Retail Would Be So Much Easier If You Didn’t Have To Deal With Those Damn Customers!

Without being an over-protective husband and father, I’d like to relay two events that happened to my wife and daughter in the last week while shopping. The first was a routine trip to one of the two dominant supermarket giants for the twice-weekly family grocery shop. Nothing out of the ordinary happened until the self-service checkout froze before printing out a receipt. As my wife went to leave the store, the attendant stopped her and asked for proof of purchase. My wife explained that her card had been debited and that had come up on the screen but that the screen had frozen prior to the system issuing a receipt.

The attendant then went about – very loudly and in front of a large audience in the extremely busy self-service area – demanding my wife pay for the goods again. When my wife – who by the way works for one of the big four banks – tried to show the attendant the notification on her Apple Watch and her iPhone of the transaction going through the attendant further insisted that this was not good enough.

A frustrating conversation continued until my wife asked to see the Manager, where the same conversation began again – still in front of onlookers shaking their heads. Finally my wife got the manager to agree to her going to a nearby ATM, printing a statement to prove the transaction had gone ahead, providing that to the store manager along with her contact details and a threat from the Manager. To say it was embarrassing was an understatement. We have since found out that a person she knows won a five-figure payout through a legal process for exactly the same store behaviour.

The second incident was when my wife and daughter went shopping in the Sydney CBD for a junior prom dress. A process that any mother will tell you takes about 6 hours and is full of stress. One of the country’s best-known apparel brands insisted that my wife could not accompany my daughter into the change-room to help her decide on the best option. There was nowhere in the store to sit and no easy access to view when my daughter tried on the outfits. As my wife said to the store assistant – loudly enough for the store manager to overhear – “So you won’t let the person who is actually buying the dress into the change room?”. On this occasion the store manager intervened.

Both of these examples show how badly blind and inflexible process adherence is destroying customer relationships. Usually formulated by head office bureaucrats who have either never worked in stores or have totally forgotten what it is like, this process adherence is based on a very blunt hammer to solve a problem that should be solved another way. Not only that, they completely remove any form of discretion from store staff.

The best rule in retail was the one Chuck Williams brought in for Williams Sonoma in the USA. He said – “No staff member will ever be fired for making a decision in favour of the customer”. Front line is where the sales are made and where the brand experience is delivered. It’s about time more head office people worked that out and stopped punishing customers for their mistakes. Too many retailers are blaming customers for their own ineptitude and poor performance and their ‘former’ customers have had enough.

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