By Stephanie Cornwall, Editor
In a retail world led by consumers, customer service is everything. Just one small move in the wrong direction can determine whether or not a retailer will maintain a consumer’s loyalty or prompt them to take their custom elsewhere.
One classic example of this is a trip I made to my local Boots in Oakham. I’ve always been a big fan of Boots. I love my Advantage Card almost as much as my favourite shoes, and get embarrassingly excited when I’ve amassed more than £10 worth of points. I’m also a sucker for those “3-for-2” deals and have often found myself buying make-up I don’t need because I’m desperate to get hold of a free gift that came with a purchase of more than £14!
But today’s experience left me dispirited, and I found myself amongst shoppers leaving the store without purchasing because of a bad decision made by one young shop assistant.
As the two tills at the front of the store were unmanned when I came to pay, I went to the cosmetics counter manned by the sales assistant in question. Ahead of me was a female customer who asked her for assistance with photo printing, whereby the sales assistant left her station and went to help her. After a few minutes’ waiting, I determined she wasn’t about to return any time soon, so went to the only till left manned – the one at the pharmacy counter at the back of the store. The lady there was busy serving prescription collectors and a queue soon formed so a few of us decided to give the cosmetics counter another try. The same sales assistant was still talking to the lady with the photo query, whom it transpired wasn’t going to be able to print that day anyway, so I politely asked if she might be able to call for assistance, or serve some of the waiting shoppers. She informed us she couldn’t and told us to go back to the pharmacy counter. At that point I chose to abandon my shopping basket and leave the store, and the indignant responses of other shoppers were audible enough to prevent two other would-be purchasers from entering the store as I left.
The irony was this: The lady with the photo inquiry was not purchasing anything at that time, whereas I had just over £30 worth of goods in my basket, and at least two of the shoppers behind me had substantially more. Add to that other customers who’d been deterred by the queue, and the couple who decided against entering the store, and you can safely say that Boots lost between £200 and £300 worth of potential purchases in that instance. Seeing two of the customers purchasing the same brand of shampoo at the Oakham Tesco branch soon after, and you might assume that Boots’ loss was Tesco’s gain!
Whilst I’m not about to let one negative experience put me off shopping at a favoured store, not everyone may feel the same and this is a good example of how dependant retailers are on their staff, their ability to make the right decision, and their preparation for unforeseen circumstances. We can all appreciate the difficulties faced by stores who find themselves short-staffed at times, but even with a skeleton staff, this situation and loss in potential sales could easily have been avoided if the sales assistant had politely said to the customer with the photo query: “Do you mind if I serve these people and come back to you?” The worst that could have happened would have been that one non-purchaser would have left the store. Instead, the good will and custom of at least five would-be purchasers was lost.
Customer service is paramount, but it also needs to be selective. Those decisions can make all the difference between encouraging the spenders to come back, or decide to take their custom elsewhere.