Monday, March 24, 2014

Indian Retail: Are you walking the talk of customer service

Customer Satisfaction is the most overused and abused term. There is a whole universe of business opportunity that revolves around these two words. Over the years this has morphed into variations like customer delight, customer wow, etc.

All this is great to hear and quite profitable too if one were to be offering a training program or consulting inputs built around these two words.

Alas, as customers this talk never does reach down to us on an operating level. Let me share this interesting anecdote about a chain store.

A friend of mine recently happened to purchase a lot of products from a leading lifestyle chain and went home hoping to surprise her family members. As in the case of any surprise gifts, some were welcomed while a few were not. So, she planned to return to the store to either exchange these or return the same. My friend set off confidently for this task as she remembered seeing a large sign about replacement being guaranteed and had read through the conditions mentioned regarding the same.

Upon reaching the store, she went to the customer service desk near the billing counters and requested their help to exchange the few products she had purchased. To her surprise she was asked to go to another counter on another floor where replacements and exchanges were handled. After locating this special counter she repeated her request and the staff said that she would be given a note for the value of products purchased and she can show this note at the billing counter towards payment of the products she has selected now. In industry terms, this is a credit note.

Now came the twist in the tale. After she had selected the new products and got the same billed, she found that the bill value was less than the credit note value. However, the staff refused to refund her the money as that was not allowed as per policy. When questioned about the replacement and exchange promise mentioned in the large sign, it was pointed out that no cash refund was also mentioned in that sign, although as fine print!

In effect this customer had to end up paying more for a product just because she had to get it exchanged.

When I mention walking the talk, it refers to enabling the customers to experience the exact same thing which has been promised and not about the various disclaimers in small print. There are two components to this.

One is about setting the right expectations. Quite often the customer expectations are raised to such impossible levels through a mix of hyperbole and fancy words. Whether intentionally or not, customers end up interpreting these statements in their own way and expectations are set. On the contrary Retailers set in strict systems and policies to maintain control and discipline as also avoid any mischief at the store level.

Unfortunately, most of these systems and processes are in direct contradiction of the stated customer policies and other claims which have created expectations in the minds of a customer.

Customer service issues and complaints are a natural outcome and quite often these are ignored because there is nothing that can be done. “It is against our policy” is the standard excuse.

When said by the store staff, I can give them the benefit of doubt and maybe even pity them for having been put in a difficult place by the Retailer. However, one often tends to hear this phrase even from managerial people across levels. This is completely unacceptable and will not help any Retailer in the long run.

Very simply put, think carefully before you talk to your customer and create expectations - either directly or indirectly through signage, advertisements, etc. However, once you have created an expectation walk the talk that has defined this expectation and do not back down from the same.

I recall a store launch where a very good offer on cooking oil was given. It so happened that the price of cooking oil, which is a commodity, increased significantly a day or two before the launch. The easy way out was to withdraw the offer and tell the customer that it was not there. 

However the team decided to walk the talk.

They went ahead with the offer and managed the customer expectation by limiting the quantity to two packets. Although there were some complaints the majority of the customers appreciated the fact that we had continued with the offer and had not cancelled the same.

Taking off on the tagline of a famous brand, “keep walking”, whatever you talk about.


Anonymous said...

very true rajesh , customer service / satisfaction seems to be last on they mind

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