Retail Service – “Can I help you? Yes You!”



What the hell is the matter with retail service?

If you have read the title of this blog, then you probably know it is going to be a bit of rant. More and more we hear businesses saying that the high street is suffering at the hands of online, and that the public just use the high street stores as a show room before buying them online.

Is it any wonder, when you take a random shopping experience like mine today?

As I pass through the hoards of joyless looking public, I am accosted by the over confident and very false charity sales people all smiley and jolly desperately trying to catch ones eye. If one of them misses you then ten yards later there will be another, and ten yards after that another. It is like running a gauntlet.

My journey today is to purchase a birthday present for a couple of people. One for a teenage boy’s birthday, another for his mum.  I dread going into stores, I worked in stores years ago, loved it, and always wanted to make my customers happy. So to business for the chap I thought there must be something in one of those (I am not mentioning store names) US clothes stores, you know the models are all six packs, slouchy jeans and tousled hair, slightly far away look in their eye, like they have had the call of the sea…. I digress.  So in I totter and immediately feel very old, pensioner age actually. First of all the shop is practically dark. Next a sales assistant who could barely have been out school approaches me, and I greets me with, and I quote “wassup?” I thought he must have been talking to someone he knew, behind me perhaps, I even turned around, no one there. I innocently pointed at myself “um me?” “Yeah, wassup man”. Well as I said, feeling very old already, and I am only mid 40’s I asked him if he felt that was an appropriate way to greet a customer? He looked as if I had just slapped him. (I wanted too) and I maneuvered him to one side, and asked him quite politely, are you told to greet people that way? He said yes. I mean “yeah”. I told him that I was looking for something for a friend’s son who was 15 year old, and could he help me find something. “How much ya wanna spend on ‘im?” Shock was starting to settle in, and I said around £25, the temptation to say a ‘pony’ was overwhelming, but I fear it would have been lost. He pointed at a pile of t-shirts and said “thas all we got for that money”. Well at that I thought enough of this, I am out of here.

The next stop was a department store for some perfume. I really needed help with this, as I am clueless. A group of girls were stood talking at a counter and I asked if I could have some help with selecting a suitable fragrance. “What we have is over there on the self selection section, have a look and see what you like.” I was told, so basically “bugger off we are having a chat.” I said that I would appreciate some advice and some help would be great. Interesting that I actually have to ask for help here. At this request, I am met with one girl throwing her eyes to the ceiling and saying to her colleagues, “I’ll do it, we can talk later.” Well naturally I did not want to put anyone to any trouble so I politely, said “Please do not worry, I am sure I will be fine.” The three carried on as if I were not there. Did I buy anything? Did I hell.

As I progress through the truly lovely sun lit streets, I am continually greeted with a customer service at an overall mediocre level. Shop staff either unable to communicate effectively or basically not even wanting to.

I go into other stores where I am greeted at the door, and asked “Can I help you?” to which I responded in perfect British fashion “I am just looking thanks.” Funny how you feel compelled to answer in the stereotypical way when asked the same stereotypical question. It is like an automatic response.  This mediocrity has nothing to do with people buying products online due to low price, I am sure that given the chance to get great service, many people would still shop in stores, and this is the problem, the stores are not helping themselves at all.  These people are clearly not being trained properly, they might have in some cases got some solid product knowledge but actually customer service and sales skills, no, they are not present. Of course being balanced, many people do not like being served, they feel pressured or badgered, but again this is down to a heritage of poor customer service.

Lets look at the transactional journey; you need something, you search for it, you compare choices, you buy it, you take it home, you play with it, you might want to buy more, or you might want to take it back. You go back into shop, you get grief and a stroppy look from the shop assistant who takes it personally that you have had the audacity to have brought something back as if the money is coming out of their own pocket, you get refund or exchange, then when it comes to buying again you put your defences up, with shielded statements like “just looking!!” You see it is not the customer’s fault; it is the stores problem to sort out.  Oh and as an aside, any shop assistants reading this, give the customer a refund there and then, if the customer has to be forced to email your head office, then they will give the customer a refund anyway and you will get a bollocking for not giving good service, so save yourself some pain. IT IS NOT YOUR MONEY OK? Forget company policy, forget your own store rules, make a new rule, make the customer happy, satisfied or even delighted, and when you do, that customer will smile, and that smile will be just for you.

Is it any wonder, that the public decide to flock to the nearest online retailer. Think of the biggest, you know the one, big river, got it? Look at what it does, and think back to the journey we just had with the shop. You go to the site, you peruse the choices, if you have been to them before it remembers your name, it makes recommendations, you can choose what type of delivery you want, when you want it and to where you want it delivered. It will gift wrap it for you, it will tell you when it is being sent to you and when you get it, you could send it back, no hassles, no questions, no dirty looks, you can even read or write a review. Most of what makes this site AMAZING is the fact that it does everything a sales person should do, go on read that last paragraph again, I am right aren’t I. That is why people go online, because it works, it is all together better. Yes cost plays a role, but there are people who will pay more purely because of the experience.  People will buy due to how something makes them feel, if they are part of a crowd, for convenience and for security, you tap into one of these then cost is not an issue, and guess what, the customer will come back again and again, and they will tell other people to come too, that is advocacy working. Get it wrong, and people with tell other people, tweet about it, blog about it, and make sure that people never come back.

So when we hear people saying how it is such a shame that the high street is suffering, spare a thought, not just for the poor shopkeepers and retailers who run these businesses but also for absolutely shameful customer service that their staff inflict upon the buying public.  There are of course exceptions and some stores are truly great. These are rare and people will often not remember the good only the poor, and then they will switch on the computers and devices and shop online.  So as we move into the weekend, and stores look forward to a busy Saturday, any managers or staff reading this, don’t focus on the moaning parts, focus on making anyone who comes into your store feel welcome, genuinely want to make a difference, offer them considered choices in a way that makes them feel that they are the only person that matters at that moment.  Let them leave your store whether they buy or not, with the feeling that when they come back that you will be there, waiting just for them and you will look forward to it, and you will. Do you know why? That is what you are paid to do.

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