If there ever was a question that invokes a broad range of “passionate” responses, that is it. Bring up the topic of customer service at any social gathering and a tidal wave of stories about poor service come pouring out. Everybody has a story and, true to form, very few of them are positive. I read a study years ago about the percentage of positive comments made about service versus negative comments, and the key point made was that (on average) negative comments outnumbered the positive 8 to 1. Personal observation seems reflects that statistic.
Today, it seems, the retail customer service challenge is addressed exclusively with more technology. Nowadays, given that we are very connected to each other and to most service organizations, the orientation toward more tech makes sense, but to many customers, particularly the Boomers, it just does not feel as enjoyable as it once was. Gone are the days of plentiful retail store associates who could not wait to assist you and make a sale. Now many retail salesfloors are lonely, self- serve environments and often, the only store associate interaction you may have is at the checkout…and thanks to Amazon, that too may be going away.
As a Baby Boomer, my generation enjoyed the personal interactions that went along with shopping. Being professionally approached and acknowledged was not only pleasant, it appealed to our innate desire to be recognized as a person. Technology, and our newfound ability to carry a powerful computer in our pocket, has in large part replaced the role once played by the sales associate. Typically, merchandise in-stock quantity, price, facts/use instructions and even other local store stock levels are at your fingertips and no sales associate is available to answer questions about the merchandise you are interested in. New apps are continually being developed to replace various parts of the store associate interactions we had become familiar with.
So how can a retailer give service today? My thought on this key question centers around making whatever level of service a retailer still offers as positive and unforgettable as possible. Remember, there are still quite a few Baby Boomers around and they have significant buying power. Service needs to be truly memorable, not forgettable. With so few sales floor associates available these days, those that are still on the floor need to be smart, particularly well trained, and oriented toward giving great service. They should be properly interviewed and selected based on desirable experience and a great outward going personality. It still amazes me when I am in a store where a shopper’s only associate interaction is at checkout and the associate performing the checkout does not speak to you or even look at you. We have all seen that scenario.
Retailers should ensure that if the checkout is the only expected customer interaction that the associate display desirable service behaviors. I recommend the following components be trained and expected as checkout behaviors:
- Acknowledge the customer and make friendly eye contact
- Smile and say hello (offer a friendly greeting)
- Ensure the customer was able to find everything they were looking for and if not find a way to help them before they checkout
- Thank the customer for coming into your store and wish them well
While these behaviors may not make up for more direct service help on the sales floor, they will go a long way toward making the customer shopping experience more favorable. Call us if we can help.