The Sad State of Customer Service

Jan 31, 2005

By George Anderson

According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, customer complaints about retail stores were up 104 percent between 2000 and 2003. Many of those complaints originated from problems with store employees.

It’s not a revelation to retailers that their shoppers believe the level of customer service in stores is slipping. A recent survey by the National Retail Federation Foundation and American Express found that 55 percent of retailers say they have become more committed to satisfying customers in direct response to this perception.

Some stores have found that the best way to improve customer service is to let shoppers do more themselves. The grocery industry, for example, has a growing number of operators who are returning to their self-service roots, albeit more high tech in its current form, with self-checkouts. Others such as Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart have gone the lower tech route with case-ready meat departments rather than have butchers in the store.

Others have taken the opposite approach focusing greater attention on employee training. The article in The Christian Science Monitor pointed to Wegmans as one business where training is a priority.

Company spokesperson Jo Natale said, “When people are knowledgeable, they feel more confident. And they feel better able to help the customer.”

Wegmans, Ms. Natale said, tries to “expose our people to the highest reference point.” She mentioned the depth of training given employees, such as a seafood specialist being taught about species sold in the store and different techniques for preparing meals.

Moderator’s Comment: Start from square one — How does the retail industry fix its customer service problem?

One of the interesting things coming out of the recent NRF Foundation and American Express research was the gap between what shoppers and retailers think
is important in customer service. For example, less than one in three retailers (31 percent) thought staffing levels were extremely important to their shoppers while nearly half
of all shoppers (47 percent) said it was.

George Anderson – Moderator

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