Customer service according to who?

customer, pay, POS, counter, checkout, cardSo what is customer service that all and sundry bang on about in retail?

The truth is, retailers tend to hide a multitude of sins beneath this banner in a quest for self-justification and agenda – least of all genuine intentions to add value to our client’s experience.

Such delusion takes on many forms under the guise of the ‘service’ umbrella, yet contributes nothing to the function of interacting with the consumer. Here are but a few:

Convenience: But for who? Barcode scanning towers are a result of an inability to convey prices with consistency. Cop out. No guesses who ends up doing the work? Change rooms policed to the umpteenth degree by intimidating disciplinarians longing for an opportunity to catch someone not returning the right apparel or number of hangers. Loss prevention. The duplicitous door person welcoming everyone into the store, then bag-checking them with criminal exhortation on the way out. Invasive.

Self-service: Fortunes are spent attracting the public to retail stores, so why leave everything to chance? Retail is about entertainment, the fanfare and in pleasuring the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. But be mindful never to omit the sixth sense of personal synergy. The more we employ technology to reduce personal contact, the greater we expose ourselves to the fracas of competition that is online shopping. Don’t get me started on the demonic instore voice generators that startle more than they inform.

Loyalty schemes: A transparent marketing technique with little regard to the impact on the public’s subconscious. Consider the perception of the majority who choose not to enrol in these irksome programs and are excluded from discount or benefit. Exclusion of any kind is fraught with alienation. It raises the question of brand integrity, whether participating or not, for they are all aware they are paying a premium for the ‘privilege’. Despite manic perseverance, loyalty cannot be bought.

Advertising: The biggest culprit of dubitable customer service. Keep it simple. Stay away from small print qualifiers, ensure availability and deliver on what is promised. Above all, communicate variations and alternatives through sales teams to avoid further disappointment and escalation. Contemplate the repercussions of the reluctant customer faced with multi-buy offers and ambiguous conditions of sale – if it is easier for them to walk away, then something is awry.

Customer service is about people, by the people; the rest is aides and conveniences of arguable intent. Word of mouth, through the advent of social media, is all-powerful, capable of punishing the deviance of principles while lauding innovation and deliverance of expectation.

Everyone must add to the overall shopping experience in one way or another, otherwise their position is questionable at best. Serviceability is sacrosanct and must remain unadulterated to the machinations of dubious endeavour.

Retail is going through a rejuvenation – and for good reason. Not because of technology, but because fundamentals have been eroded or ignored. Failings that also allude to the accountability and relevance of the so-called gurus and self-appointed experts of the retail advisory market. It has to be back to basics with the added penchant for contemporary flair and a renewed appreciation of public expectation.

Customers are not king; customers are everything.

Dave Farrell is a retailer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at

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