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Customer Service – What Should You Expect From Retailers?

As Steven Tyler of Aerosmith once said, “Anything that was worth doing was worth overdoing.” I sure wish this statement were true when it comes to providing amazing customer service at my local retailer. Unfortunately in most cases (where bottom line rules), customer service typically falls far below our basic expectations as a consumer. Let me give you a recent example that illustrates my point…….

I recently visited a local convenience store to buy a bottle of water. I visited this store due to its convenient location and proximity to my gym. Although the store was clean and well-stocked, the customer service I experienced was average at best. The cash register was unmanned, and the only available associate was fixated on their mobile device texting away while I was trying to get their attention to make a purchase. “Hello, can you ring me up???” Yes, I understand it’s only a bottle of water, but come on…..

As frustrating as this is, it’s probably what most of us have come to expect from retailers today. Many have stripped down their operations in the hopes of improving their profitability. As a result, most stores we visit have fewer and fewer associates who are now being asked to manage multiple roles (including stocking, cleaning, cashiering – even supervising the floor!). Customer service typically takes a back seat and we ultimately pay the price. Something has to change.

As consumers, we have the ultimate authority in determining where to spend our hard earned money. If service is poor or the prices for the things we want are too high, we can choose to shop elsewhere. This may be another store in your neighborhood or an online storefront easily accessible with the simple click of a mouse. Unfortunately for many consumers today, the option to shop somewhere else is never made and poor customer service is typically accepted (without question). In order for retailers to change and customer service to improve, consumers must expect more from their retailers of choice.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect a friendly smile and welcome every time I enter a store. I also don’t think it’s too much ask to have an employee stop stocking the shelf and actually help me find what I came in for (vs. pointing me to the general vicinity like they are Mickey Mantle ready to knock one out of the park). For customer service to get better (and stay better), consumers have to take action and flex their “retail muscle”. If you don’t get the service you expect, immediately tell someone at the store (supervisor, manager, etc.). Let them know how you feel and what you expect from your shopping experience. If poor service continues during future visits, make the easy call and take your money elsewhere.

At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide where we shop. As consumers, we must rethink how we spend our money and expect more in terms of the customer service that we receive. Sure changing stores may be inconvenient, but it’s we’ll worth it in the end. There are so many amazing retailers out there that will go the extra mile to serve and satisfy you (Nordstrom, Whole Foods, and Zappos immediately come to mind). Greeting, assisting, and thanking you for shopping at their store should be commonplace. Expect more from the stores you shop and hold them accountable for the customer service they provide. Then maybe we will begin to see the “overdoing” of customer service that is all but absent in most retailers today.

How Iron Maiden set the standard for world class Customer Service

For those that know me, it’s pretty clear that Iron Maiden is one of my favorite rock bands of all time. I own every album they have ever put out, and have seen the band countless times all across the country. If you have not seen this band live, you are missing out on one of the most amazing concert experiences bar none. Maiden concerts are like no other – the fans, the band, the music! Energy levels are off the hook from the moment you step into the general admission line until the encore ends and you stagger out of the pit.   It’s truly an experience you have to see and feel to believe!

Bruce Dickinson, lead vocalist for Iron Maiden, said once that “Life is too short to do the things you don’t love doing”. Now this may seem cliche, but it’s clear that he personifies this belief every time he steps out on stage. Over the years, I cannot think of one Maiden show I have been to where Bruce Dickinson did not personify this belief. From the first song to the final bow, there is no doubt that he goes the extra mile every show to ensure that his fans get their money’s worth!

Working in the retail industry for over 20 years, I think I have a pretty good understanding of what amazing customer service is. My understanding came from countless years of working directly with customers on the retail front line coupled thousands of hours of competitive shops and countless customer interviews. This understanding also came from my own personal experiences as a customer. My goal as a retail leader was always quite simple – put the hard work in on the front end in to ensure the entire in-store customer experience was amazing. Give the customer what they want, when they want it, and ensure they walk away smiling!

In today’s retail world, there are very few organizations who truly exemplify customer service as their number one priority. Days where the customer is “always right” are long gone. They have been replaced with finger pointing, scapegoating, and a general belief that the customer is always trying to pull a fast one. Coupled with untrained or unmotivated associates, it’s a recipe for disaster that a customer feels the moment they walk into a store. As a wise-man once said, “There are never traffic jams along the extra mile!” Retailers who get this right can win, and win big. All it takes is listening to their customers, asking probing questions to understand specific needs, and providing the solutions they are looking for.

So what has Iron Maiden taught me about Customer Service?

  1. Love what you do and bring that energy to work with you daily – ensure it’s contagious!
  2. Go the extra mile and take care of your customers – give them their money’s worth!
  3. Make the in-store customer experience your number one priority!

These are three simple lessons that can make a significant difference in the level of customer service your organization offers. There are no tricks, no gimmicks – its Retail 101. If you keep your eye on the prize and focus solely on the customer experience, you will have a distinct customer advantage that will translate to sales. However, if you fail on this proposition, your customer will probably be “Running to the Hills” in search something better.

Up the Irons!

Providing Amazing Customer Service Is Not Rocket Science!

While waiting to board a Jet Blue flight back to Long Beach (from SFO), another flight departing to Boston was cancelled due to mechanical issues.  An announcement was made, apologies were offered, and customers were obviously disappointed (If you travel frequently, this does happen from time to time.)  What really boiled my blood was the fact that every customer who did not hear the rapid fire announcement and subsequently came to the gate agent for assistance was treated like they were an annoyance.  Each was “greeted” (and I use that term loosely) by a Jet Blue gate agent with an index finger pointing to the electronic display above.  Without looking up from her cell phone (totally disengaged), she repeated to each customer, “Please read the display above and call the listed number, they will be able to help you rebook”.  No eye contact whatsoever. Jet Blue claims they exist “to provide superior service in every aspect of our customers’ air travel experience”.  Based on what I saw, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Definite breakdown in a key front line role.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are businesses out there who understand the customer service proposition and delivery on it daily (Trader Joe’s is a great example, Pacific Sales Appliances another).  Unfortunately, these types of retailers are not the norm any more. Many “champion” customer service in their mission, vision, or value statement, but it’s nowhere to be found when you enter their store or approach their gate for your flight.   Bottom line profits seem to be the focus for most service providers today (not the customer).  You can see it everywhere. And this type of behavior is typically a self-fulfilling prophecy.  “Poor service, poor sales, cut costs, repeat…..” Something has to change, the pendulum has to swing back to the customer.  With an increased focus on customer service as a number one priority, I am absolutely certain bottom line profitability would rise.

What say you?