Is ‘Customer Service’ a Forgotten Retail Buzzword?

Technology is evolving faster than ever and as a result professionals in many industries are working harder than ever to stay up to date with the latest information, data and trends.

Retailers are no different – constantly learning and looking out for the next concept, strategy or practice that may advance their business. As a result, we’ve seen an explosion of buzzwords – particularly through the emergence of e-commerce (a buzzword in itself) – resulting in terms like multichannel, omnichannel, showrooming, gamification, augmented reality, responsive design, personalisation and localisation, just to name a few.

Personally, I think fellow Power Retail contributor Josh Rowe hit the nail on the head when he wrote earlier this year on the importance of a physical store. This is starkly juxtaposed against the sentiment presented in Campbell Phillips’ interview with Ruslan Kogan, who believes a multichannel retail strategy is ultimately unviable.

Surely the modern retailer needs to meet empowered consumers’ demands in today’s retail environment?

For some time now, sales assistants on the physical showroom floor have borne the brunt of the many barbs thrown at traditional retailers – almost weekly I read more comments, articles and reviews that describe how poor the level of customer service that in-store staff provide. Whether it be the lack of product knowledge, manners or available staff, employees at the store level have been targeted by consumers and pundits alike.

Now, as online sales continue to grow in Australia – reaching $14 billion per annum – service has become the hallmark for those retailers that have succeeded, with increasingly higher levels of service defining a retail offering more so than ultra-competitive prices. As I’ve said before: no one wins in a race to the bottom.

It was with this in mind that I was so thrilled to hear of my step-daughter’s recent experience when shopping for a dress last weekend. The outing to Melbourne’s renowned (but recently struggling) shopping district on Chapel Street revealed some interesting insights into the evolving attitudes of our local retailers.

Visiting mostly small retailers or the odd branded outlet, my step-daughter was consistently greeted pleasantly and – perhaps more interestingly – was asked her name by several different employees in a number of stores. The staff appeared to take a genuine interest in her objectives and attempted to personalise her experience based on the information she gave them.

Of course, none of this is groundbreaking and many would call it required retail practice, yet the general consensus is this element has been missing from our shops for some time. Those who are familiar with Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence should be well pleased with my step-daughter’s experience (as I am).

Once the shopper was feeling comfortable, dress options were then presented and ideas for accessorising commenced. Even if my step-daughter wasn’t interested in the specific options or hadn’t seen anything she liked, her experiences were very much the same across the various stores she visited. In each case the shopping experience was personalised by staff who were dressed in the look of the brand aiming to assimilate with her.

Further, each store also requested her email address, which was provided. Because of this, even if no sale occurred that day, all of the retailers at least provided a pleasant experience that my step-daughter will be telling her friends about, and they also gained a valuable email address for their database – both of which can be bankable in the future.

While Kogan is correct in saying the best features of a physical store, such as customer service and tactile consumerism are difficult to replicate online – they are surely not impossible. Nordstrom and John Lewis are world-class examples of the intersection of online and offline that is possible.

Regardless of which model or buzzword you subscribe to, investment in key staff members still appears to be one of the surest pathways to success.

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