Mobile Phone customer service

Service – do you really know how you are doing? Do you Own It?

Mobile Phone customer service

I will admit to conceiving this blog based on some really bad service where I felt that my personal issues were exactly that – mine. Nobody else was overly bothered beyond a sympathetic sorry. I’d have been appalled if any human had not been sorry for what was negligence. I wanted a little more than sorry, and no, not in the “what can I get out of this situation” way, just in the ownership of the issue, some personal adoption of it from a named person within the company and swift resolution. I wanted to get back on with my life.

Many things we buy do not affect our lives too much and frankly, we could all recant tales of buying milk that was not quite right or a jumper that refused to keep any shape despite manically following care instructions. As a store manager, I was used to dealing with these issues swiftly and with a minimum of fuss. I mean, even if the chicken was off and the suggestion it had ruined grandmas 90th birthday, the damage was usually fairly limited. Most trained service people have it within their gift to resolve swiftly.

A competent leader should be obsessed with customer care

Then we come to Telecoms and the industry where perhaps more than any other (apart from the medical/pharmaceutical industries) if it goes wrong it has an enormous effect. Having worked with MTN, a telecoms provider in Africa, I am well aware that unless competent leadership becomes obsessed with customer care, then it will end in frustration and disgruntled customers jeopardising early adoption of any new players in the market.

If in business you are without the immediate means of communication for a prolonged time you will be telling every person you know of the poor service you are getting. Likewise, if you are a “permanently connected” youth the amount of vitriol likely to be aimed at the provider is huge. It is a harshly judged environment based on the consequences for the customer of non-delivery.

mobile phone shop

I recently suffered 15 days of poor service from my telecom provider with nobody owning the problem (except me). It took someone to feel real and genuine empathy and own the problem personally, to resolve what should have been a simple solution. (Thank you Veronica !).

There is always one customer that talks with their feet

There is no point in mentioning the provider as by the time you read this I will have downloaded all my messages and will have moved my business elsewhere. You see there always is one, and if you think there isn’t, then you are probably already on a slippery slope.

The lesson in all of this is that if you are a senior executive within a company, how much time do you truly dedicate to listening to customers; not just the NOP data or the focus data run by the insight team, but actually looking at the most recent complaints file and phoning a few up? You will gain an insight not only into the original issues your customers face but the attitude your customers feel from within your own team. Priceless.

One thing I know for sure is that usually in any boardroom I have witnessed direct customer feedback is the most powerful influencing tool. It’s just a shame that too many senior execs don’t realise it.

brexit and british retail

The Brexit Retail Crisis

There has been much talk about the likelihood of a Brexit where no trading deal has been secured and the retailers have all warned that the ramifications are dire.

It would be great to be able to report that following extensive investigation, this is not going to be the case. The problem is, it is. Following our exit we will, without any trade deal agreed, pay more for those goods that we import, not that we have to, it is just that we will. We will base our charges on the WTO that goods and services will be subject to. The impact will be immediate and give rise to shortages in products as diverse as fashion to food-stuffs and everything in-between.

It is not as if we have negotiated free trade deals with other countries, membership of the EU forbade that, so we are starting from scratch and despite the International Trade Secretary suggesting they are lining up to talk to us, we all know this is just fluff.

The UK retail industry is currently scared that we have a no-deal Brexit on the cards and with good reason. The implications of a no deal seemed to have been played down in the popular press. It is in nobody’s interest to delay food-stuffs coming to a market where they are welcome, even if they are charged a premium for coming in. Unfortunately, there may well be a reason that would delay their import, the bureaucracy of border crossing.

I hope, as I write this, that sense is seen and some common ground can be reached, but if not then the retailers need to start to gear themselves to run leaner on product and lengthen their supply chains. The consumers may have to gird their loins on the availability and price of goods they have come to take for granted. The old marketing campaign of Buy British may for once have some actual teeth, it’s just that we would rather not have to see them in such circumstances.

If you want support to plan your no deal Brexit contingencies, please get in touch. Sooner rather than later.

Customer First Culture and Business Saving Mindset

There is a huge difference between tactics and strategy. In our conversations with retailers across the globe, more often than not, there is a lot of confusion between the two. Most people create a retail strategy that is less about the medium to long term view and more about a shift of operational focus for the next six months to a year.

As retail execution specialists, we have seen some truly wonderful customer strategies described, putting the customer first, creating a customer-centric organisation and listening to the river. Many have been communicated well, charted on board-rooms walls and even on the back of every employee’s badge. The sad fact is that very few are really lived.



Retail change is hard, but cultural change is harder

The change in culture required to deliver a customer first attitude right through an organisation is tough, change is hard but cultural change is even harder.  As we have touched upon in other blogs, the challenge is doing this in a retail landscape that is ravaged by over-competition, over-supply, and increasingly promiscuous customers.

It makes sense to truly differentiate yourself with great service when others are average at best, yet the cost and effort to do this is daunting. However……..we see it a little differently.

The cost not being customer first can be fatal

The cost of not doing it can be fatal. Look at the last year with Toys R Us, Maplins, House of Fraser, Debenhams, HMV, all either going bust or having to sell. The common factor among them was they did not have a customer first strategy, despite two of them delivering pretty good front line customer service! The game-changing factor of cultural change, where every aspect of customer first strategy is embraced, was not employed.

Here are the steps they perhaps could have taken:

  • Reviewed customer purchase patterns and established growth and decline categories.
  • Linked ‘searched for’ categories for product groups not stocked.
  • Initiated store and customer discussion groups to listen to current customer shopping habits and how they were changing.
  • Created a strong measurement of true customer satisfaction from range/experience/service and post-purchase.
  • Created a very clear view of what good customer connection means and find a way to discuss it with every employee, from interview to induction, to appraisal.
  • Presume the communication failed and do it again in 3 months.
  • Presume the communication partially failed and analyse why with those unable or unwilling to adopt it and communicate it again.
  • Have a customer first view on every piece of ‘information’ produced for the senior team.
  • Monitor, measure and review best practice customer interaction through management role modeling.

As a checklist for a customer first retail strategy, this is not complete. Not only that, much of the power is in the detail and crucially the execution, where it is most likely to fail.

As you can see from the list, it is about being truly customer-centric from the range you buy to how you inspire teams and all points in-between. We have seen many great orators speak of customer service and motivate retail teams to run through brick walls. The issue is that motivation falls when the pressure comes, commitment is what’s needed, that’s permanent.

The last word should be about phrasing, be wary of well-educated people re-inventing what customer service is, including the name. When all is said and done, it is about human connections.

If you want an objective view of your customer service proposition or help to create a customer first culture, get in touch with the team.

paying for national living wage

Developing a Customer Service Strategy in tune with a Productivity Strategy

Experience a lack of care from your retailer and you usually shop elsewhere, no need to complain, too many of us are too reserved to do that anyway, we just go. It’s rarely direct rudeness or poor customer service, it is either apathy from the colleagues or not being able to locate one that makes us leave.

Nobody believes that the actions they take in head office create a poor customer experience, I have never spoken to a retail director who thinks that. Yet they all take actions in reducing payroll and streamlining the organisation. Retailers across the spectrum are trying to reduce costs and the largest controllable they have is the cost of their labour.

paying for national living wage

The opposing reality of trying to save money but retain good customer service

Here lies the problem, the opposing realities of trying to save money but retain or even improve good customer service. Having completed work in both supermarket retailing in the UK, Eastern Europe and Africa and fashion retailing across Europe and Australia it is evident that these two needs are very uncomfortable bedfellows. In truth pushing hard in delivering productivity usually leads to a loss in customer service at the front line.

We have followed a number of well-meaning and statistically excellent productivity improvements introduced by internal teams (often finance controlled) or big brand consultants (often lacking retail experience), most have been pretty miserable. The biggest failure appears to be around understanding that the job of customer service is a task in itself and that if you give most employees two tasks (fill this and then watch out for customers who may need help) they default to the more measurable element.

This gives a clue as to where the solution may be, unfortunately moving mundane operational task out of hours or away from specific areas can add cost and is also difficult to deliver in low volume, small unit retail where minimal manning dictates hours.

Define what a good job looks like

If I owned a fashion shop one of the key ways that I would be driving sales would be through the interactions with my customers. Visiting some stores recently with a client brought this home to me. Even when identified customer service time had been given, nearly every colleague reverted to doing some task, filling up needlessly or re-merchandising a section.

I observed the store managers and the regional managers interaction with their customers. It was lovely and pleasant yet entirely transactional, very little if any ‘connection’ was made with the customer. When I queried this the answer became more apparent. Despite having the time allocated nobody had defined what a good job looks like in this regard and there were no role models within the business who evangelised and exampled the way it should be done. Senior management on visits to stores would largely ignore customers or at best treat them as a transactional need.

So the question I leave you with is this. If you are trying to reduce costs and yet still want great customer service how have you defined what that means and how does every senior person in the organisation currently role model the way?  If you are having difficulty answering, give us a call and we can help deliver both!

instore directional signage

The Retailer Customer Conversation

The role of communication, and more crucially conversation, in the retailer:customer relationship is at the heart of marketing and that conversation is on-going. It doesn’t start with an advert, nor does it stop when the customer leaves the store. The customer is participating in hundreds of conversations each day and the art to a retail marketing strategy is to be heard above the other voices.

That doesn’t mean shouting the loudest however. That conversation will be switched off pretty quickly if it intrudes in the customer’s life. The best conversations are the ones that are helpful, interesting and engaging and give the customer a reason to listen out for the retailer amongst the noise. Those conversations build loyalty and brand advocacy.

In-store marketing can often be an after-thought in the conversation. The interesting bit is getting the customer to the store in the first place, once they are there, the product will speak for itself. Not so. The conversation must be continued, consistently underpinned with the core marketing and brand message. The signage must compliment the marketing, the store layout must evoke the same brand values and the path to purchase must be satisfyingly completed to ensure that the customer is receptive to further conversations.

This may all seem rather like a ‘psychology of selling’ article but it is frightening how often the basics are overlooked, and demoted in the budget. A simple aspect of in-store marketing is directional signage. A recent visit to a Poundstretcher which had just been refitted, was a classic example of lovely new fixtures but desperately dull long aisles with no signage at all to help the customer along the path to purchase. On a good note, the staff at Poundstretcher knew where products were on the shelf and were able to help this customer including finding a price because the shelf label was missing.

On the other hand in-store marketing overkill can be as unhelpful as having none. Remember what it’s like to be shouted at? It’s very hard to listen when the noise level is turned too high, and it’s very hard to pick out what is being said if there are multiple conversations going on at the same time. Something supermarkets would do well to understand when they are fighting through all the POS.

Knowing what to talk about, when to talk about it and where to have the conversation should be central to a retail marketing strategy. It should be informed by the customer, which is something Tesco and Morrisons seem to taking on board, and should be consistent at all points of the conversation.

We look forward to seeing how Tesco and Morrisons develop in the coming months and how conversation forms part of their plans for growth.


If your in-store marketing isn’t delivering, and you’d like to discuss it in a language you understand, give Retail Remedy a shout.

Why Department stores are a great fit

The department store has traditionally been where a customer can shop for many different brands, fulfil the majority of their purchasing dilemmas under one roof, get a refreshment and enjoy a retailing experience. That role has even more relevance in today’s retailing landscape than it has had in the past.

What have department stores got going for them?

Space. They are, or should be, in destination locations, the anchor of a shopping mall or retail park, a beacon on our city’s main High Streets. They have the space to be able to offer a customer a hassle free, all under one roof, shopping experience to meet and exceed all of their expectations.

Range. The extensive space of a department store means it can offer a complete cross category range with strong price architecture to meet most customer’s needs. There are opportunities to cross merchandise to maximise calendar events, and to upsell and cross sell to customers. A customer has no need to leave the premises or to go online to compare prices of leading brands because they are all there.

Service. A customer who enters a department store is not going to be just popping in, they are going to be spending time in the store. This gives the retailer every opportunity to engage with the customer and build a relationship demonstrating expertise and product knowledge.

But while they have a lot going for them, department stores also face challenges from the same direction.

Location. Big space equals big overheads so every inch of space needs to be as productive as possible. Range planning and space analysis must be ongoing, regularly revisited to tweak and refine space and ranges which all boils down to space flexibility. Be agile with the space, reactive and proactive, refreshing the environment frequently for the customer so they have a new reason to visit.

Range. Broad ranges results in significant stock holding and process complexity. Department stores need stock management and merchandising systems, reliable systems that store staff understand and can use to improve their knowledge and ability to meet their customer’s needs, whilst minimising the amount of stock in store.

Service. Getting the balance between staff numbers and therefore cost, with customer service is imperative. Once the balance is right, staff must be product experts across multiple ranges to be able to demonstrate authority and offer good service. Product training, customer service training, must be ongoing.

Like every retailer, the department store must give customers a reason to visit. They have the space to create events, destination categories and above all, excitement. Selfridges might be the masters of this, but a department store on any High Street can create the same authority with a clear investment in its staff, its systems and its space.

Retail Remedy provides bespoke, results-focused consultancy for retailers globally, from established brands to high-growth start-ups. Get in touch.

Range Transition – A basic skill not yet mastered

By Phil Dorrell, Managing Partner, Retail Remedy

Having spent over 30 years in various different retail environments and another 6 years as a retail consultant I consider execution fundamental to keeping customers engaged and coming back. The sticky bit of retail is more often where the rubber meets the road than in the higher environs of the strategic board room. So why is it that retailers still fail to get this right so often?

If I was to mince my words I would probably gab on about the needs of the range out doing the needs of the stores and that the stores have to be flexible in their approach, using long lost skills to dress problems away. That would be missing the real point however.

New ranges and new products are exciting both in supplier’s, head office’s and in customer’s minds. They are intoxicating in a way, they become the reason we do what we do. The defining moment of a buyer’s year can be the range review, it becomes the make or break of a buyer. And this is where it goes wrong.

On a recent visit to Tesco I witnessed the abandonment of space within their frozen food section as they made the transition on ready meals. The retailers nightmare, gaps left to wallow over a busy weekend with nearly 20% of the range unavailable and no teasing about the new offer that might be coming. In truth Tesco normally get this right.

What really worried me was the visit I took to B & Q over the Christmas break. I thought I would fit some new lights to the Kitchen and planned what I needed to make the change. Shame that B & Q did not do the same. The market is changing from Halogens to LED’s and yet the largest home DIY provider in the UK does not seem to be able to handle this change at all. Mixing the types of bulbs, fittings, confusing in the packaging differentiation and letting normal merchandising rules go. No good, better, best, no colour or type blocks, no explanation of the change in progress or attempt to dress the section to cover the gaps. Isolated store? Nope. The same horrendous section was in play in the store 6 miles away.

We often write about some heady subjects like strategy and market forces. I think that at times we just need to remember the basics of retail, if you cannot execute a range review that only impacts your customers (and bottom line) positively then start asking questions of the Central Operations function. Give them some teeth and see execution reap the rewards, oh, and you won’t look daft in having half empty shelves!

Retail Remedy provides bespoke, results-focused consultancy for retailers globally, from established brands to high-growth start-ups. Get in touch.

premier foods logo

Premier Foods – the future of brands in the UK?

There is a lot in the press about the seeming mal-practice of Premier Foods in their demand from their suppliers for loyalty payments. There used to be a time when the manufacturers complained bitterly about the retailers negotiation tactics and the additional costs levied against new line introduction, promotional support, POS, additional space etc. It seems that the retailers are not alone in being tough to do business with and suppliers to suppliers are treated in a similarly tough manner. Buy what’s changed, why the increasingly tough stance ?

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christmas tree made of books

Tis the season for points of differentiation.

Here at Retail Remedy we do tend to hark on about differentiation, normally when we are being bombarded by the normal pricing tussles between the grocery retailers.

The Big 4 do have different offers, not just what they range but also how they range it, marketing messages, loyalty promotions etc. but it is normally the price that gets all the attention in the retail press and in any article comparing one retailer against another.

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black friday sale

Black Friday is a future sales opportunity

Like Halloween before it, the UK is embracing the US phenomenon that is Black Friday. There is some bickering about which US owned retailer first brought the event to the UK, but it is clear that once a retailer like john Lewis are on board it becomes a moot point. The reality, if you speak to any of our team, is that the name might be new but the phenomenon has been around since salaries became the norm. You see it is merely the last pay day before December, where available pay and a pressing gift purchase (Christmas !) collide.

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