Retail Customer Service: Beware Disgruntled Employees

April 19, 2016

broken retail customer serviceI was consulting with a major retailer the other day. Premium. High quality. Known brand.

The retail executive shared with me that when they put on a sale, they see a whole different customer than their regulars.

I found that particularly interesting because most people would have predicted their own customers came out in droves, but they really didn’t.

Case in point, I was reading the Los Angeles Times one Sunday in 1986 when I spotted an ad for a five-piece Lenox Autumn china setting for $48.88.

Now my first paying job a dozen years earlier was to clean and polish the china and silver at Slavick’s jewelry store – back when a place setting cost $125– I knew that this was an incredible deal.

I didn’t want or need china; but since it was such great bargain, I called the South Coast Plaza Bullock’s store to order it. The department manager firmly said it was a typo; no dice.

I called their store in Del Amo Fashion Center in the hopes of finding a disempowered employee. Bingo! The salesperson, Bruce, told me he would honor it and asked how many settings I wanted. I said six.

He told me it would take a few months for delivery and that I’d save an additional 10% if I opened a credit account.

So I did, and upped the order to eight.

Over the next few months, Bruce called and offered yet another special discount and told me each time that he’d re-ring that day so he could win a sales contest.

I ended up with (12) five-piece place settings for somewhere around $30 each - about the cost of two regular place settings. As a customer, all the deals he gave me were great.

As a business consultant, they were terrible.

I wasn't their regular shopper, I was an opportunist.

Fast forward to 2017 when marketers are using deals and discounts every weekend. How do employees become disgruntled? They know the premium items will be on sale in a few days.

Since they have no retail sales training, those employees believe great service is to alert shoppers of the foolishness of paying full price and encourage them to wait. They don't realize making their sales goals becomes that much harder.

When you as a merchant buy into the deal fever, you are courting those opportunists who have no desire to get anything but the deal.

Instead of offering endless promotions, why not really look at the experience you are providing to your retail customers? Bullock's was out of business within six months of my purchase.

OK, not because of my purchase but partly because they had compromised the people they had representing their tony brand.

See also, What Customer Service Avoids and What It Should Offer

In Sum

A lot of retailers give up on their people first. Consider the video store of days gone by...

Once so cool and fun to explore with employees who were movie afficienados it became a great experience to have someone recommend a new film for you.

Then they got full of themselves and had clerks who knew nothing about people, relationships or movies. But they did know to ding you for a late return. Technology finished what they themselves initiated - their own demise.

Until we acknowledge and fix how team members become disgruntled - the people side of the business, owners will grasp for even more discounts.

Which attract the opportunists.

Which teaches their own salespeople that no one pays full price and makes them give up trying.

That's no way to build a profitable business.

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