Sean Balogh

7 ways to Improve Customer Experience Through Dispensary Operations

Whether you are new to retail cannabis and looking to hit the ground running or are already established and want to tighten up processes, Operations are the first place to look when building a better customer experience in the dispensary and online.

What We Mean By Dispensary Operations

In short, Operations are what you and your budtenders do to keep the company running and earning money. It’s a mix of activities and processes.

A dispensary that runs well:

Versus one that doesn’t: 

The difference is clear. 

While operations is a broad concept, it can reveal underlying problems that impact your business in great detail. 

Unfortunately, few dispensary owners and managers have the bandwidth to dig into process improvement, even when they know it’s costing them business. 

It’s kind of like having a splinter in the palm of your hand, if tweezers aren’t within reach you end up just working through the pain. Unlike splinters, nagging inefficiencies generally don’t resolve themselves. It takes focused effort to build an experience that is a gold standard for customers and envy of competitors.

Start by asking yourself: is getting by good enough? Is surviving really thriving?

If you answered no, you’re in the right place.

How to Improve Customer Experience Through Dispensary Operations

Here are seven ways you can support operational excellence to deliver exceptional customer experiences at your dispensary.

1. Have a System - Processes and Procedures

It’s tough to build on a shaky foundation. 

Operational excellence focuses on putting systems and processes in place that you can build from. Outline your steps, follow them consistently, and reap the rewards.

While obstacles are inevitable, try to find out how they can be addressed to minimize their impact.

Think about when you go to a restaurant and order a meal. You wouldn’t guess your bill amount, pay, order your food, then get your water and flatware followed by a recital of the day’s specials. That’s convoluted and it doesn’t make sense for anyone participating. The result is a poor customer experience and you probably wouldn’t go back to a restaurant run like that.

Generally, you’ll be sat at a table, have a napkin and some flatware already there and a server may come up to take your drink order and answer any questions before you make a decision on food. It’s a smooth process with several steps mapped out in the most efficient way possible. The result is a predictable and generally pleasant customer experience. At least, maybe until you get the bill.

At a dispensary, you can improve customer experience by improving your day-to-day processes, from product intake, new/returning customer journeys, and inventory counts to in-store and brand events, promotions, and marketing. 

Chances are you’ll find some red flags pretty quickly. That’s where you should focus your effort.

From initial greetings and ID-check to product recommendations and taking payment, streamlined operations enhance the dispensary customer experience in a big way.

2. Efficient Inventory Management

Efficiently managing inventory is crucial for the customer experience. That goes for the stock room and the shop floor. It can be frustrating when there is no rhyme or reason to layout, out-of-stock products, or lack of signage.

When dispensaries have the right products in stock and display them intuitively, customers know that they can come to you and get what they want without wasting time. It’s a straightforward benefit. 

Being a reliable source is just as important in a recreational market as it was in the illicit market before states came to their senses.

Managing inventory efficiently also means you are stocking products in line with customer demand, rather than overstocking products that don’t move and lock cash on shelves. 

When you know what SKUs move and are preferred by customers, you can price appropriately, forecast demand more accurately, and serve a larger and more diverse clientele.

You’ll also be able to reduce wait times when your stock room is well organized, you can find SKUs more easily and fulfill orders at a faster rate.

If you run deliveries, getting drivers out on the road faster means shorter delivery times, more orders fulfilled in a day, and more revenue from that sales channel, which are benefits for drivers and customers.

3. Compliance

For dispensary owners, “ain’t nothing in life but to be legit”. And it’s a hard life.

Being a highly regulated industry, compliance is serious business in cannabis. Rules for dispensary operators are extensive, vary between regions, and can change without notice.

Cannabis compliance is a big piece of the operations pie that can be understated, overlooked, and can lead to businesses losing their licenses when they operate outside of the scope of legal frameworks. 

By having processes in place to maintain compliance, you ensure that regulators know you are honoring your obligations as an operator. 

Sticking to legal requirements, like age verification, product labeling, and sales limitations, creates a trustworthy environment for customers and lets them know you have their best interests at heart. 

Moreover, customers that feel confident in purchasing from reliable, honest, and compliant establishments experience higher overall satisfaction and trust.

4. Well-trained and Educated Budtenders 

Operational excellence requires investing in budtender training and development. 

Well-trained budtenders equipped with in-depth product knowledge and compliance training are better able to provide personalized recommendations and accurate information. 

KWhen you keep them informed of inventory changes day-today, month-to-month, and on-the-fly, they are more in-tune with the ebb-and-flow of the products they are selling. That supports transparency and a seamless customer experience.

Stay on top of education to ensure you know where your budtenders have knowledge gaps. Then, you can address those needs with proper training, acknowledge improvements, and ensure your employees are appreciated, elevated, and rewarded for their continued growth with the company.

Moreover, dispensaries and brands see more revenue from well-trained budtenders than those who skimp on education.

Happy budtenders make all the difference for customers shopping at your dispensary. In an industry as personal and relationship-based as cannabis, it pays to have friendly, knowledgeable, and confident staff. This not only assists buyers in making informed decisions but also builds rapport and trust, enhancing the overall customer experience.

5. Adopt A Customer-Centric Mindset (this ones a twofer)

a. Dispensary success revolves around a customer-centric mindset. It may seem implied, but it doesn’t hurt to state the obvious when proving a point.

Dispensaries that prioritize customer needs, preferences, and feedback can tailor their services accordingly. The result is a better value proposition than your competitors. When you focus on the needs of the customer, they appreciate you more and show as much when choosing to shop with you over the competition.

This includes personalized interactions and marketing, understanding individual preferences and catering to them. When it all ties back into your bottom line, you’ll see sales increase as a result of higher rates of satisfaction and loyalty that grow customer lifetime value.

b. Ask, listen, act 

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re always on one side of the counter. Your customers offer perspectives you might overlook. Talk to them!

One of the best ways to improve operations at a cannabis dispensary is soliciting feedback from customers and putting that feedback into action.

Whether you ask for customer feedback in-person, on the phone, in text, or via email, you can gather invaluable data on what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right. That way, you know what issues bother your buyers and what you do that delights them.

You should be collecting this data and using it to determine your Net Promoter Score (NPS). This is a very important number in the customer service industry and too few dispensaries understand its purpose, let alone use it to influence their policies and processes.

NPS measures customer perception based on a single, experiential question (any of these, or similar questions, can work to the same effect): 

Responses are given on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, and are divided into three separate groups: 

Calculating your NPS score is easy, just subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters you survey.

an image of how dispensary cusotmer feedback is recorded and calculated to reveal Net Promoter Score.
How dispensary customer feedback is recorded and calculated to reveal Net Promoter Score.

Keep your customers close and their feedback closer.

You can keep things interesting and bring value to the conversation by offering promotional incentives, swag, or other perks for those who submit quality feedback. When you make a policy change based on that feedback, let customers know and show them you’re implementing changes where it makes sense to do so based on their advice.

6. Invest in Technology

It is said that the world runs on Excel; pretty good marketing by Microsoft. 

No doubt most businesses start out with excel, Quickbooks, and similar management systems to keep things in order, day-to-day. However, issues pile up quickly when poor organization, human errors, and turnover threaten the integrity of those spreadsheets.

Modern technologies have accounted for those pitfalls and offer fail-safes you can depend on to support dispensary operations.

You’ve likely implemented a POS system to handle transactions.

You can go a lot further with a CRM platform that keeps customer information organized, and some level of inventory management will ensure you don’t find yourself with bare shelves and empty display cases.

When all these things come together, transactions run smoothly, you can carry out some basic data analysis, and even personalize your services for customers based on their preferences.

Don’t sleep on tech. It makes your life so much easier and ensures everyone is working with the same, accurate data on a daily basis.

7. Consistency is Key To Building Customer Relationships

Finally, consistency is key in keeping customers happy. It’s your brand's promise to the customer that this experience is what they can expect to find every time they walk through your doors or visit your website.

It should be your goal to deliver a consistent experience anywhere your customers interact with your brand. It’s your promise to the consumer. Sound it out.

In delivering your experience evenly across all touch-points, whether online or in-store, customers receive a consistent experience in terms of product quality, service, and atmosphere, reinforcing brand loyalty and coveted word-of-mouth recommendations.

Final Thoughts

Make it a mantra: operational excellence in retail cannabis lays the groundwork for exceptional customer experiences. 

By focusing on efficient inventory management, streamlining operations, compliance adherence, budtender training, customer-centric marketing, integrating useful technology, and delivering consistency, you can create an environment that not only meets but exceeds customer expectations, cultivating long-term relationships and better business outcomes.