That old “customer service” chestnut

The world of customer service is something that has been spoken about and argued forever. Opinion is divided on what actually constitutes good service but basically if the customer is happy with the overall experience that is probably the best way of measuring it. Unless, of course, the customer expectation is so low in the first place that anything better than awful is acceptable.
Coming from a retail background most of my working life I like to think I have gained some experience in these matters over the years and therefore feel qualified to comment on it, from both sides of the divide.

For example I believe that any employee who is customer facing must be a great communicator; they must be flexible in their approach to different customers and must have a knowledge and expertise in the products or services they represent. However, above all, having a great personality will get a person a long way, especially when overcoming problems.

You only need to take a look at the various different retailers in the UK today and our perception of them. John Lewis and Waitrose, to name two examples, are in my opinion places I like to spend time in. I always find the staff fantastic, the service unbeatable and the aftersales service even better. They cannot do enough for you and it is probably no coincidence that the staff are shareholders in the business. Unfortunately, like when you have travelled First or business class on an airline and economy class is never the same again afterwards, the flip side is whenever I have visited the likes of JJB sports I have never had a good experience there ever. The staff are offhand, all appear bored and don’t seem to have a clue about how to treat customers and I really can’t wait to get out of there. Similarly Tesco’s, in my opinion, are going rapidly downhill the staff in general don’t appear to want to be there and overcoming issues in my experience is just not worth trying. In attempting to return an electrical item which I bought my daughter for Christmas I was told I could get neither a refund nor have it repaired unless I had the receipt and the original packaging – of course everybody clutters up their houses with lots of unwanted boxes don’t they? It is this sort of inflexible, unhelpful attitude that means that, after many years a loyal Tesco customer, this was the last straw and Sainsbury’s here I come.

The point is that customer service is really all about the people a business chooses to represent their brand and their ethos. So onto the car business; we have had more than our share of bad press over the years, some of it warranted, but great strides are being made to improve the experience buyers receive in car showrooms. In light of this I took note of a very interesting concept recently which I believe might just work in a car showroom.

We seem to have only two different types of approach in retail environments; complete ambivalence aka “the invisible customer syndrome” or jumping on customers as soon as they come through the door with very little middle ground. Of course this is subjective, I have known people who if they are not seen to in about 10 seconds are going mad demanding to see the manager and conversely I have seen customers running to their cars to escape the high pressure sales staff – neither are likely to end in a sale. So how about when you come through the showroom doors you get issued with a pass?

Green means: I have an idea what I would like and therefore need to see a sales exec immediately.

Amber means: I would like a little time to browse, maybe get a brochure and would then like some service

Red means: I am only looking today, if there is anything I need I will approach you.

A little simplistic perhaps but at least everybody understands the customers’ requirements and can deal with the situation accordingly.

Just a thought.

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2 Responses to That old “customer service” chestnut

  1. Stuart Masson April 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    An interesting idea, however from my experience a Sales Manager will will insist that everyone is a buyer today if you can convince/bully them into doing so.

    The other difficulty is manufacturers’ inflexibility towards customer service, usually made worse by the ‘mystery shopping’ mentality. Every customer must have their name address, phone number and e-mail address taken, and this results in an interrogation of the customer rather than helping them.

    Personally I think the whole automotive retail model is broken when it comes to actually serving the customer, but none of the manufacturers is brave enough to try something different.

  2. maximile April 2, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    At last someone talking sense! It is broken – the whole process is designed for the oem to tick boxes not for genuine customer service otherwise the one size fits all approach would not exist.

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