As many retailers complain about the tough economy, a recent TIME Magazine article claims many retail slumps are self-inflicted.

A 1000 customers belonging to 10 retailers, were recently subjected to a survey to see how satisfied they were with their retailer and what contributed most to their satisfaction. Half the retailers were high performers, and the rest were lower performers with flat or declining sales growth. As expected, the lower performers had a lesser percentage of satisfied customers. No big surprise here! Customer satisfaction is a key performance indicator for successful retailers. It’s not rocket science. Successful retailers focus on the most important aspect of Customer Relationship Management, improving the customer experience.

Even though we have all experienced enormous changes in the way we live our lives and do business, the basic foundation stones of successful retailing remain un-changed.

1. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver. Your advertising and marketing should not create an expectation that your in-store experience cannot back up. A better solution is to under promise and over deliver. Creating a memorable in-store experience for your customer is paramount. Ensure nothing takes away from this experience.

2. Clean, well lit and organized. Ensure your customers navigate clean, well lit aisles in searching for the products they want. Appealing products will not overcome a customer frustrated by poor store layout and ill conceived point-of-purchase marketing.

3. Make products relevant. Do more than just display your products. Tell a convincing story about who might use it. When shoppers see their lives reflected, the products feel relevant and useful. Shoppers will also connect with your store, your store’s merchandise and the store’s brand.

4. Smile, help, and be genuine. Some retailers skimp on payroll and employee training, intent, on cutting costs to maintain low prices. All too often this results in store personnel who cannot answer questions about merchandise, who do not extend themselves to provide help, and who do not make visitors feel welcome and glad they came. In some instances, retailers even use “self-help” mechanisms with no “human touch” at all! Remember, the interaction between your store personnel and your customer is a critical component of a memorable in-store experience for your customer. Conversely, a bad experience will probably result in that customer never coming back to your store.

5. Use technology for your customer. More and more, modern retailing is relying on technology for control and management. But, as good as this may be for the retailer, ultimately, it does not do anything tangible for the customer. Harness technology to enhance your customer’s experience. Provide ways for your customers to obtain product information via the use of in-store kiosks. Inform your customers about special offers, special orders or sale events by email and SMS messages. Use a website with a members section to inform about industry news and special seminars. Use technology to regularly communicate with your customer.

6. Checking out… Your last chance to make an impression. Don’t underestimate the checkout line. Look for ways to make the checkout process move more efficiently for the customer. Genuinely, thank the exiting customer for their business. If you have a loyalty system or members club, you would probably know your customers name. Use it. The success of the above depends on the attitude of your personnel, and proper prior planning by YOU. Little things count for a lot. Don’t take them for granted.

7. Customers are talking to you… Are you listening? Every customer experience can be improved. Establish the process to spot flaws in your system quickly, and fix them permanently. Successful retailers will continually search for customer value so as to improve customer satisfaction. Their Customer Relationship Management strategies will include regular, ongoing feedback channels and the structured organizational discipline to take action on customer insights. One of the most useful, least expensive ways to collect customer feedback is to ensure that employees directly ask customers a magic question, “What can we do to improve our service?” Asking that question and bringing the responses to the table, not only provides valuable information, it also it reminds front line employees of one of their most valuable roles, being the eyes and ears of the company. There’s no doubt that your customers do talk about you, offering up answers to how you can satisfy them better and entice them to buy more. The question is, are you prepared to listen?

8. Make your store customer focused. Become a ‘Customer-Centric’ store. After tight financial control, “customer focus” is the single most important aspect of successful retailing. Your entire business needs to focus on your customers needs. Shine the spotlight on the customer! First, you need to find out what the customer wants, what the customer cares about, and what objectives the customer is trying to achieve. You are then in a better position to determine how your products or services may be able to meet those needs.