On 6th September spoke to a lady working for Channel 4. She was researching for a Mary Portas show, trying to identify specific issues regarding retail customer service levels within sectors (e.g. Fashion or DIY). I found it difficult to pin down service issues at this level… it got me thinking about what service means, so here are my thoughts!
1. Service is the promise a retailer makes to fulfill a customer’s wants
Service is all about the promise a retailer makes to fulfill a customer’s wants. When a retailer makes these promises, explicitly or implied, they set an expectation level in the mind of their customer. When a customer experience is described as adequate then chances are the retailer has 100% met (but not exceeded) their expectations.
The problems in terms of a customer’s view on service:
- The retailer has no idea about the unique expectation in the mind of each customer. What disappoints one, will delight another.
- Each branch manager, team member, part timer, delivery driver – in fact anyone representing the retailer at the point of service / contact – has the abillity to impact, positively or negatively, on that customer’s experience – these moments of truth are all important in leaving the right lasting impression…
- In the retailer’s eye customer service may be restricted to the point of interaction between a customer and one of their staff. In the customer’s eyes service is, as I mentioned above, how the retailer meets their unique expectations… so maybe we’re not talking the same language.
2. Service is the total customer experience – meeting their needs at every touch point
So, what I am most interested in exploring is my point 3 here. My background is commercial planning – merchandising, space and supply chain. Not much to do with customer service you might think? Well no, that would be completely incorrect! It has everything to do with service… How can the store teams ever meet customer expectations if they don’t have stock availabillity? If they aren’t empowered to deal with complaints? If the store environment (layout) alienates a specific customer group or is confusing to shop?
The store staff may never get the chance to even interact with a customer but that customer can still leave frustrated with their wants having been unfulfilled… regardless of sector, these customers feel they have not been served. The result could be that they may not return to that shop. It could be worse, they may tell others how bad their experience was as well – and if they do that on social media such as facebook or twitter their bad experience can reach thousands, maybe even millions, of potential customers in no time at all! This is not ideal I expect you will agree…
So… How Can You Give Good Service?
It sounds as if a good service experience is going to be hit and miss, impossible to guarantee, and that we’ll always disappoint those with overly high expectations and always delight those who had very low expectations…
Well I don’t think it has to be this way! I think the answer lies in ensuring that every aspect of communications outbound from a business that a customer may see (advertising, POS, social media…) should back up the service proposition and ensure that the minimum achievement in any customer experience is satifaction, not, disappointment. Not only that, I believe if any actor in the end to end supply chain, from source to shelf, is aware of their part to play in delivering excellent service, and how that drives customer loyalty, then they will feel more passionate about doing their very best.
Sometimes just doing your bit in a process at “retailer HQ” feels so remote and removed from a customer experience level that as an employee you can forget who you are doing your bit for…
Challenging and a whole new approach? For businesses to last they must reinvent themselves and constantly move forward.
It would be challenging and require a whole new approach. That’s nothing new though, businesses that have existed for the past 100 years (and in retail there are many of those), have had to reinvent themselves and constantly move forward to keep pace with economics, technology and customer demands!
Customers like to be cared about
The simple fact is though, customers like to be cared about. In a heavily contested market where the consumer is cautious who they spend their money with, service like you get from your “friendly, local, independent… whoever” needs to be the approach for all multiples. I don’t think retailers can chose. I am not suggesting we all need to offer a high standard, we just need to make sure our customers understand what they can expect to get and, what they don’t get… only then can they judge if their experiences in our stores match our promises.