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Attracting good employees and improving customer service were top discussion points at a conference I attended last week. Although pizza wasn't on the agenda at the Retail Customer Experience Executive Summit in Minneapolis, Minn., I learned that most retailers and pizza operators share a common goal; they want to grow their businesses by improving the customer experience. Below are a few strategies discussed at the retail conference that pizzeria owners could also use to improve sales.

1. Create an amusement park-like experience.

To move products, you first must move people, said Bob Phibbs in his keynote speech at the conference.

"We forget that your products are just the souvenirs, and when they don't move you start giving discounts," said the Retail Doctor, who appears on MSNBC's Your Business and who is also the author of two business books. "You have to make (the experience) bright and fun. If people aren't willing to crawl naked through glass for your brand, it's over."

Creating such an environment isn't as difficult as one might expect – it's about people, not devices or the next Groupon deal, Phibbs said.

"All we are hearing about now is mobile and social media, but that's just another way to give yet another discount, so you'll come back and deal with our abandoned amusement park," Phibbs said.

Phibbs also weighed in on the power of positive thinking and how important it is for managers and owners to be ambassadors of it.

2. Management jobs in your company should be coveted.

"Does the leader of your unit have an incredible job?" asked Georgia Chick-fil-A Franchisee Scott Reed of attendees listening to a session on attracting skilled employees. "Is it a job you would you love to have? It should be."

Reed pointed out that many managers are often overworked, underpaid and disrespected, which often leads them to do the bare minimum of work required to get through the day. Unmotivated leaders will inspire below-average employee performances.

"I love my job, and I want it to be a business where I'd want my daughter to work," said Reed, who tries to ensure his managers know how much he appreciates them. Sometimes it just takes a simple "please" and "thank you" at the end of the day.

3. Make it easy for customers to give you feedback.

It's no shock that the most successful business owners listen to customer feedback; however there are good and bad ways to collect the data.

AT&T has perfected the survey system and now sends them via text messaging instead of by phone or email, said Kristi Behr, a customer experience director for AT&T.

"Customer feedback is priceless, and our volume of customer feedback has skyrocketed," she said during a session.

The texting system also alerts store and district managers about any negative customer experiences.

4. Build community loyalty.

Reed, who has owned his store for more than 20 years, is a specialist when it comes to getting the community fired up about his brand. He and his employees intentionally look for ways to go the extra mile and to create emotional connections.

For example, the store recently hosted a "Daddy/Daughter date night" that even came with a list of questions for the families to talk about. This event created loyal fans out of first-time customers. It got them talking to their friends about Chick-fil-A in a positive way, which is just another way to cultivate a positive perception and attract skilled employees.

"You have to do things to connect people to the brand," Reed said. "If a chicken place can bring dads and daughters closer, we are doing a good thing."

5. Free up "leaders" to lead.

Employees are only as good as their leaders, Reed said, so it's imperative to put the right people in your top positions.

"Leaders create vision, culture and atmosphere and have great energy," Reed said. "Leaders see the culture they're trying to create. Leaders attract other leaders, so you'll soon have leaders in all your stores."

The only way to create such a positive work environment is to find leaders who are also in the business of developing people, not just running day-to-day operations.

"Find that person and free him up to spend tons of time to pour into others," Reed said.

6. Never underestimate the importance of proper training.

Two years ago, Macy's designed a training program around results from a customer service survey it sent to consumers via email, said Gina Giorano, vice president of customer feedback at Macy's. More than 130,000 employees, including upper management and even the CEO, have gone through it.

"We are trying to work through some issues and learn how to get best practices out into the stores," Giorano said during the conference. "We are about one-on-one communication from our customers to our employees."

Behr said AT&T employees go through a four-week training program before they are allowed on the floor. They, of course, learn about the products but also learn how to provide a positive customer experience.

It's not just "pizza and beer"

I worked as a server at a popular chain restaurant throughout college, and when one of us got "in the weeds," our manager would say, "Calm down; it's just burgers and beer."

I'd have to disagree with him after attending the Retail Customer Experience Executive Summit. Just as there are tons of places to shop, there are also a lot of great pizzerias out there. What makes you different? Do you make your customers want to come back? How do you create that "amusement park" experience?

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Latest posts by Cherryh Butler
Cherryh Butler
Cherryh Butler has been a reporter for nearly 10 years, writing on a variety of topics ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining FastCasual.com as editor, she oversaw KioskMarketplace.com and PizzaMarketplace.com and contributed to RetailCustomerExperience.com. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.
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