Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Customer Service - yet again!

The media has recently been discussing research that indicates at least part of the reason for the downturn in retail sales is a lack of customer service - retail staff are too few or too disinterested or too busy to really work with the customer in order to make a sale. Its a good point.

But the retailers themselves are a key part of the problem - not just their staff.

Yesterday is a case in point.

One of my daughters works part time in a retail store in order to help fund her university course. On Monday afternoon she was asked to do a particular task when the store opened on Tuesday. She started work just before 9-00 am and was about to do as she had been asked when a customer walked in. The next 40 minutes were spent working with the customer and a large sale was the result. During this selling process her manager arrived and watched what was happening. Immediately my daughter had concluded the sale her manager approached and berated her for not doing what she had been asked to do as a priority. My daughter was told that the other task - a matter of merchandising relating to placement of stock - should have taken precedence over the customer. When my daughter pointed out the importance of the customer and the volume of the sale, she was told that questioning her manager's instructions and priorities was a career limiting activity!

Now it so happens that the store at which my daughter works is part of a national chain that has recently been complaining that sales are down and it has issued a profit downgrade to the market. From my observations over some months, with managerial attitudes like that shown yesterday, I'm not surprised!

As I have said before, customer service is not "rocket science".

But it starts with an organisation being genuinely committed to the provision of service - not just some slogan on a wall or written into an Annual Report or business plan. And executives and managers need to model the service required. Its a truism to point out that without customers there is no-one to buy whatever is being sold and, without sales, cash flow and profit are adversely affected. Therefore there are sound financial reasons for providing adequate staff who are well trained and engaged with their product and organisation - who want to sell because they enjoy the customer interaction.

A key part of leadership is creating an environment in which people can achieve desired results. This means, in part, ensuring that the right people are there in the right numbers with the right products and the right resources at the right time and with the right sort of role modelling from their bosses.

At least one national retail chain seems to have forgotten this. What a pity. Especially because they have great product - but it won't sell itself.

What do you think?

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