Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Retail Customer Service

In this day and age, the words "customer service" have virtually no meaning in a standard retail establishment. We have all been desensitized by the extraordinarily poor service we receive and have grown to expect no better.

The typical retail chain is staffed by workers that have everything on their minds besides a positive shopping experience for the customer. At a fast food establishment, tables will be filthy and garbage cans will be overflowing, but the three high school aged staffers will be chatting about how they can't wait to go home. I've waited at the help counter at a copy chain for ten minutes simply needing some supplies to make a purchase with no help in sight. And I've been told that although two of the three copy machines are broken, that I would have to wait for the employee to finish using the one functioning machine, because she had no idea how to fix the others. In most establishments, there is a prevailing sense that the customer is in the way, an inconvenience for those who work at the store.

Blame for this phenomenon could be placed on the front line staff - usually the high school kids trying to make a few bucks for the weekend. And that would be the simplest place to start. But, in my opinion, the real fault lies in the management of the stores. If shift managers put a focus on placing the customers' experience first and executing tasks second, their inexperienced staff would learn to prioritize. A boat without a rudder will go wherever the currents take it. The real issue is that many shift managers do not have a customer focus, either, which makes it impossible to train the lower level staff.

I was in a large discount retailer on Sunday evening and was treated to this announcement: "The time is 8:45 - our store will be closing in 15 minutes. Please make your final selections and proceed to the checkout. For your shopping convenience, we will open tomorrow morning at 8:00." For my convenience, they want me to hurry through the store, grab some items, and rush to the checkout, only to return the next morning to finish my shopping? It sounds more like it's for their convenience, so their staff can get home ten minutes earlier to watch a Simpsons rerun or, if it's a real good night, maybe some Seinfeld.

You'll find you get the best service in a shop where the owner is on site. You can bet that the owner knows the importance of building a strong relationship with customers - because if he doesn't, he won't be in business much longer.

Happy Shopping!

John Brooks


At January 17, 2006 at 11:32 AM, Blogger Thaddeus said...

I work at both a fast food location as a night maintenance crew member and at a big box retailer as a department supervisor, so I can really appreciate your comments.

I haven't been a big fan of the closing announcement until recently. I have always been focussed on working until the last moment, getting each customer served and making the most of the day. However, I also end up not getting all of my jobs done and end up leaving late or not cleaning up and being ready for the next day. Perhaps part of the closing announcment is service, giving the customer a time frame to complete their purchases and alerting closing associates that they need to complete their day. A huge keyword for my store manager is awareness. Perhaps the announcement is part communication and giving the customer a better awareness of what is going on with store hours and operation.


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