You call that service?!

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:

  1. The retailer has no idea about the unique expectation in the mind of each customer. What disappoints one, will delight another.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.

About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email
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6 Responses to You call that service?!

  1. Pingback: Meeting their service promise, every step of the way…The Bread Shop, McDonalds and Easy Jet | Clare Rayner: The Retail Champion

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  3. What a fabulous article. This is true of every sector, not just retail.

    • clarerayner says:

      Thank you Lisa – I appreciate your comments 🙂 Indeed true of every sector. Retail is however the sector which has more face to face interactions with the general public (their customers) than any other – which does beg the question how come the point has not got through to so many…
      This will change, social influence will force it – and where the big player fail they make way for the variety, independence and service that the smaller independents can offer.

  4. You make good points in your article and I agree especially with your point that it is difficult for the retailer to get into the mindset of each individual customer. What I found most interesting in the Mary Portas show last night was the reluctance of Chris George of Pilot to take to the floor, as this would have made it obvious to him that there were customer service deficiencies with which ANY consumer would take issue.

    Whilst many retailers already use “secret shoppers”, it seemed apparent last night that either many more need to do so, or perhaps the methods employed by secret shopper need to change. I will watch with interest any developments in this regard.

    In the meantime, thanks for a great article!

  5. Pingback: You don’t just want footfall, you want the RIGHT kind of footfall | Clare Rayner: The Retail Champion

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