Sunday, August 21, 2011

Creating Unsustainable Expectations

Waiting at the billing counter has always been a touchy and sensitive point with customers. They are at their irritable best if there is even the smallest of delays. In fact this factor is now one of the key drivers for customer to revert to their trusted neighborhood store for basic/ functional purchases. Make a phone call and be done with it.

So, it was refreshing to see an Indian hypermarket take the bull by its horns and tackle this issue head on. They released advertisements about the “No more long billing queues” and branded it as the Green Line revolution.

Quite frankly I thought that they were quite ambitious in their claim and was watching to see how this would pan out.

I shared this advertisement in several of my classes and invited inputs from the students in the context of customer service and customer satisfaction. Initially the feedback was very positive with most students mentioning how this was a welcome move and they would try this store just for this service factor.
Cut to a few weeks later. This campaign has been on my mind and I was keen to see how successfully this Retailer had managed this service issue and what had happened.

In order to maintain objectivity I asked another class of mine to do a field visit to various stores including this hypermarket. They had not been showed this advertisement and there had been no discussion in this regard in the class.

The feedback was rather shocking although along expected lines. The Green Line initiative was highlighted as a positive and the message registered well with the student customers. Although under the negatives for that store long lines and a long wait for the billing was highlighted. The net take out was that the claim was not supported in reality and was a huge disappointment.

Obviously this Retailer might have ended up irritating more customers than winning them over with this initiative and the fact that this is no longer mentioned in their advertisements seems to validate my point of view.

So, what went wrong?

It was creating unreasonable and unsustainable expectations. Service delivery is not only ensuring great service but also setting the right expectations. In this case the customer expectations would have far exceeded the delivery that the Retailer was prepared for. This is not uncommon and I see this often enough.
In fact the reality is that most customers might have not even registered the word “long” in the advertisements. They would have registered the message as no more queues.

This just another case to the point that Retail marketing is a 360 degree exercise and starts from the home where customers get some communication from the Retailer. Wrong or misleading communications like “Upto 50% Off”, with “Upto” lost in the small print or claims which are not sustainable will hurt more than help.

In Retail everyone should get a first hand feel of the store reality by spending time there and ideally working at the store often. Then they will be wary of such actions which are not sustainable. Remember, Retail is all about execution, execution and execution. Brilliant ideas conceived and presented in meeting rooms counts for very little in the reality test of how the customer actually experiences the same.


Sanjeev's Thoughts said...

interesting to know that the said retailer has not been able to live to hype created by the advertising.

Kuruvilla said...

One of the problems with billing counters at our Indian supermarkets and hypermarkets is that they do not seem to have a system in place to regulate service times according to the need of the hour.

During off-peak hours many of the counters are shut down and if there is a sudden spurt in load we seem to have no system in place to activate some of the closed counters in sync with traffic density.

As in the USA, there are now multiple peaks in India. With flexi-hours and night shifts, large and smaller peaks are spread across the day.

In the US, I find that there is a service supervisor who roams around on a mezzanine floor keeping an eye on the build up of queues at billing counters. As soon as he sees queues building up, on his walkie-talkie, he directs some of the floor-hands who have been assigned to different activities to open up more billing counters.

The moral of the story is that i) there has to be a certain level of slack in the system and ii) floor staff need to be multi-skilled if there has to be an optimum level of labor-flexibility. Our own Udipi-style restaurants have it so why can't our western style hyper markets?

Sesu said...

Wonderful insights about retail industry. writing is simply impressive and understandable. Thanks Rajesh

Madhavan said...

Creating expectations without necessary investments in resources and technology can also be an issue. As a customer, some of the frequent problems which i encounter are
1. Not many billing counters and even the available counters not fully staffed even at peak hours.
2. Frequent issues with the bar code scanners.
3. When coming out, being stopped by the security to verify the bills
4. Inside the store, missing "material order"
5. Lack of proper identification of where to find the required stuff.
6. Congested moving space.
7. Quality of service staff - many a times they cant offer solutions/answers.

Boss, success in retailing is not a joke.

Indian Retail Expert said...

It's true, that success in Retailing is not easy. But, it is not rocket science and is quite simple if the basics are followed. Most of the customer pain points mentioned is a system and process issue.

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