sales team, and a growing portfolio of satisfied customers. In 2020, Spence’s responsibilities grew to leverage his deep expertise in the retail point of sale space to continuously improve POS Nation’s small business solution as our vice president of product development. Outside of work, Spence spends time with his wife and three children who are all avid driving range connoisseurs.
Customer experience is everything for small businesses. It informs the customer’s satisfaction with their current transaction, their impression of your business, and their likelihood to return to shop with you again.
But any touchpoint in your customers’ experiences can easily become a pain point if careful thought hasn’t gone into it. Even the best marketing and foot traffic tactics won’t mean much over the long run if customers leave dissatisfied!
Checkout is especially critical, and the speed and ease of the process can have an outsized impact on customer experience. After all, this is the point at which you’re asking customers to exchange their dollars for the items and the experience you offered.
A smooth checkout process can be a major asset for all types of retailers, but how do you begin making improvements? Here are four strategies to keep in mind as you get started.
1. Train and support your employees.
The quality of the checkout experience starts and ends with the individuals actually facilitating the touchpoint—your staff. To ensure that your staff can keep the process running smoothly and quickly, you should:
- Make sure that all staff members are knowledgeable about your inventory, and will confidently and quickly know where to look (or who to ask) if they don’t have immediate answers for customers.
- Train all staff on the relevant features of your point of sale system, including basic transaction steps, inventory search and item lookup, loyalty programs, and more.
- Back up the training with a supportive work culture that’s engaging, diverse, and fosters a spirit of continuous improvement.
Putting extra time and effort into training your employees has two significant benefits: it speeds up checkout by equipping staff with the knowledge and tools they need, and it improves the employee experience. Unfamiliar transaction situations or questions that arise can easily lead to unnecessary frustration for staff if they’re unsure of how your POS tools can help or who to ask for guidance. Training and support will cut down on these hurdles and help you retain more satisfied and knowledgeable employees over time.
Remember, providing exceptional experiences often comes down to empowering your staff and giving them what they need to do their jobs well (including training, support, and technology).
For example, a clunky POS system that frustrates your staff and requires complicated workarounds will ultimately do more net harm to the customer experience than a new employee briefly pausing to ask a coworker or manager for help.
2. Streamline non-transaction slowdowns.
How many times have you been stuck in a long checkout line because a customer in front of you needs help with something not related to a transaction? Maybe they have questions about inventory or return policies, forgot something that they wanted to purchase, or left their wallet in the car. Your checkout staff is often the frontline for handling customer questions and issues.
As mentioned above, staff training and support will be invaluable for ensuring employees can handle most situations quickly. But your software should actively help, too. For example:
- Use POS software with integrated inventory management features. This will make it easier for staff to quickly look up item availability and other information. Take steps to continually improve your inventory management strategies so that all items are labeled and organized intuitively.
- Look for POS features that allow you to pause transactions. When a customer forgets their wallet or needs to pick up an item they forgot, this feature will allow you to hold the purchase and move on to other customers with minimal hassle.
Although these types of slowdowns often aren’t preventable, you should still take steps to streamline them as much as possible since they can seriously harm the customer experience.
Especially for quick, small, or impulse purchases, a long line can even cause customers to give up and leave unhappy—the in-person equivalent of shopping cart abandonment. Intuitive inventory management and POS features will instead give your staff the tools they need to handle these issues as smoothly as possible.
3. Invest in barcode capabilities.
If your retail business doesn’t use barcodes, you likely understand what kinds of slowdowns this can cause. The benefits of barcoding for small businesses are extensive:
- Faster checkout with reduced risks for unnecessary slowdowns
- Easier stocking and inventory management
- Simplified internal reporting and vendor relationship management
But it’s worth emphasizing—barcodes are a must for improving your own internal processes, and ultimately, the customer experience. Taken together, the time and effort saved by barcodes allow you to focus more on providing fast service and improving the customer experience over time.
Small specialty retailers often hold off on investing in barcoding because so many of their items might not have universal product codes. However, the right tools will make it easy to create and print barcodes for specialty, custom, or one-of-a-kind items. Look for POS software with custom barcoding features that can integrate with printers.
4. Use specialized POS software.
Generic payment processing and POS solutions can end up slowing you down if their features get in your staff’s way. Unintuitive workarounds and completely separate systems to handle different tasks will open up opportunities for mistakes, staff confusion, long lines, and customer dissatisfaction.
Having the right tools for the job is a recurring theme in these tips, and for good reason. Although facilitated by your staff, the checkout process is ultimately run through your technology. How well it meets your needs plays a critical role in the quality of the experience.
Whenever it’s time to choose a new point of sale system, there are a few things to look for. First, integrated features that can streamline both backend and customer-facing processes. The ability to manage inventory, print barcodes, use mobile checkout tools, validate ages, and run your customer loyalty program all from one system can drastically improve your operations. If you sell to customers both online and in-store, e-commerce POS integrations are also a must.
Next, look for features and options specifically designed for your industry whenever possible. Grocery stores, convenience stores, and specialty retailers like pet supply shops, hardware stores, and clothing boutiques are common examples that require unique inventory and transaction features.
The main point to keep in mind is that your POS technology should actively help you solve problems, not create new ones. If you’re already using an existing system, take a careful look at how much time it actually saves and the value it generates. If it’s falling short of expectations, it’s probably holding your business and customer experiences back.
The customer experience with your business is impacted by a wide range of factors. Of them, the speed and quality of the checkout process are among the most important, and thankfully, most controllable. By equipping yourself and your staff with what they need to succeed, it’s easier than you might think to make consistent, concrete improvements to the customer experience you’re offering.