customer service evolution

The Evolution of Customer Service

by Phil Dorrell, Partner

There was a time when people working in retail were ‘in-service’ meaning that they treated the customers as superiors and offered good customer service by deferring to them. Then came a more egalitarian view of customer service where treating them more like a friend was the vogue. It would put the customer in a relaxed and trusting state in order for them to enjoy the experience and lead them to potentially spend more.

We have both these types of service in the British High Street. If I go to a high end retailer I can expect and will receive the former. At most smaller independent stores and well run larger retailer I get the latter. Unfortunately, they have been joined by the latest evolution of customer service, not a recent phenomenon yet a growing one. This is where the transaction is paramount and the customer is not; where ‘processing’ the sale is the service.

Whether by cost cutting, poor selection, poor training, poor management or even poor working conditions the element of treating that customer as an individual is vanishing. The winner in all of this is the online retailer who can process transactions faster, cheaper and more effectively than physical retailers and can build a pseudo-personality into their contact with the customer.

Having experienced all facets of the evolution of service in the last 5 days there are some simple rules I think are valid when looking at your own people in stores. It is not something that you can audit through a regular 3rd party service visit, find comfort in the red, amber and green scoring of service charts if you wish. They unfortunately do not tell the whole story.

The human condition is geared towards connection, we all seek to connect with another and feel like we have something in common. We want to be treated like an individual at the pub, at the restaurant, at the clothes shop and at the supermarket. That slight spark that happens when you look someone in the eye and say hello is not measurable, but is worth more than a mountain of reports on service. Some retailers get it.

I am always impressed by the colleagues at Pret á Manger who despite real time pressure and tight working conditions deliver a connection each time, even when I spend less than £5. Recent experience at Harrods was also excellent, slightly old fashioned but, again, a colleague who looks you squarely in the eye and really seeks to understand your needs. I spent over £350 in Curry’s recently and the transaction was completed, end of story. No eye contact, no help on a complicated device, just flat. I then observed this across all the contact points and it was equally flat, soul-less. It was all efficient and reasonably swift, I just felt it did not make me want to return, and that in a nutshell is what service gives you, returning customers and eventually advocates.

So when you review your latest monthly stats on service, give some thought on how your customers have been connected with, how they feel about it. Then ask yourself how many customers have you really spoken to, to discuss their experience? I will guarantee it is not going to be enough.

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