Is retail customer service getting worse?

There are different types of customer service.  ARMA, for instance, is involved in a business-to-business customer service, where we strive to make sure our clients are getting the support they need, so that they in turn can serve their customers. Most people are exposed to business-to-consumer customer service.  As we have discussed here before, this type of customer service can actually make or break a customer relationship.

A new study by Emphatica, Inc. shows that 55% of  Canadian and American customers feel that customer service at retail outlets has gotten worse. The study is revealed in this article on Chain Leader, a trade publication. What is interesting is that because of the recession, customers are spending less money but are expecting better service.

One interesting item in the study found that  in the restaurant trade:

The data also revealed that customer service is so important to U.S. consumers, that one in five respondents said they value good customer service over good food.

Furthermore, bad service DAMAGED the restaurant’s brand perception:

The survey found that those who receive poor service — even at a restaurant they’ve been to several times –can cause huge damage to a brand. One in four U.S. consumers stated they would tell others not to go there in addition to never going again.

It is hard to say whether customer service in retail has gotten worse if we also know expectations are higher. Perhaps customer service has remained constant, and people, who have been getting more careful with their spending, are being more judicious in where and how they spend it. What do you think?

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Mom and Pop were right

This is a post about retailers.  Perhaps more that in other industries, customer service makes or breaks a retail experience. As the insightful article in The Gourmet Retailer, “Commit to Superior Customer Service” by Rick Miller,  points out: “By and large, the overall quality of customer service is declining, but individuals and companies that deliver exceptional service will stand out and be rewarded at the expense of those that don’t.”

It turns out that Mom-and-Pop stores were doing it right. That is, they were working hard to ensure their customers were satisfied. Why? Because they understood that customer satisfaction could make or break their business. In many retail stores today, clerks are bored and uninterested, and uncaring. There is no personal stake in keeping customers happy, or even in helping people out.

How many times have you walked into a store just to be dismissed by a surly employee? It happened to me just yesterday. I entered a store and said a cheery good morning. The employee was on the phone and grunted at me, yes, he grunted at me. Needless to say, I am not encouraged to ever go back to that store again.

There are solutions to this. First of all,  retailers need to understand the importance of customer service. Second, retailer need to relay this importance to their employees. And third, and perhaps most important, retailers need to provide adequate training to their employees about customer service skills.