I have previously worked in my youth as a sales assistant for F. W. Woolworths, House of Fraser and Habitat and so, as Christmas shopping begins with fervour probably this very weekend, I am sparing a thought for the souls on the front line – the much beleaguered and frequently much-criticized sales staff.
Mollie Sugden as Miss Slocombe in BBC’s “Are You Being Served”
Now I know there are many, many things that drive me nuts about what Mary Portas would no doubt term the “retail experience”.
- being ignored by assistants who carry on talking to their colleagues
- hearing those immortal words “if it’s not on the shelf we haven’t got it”
- hot, cramped changing rooms which allow you to take completely random numbers of garments in (today you may take the magical number of 7 garments with you).
- paying for carrier bags (yes I know it’s for the environment but still)
- running out of or having the wrong size bags
- never being able to find my size but plenty of 8’s or 18’s
- coat hangers you can never put trousers back on without having to fight with the plastic clips at either end, one of which will always break
- playing music so loud it makes your ears bleed
- chewing gum like a sheep with TMJ
But you know what? The public can be, how shall I put it, somewhat challenging. I’m thinking of customers who
- take mobile phone telephone calls while you’re trying to serve them
- try on the actual cosmetic stock rather than use the testers
- make ridiculous requests ( I was once asked for a pound of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs comprised of just the pink ones – despite the fact there was a queue a mile long waiting in irritation)
- get foundation / lipstick / deodorant stains on clothing stock
- take things back having worn them (shameful)
- engage in lengthy conversations about their sciatica/gout / Mr Tibbles worming problems – again with the queue huffing in irritation behind them.
There are clearly rights and wrongs on either side. As an observation though, on Saturdays I seem to find shops staffed with very young staff and not a manager in sight to help them or to help resolve customer service issues. Surely if there’s one day of the week when all stock should be out and extra stock available, it’s Saturday.
We expect these often poorly paid foot soldiers to take everything that’s thrown at them with a smile. I often think a good manager is like a good Army General. They lead from the front. Not from the stock cupboard with a cup of coffee and a copy of Hello.
Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England announced this week that there are signs that the UK’s economic recovery is beginning to take hold. That’s good news; not so good news for the staff of Blockbuster which is now in administration (due, no doubt to competition by online film providers such as LoveFilm). I wonder, though, why Blockbuster couldn’t have seen this coming and taken steps much earlier to protect their business.
I think this year’s Christmas sales may prove decisive for a number of retailers so now, more than ever, customer service HAS to be gold standard. Not bog standard. E-tailers such as Amazon.co.uk are major competitors for the lion’s share of Christmas profits. If our high streets are to survive we need to ensure customers keep coming in – not drive them away.
Investment in customer service training for staff and strong management of both staff and stock may make the difference between survival and administration in some cases.
Let’s hope it’s a happy and a prosperous festive period for everybody.