Unlike some, I didn’t stay up late (or get up early, as the case may be) to hit the Black Friday sales. But, all the coverage has made me reflect on the brick and mortar retail experience. I’m sure everyone has experienced this. You go into a store and find all kinds of things available for sale except the one item that you actually went to buy. You go to all of the obvious sections but you can’t seem to locate it or anyone to help you find it. Now the real test begins. With no sales clerk to be found, you go all the way back to the front of the store and ask a customer service agent, who pages someone from another department to meet you. Minutes pass. Finally, a part-timer saunters up, and by the end of the conversation it’s apparent you know more than he does.
You’d think with all the importance riding on the Christmas shopping season that it would be easy to find a sales person in every department, and preferably one who knows what he’s talking about. Unfortunately, the buying public has grown all too accustomed to a lack of service in the customer-facing retail trade. When there is a lack of staff—staff that is trained and motivated to assist and add value to the buying experience—the result is a downward spiral of expectations. The result is also often a lost sale.
My first real job was in a retail environment. I worked for a company that had a chain of stores that merchandised records (actual vinyl) and tapes. This was before iTunes, before Amazon, before BitTorrent. If you wanted to buy music, you actually had to get in your car and drive to the store. I was really into listening to music of all types and tried really hard to make sure my customers not only found the latest hits of the day but also walked out with other albums in a similar genre that I knew they would like. Most appreciated that and became repeat customers. Come to think of it, this is exactly the logic Amazon and Netflix use today to entice their customers to try something they may have not thought of.
Today, what we are missing is plain old, garden-variety customer service at most levels of trade. We need to get back to the days where stores not only stocked a selection of products but also made it very easy for their customers to buy them walking away satisfied with the product and the experience. To achieve this level of service, a company must not only have the products on hand but also trained and motivated staff in enough numbers to cover the day.
Have you had a service experience that you would like to share – good or bad? Please tell us about it by commenting back to this post.