Retailers can learn a lot from the hospitality industry
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.
I recently bought a new house, a purchase accompanied by several trips to a home improvement retailer. It was the same retailer each time, but each trip was dramatically different.
During one of my first stops, I asked an associate where to find a certain item. He pointed in a general direction and gave me the aisle number, and I went on my way, only to end up more lost than when I started.
At the same store on a later date, I asked a different associate the same question for a different item. She promptly walked me across the entire store and led me exactly to it. It was completely unexpected and I was amazed by her willingness to go the extra mile (or at least 50 steps).
It’s experiences like these that underscore how incredibly low the bar is in retail customer service. Fulfilling even the most basic aspects of customer service has become a cause for celebration.
In my opinion, two factors are driving this inconsistent customer experience:
Overemphasis on value: Because consumers are so empowered and price-conscious today, retailers have slashed prices to drive shoppers into their stores. This pursuit to the bottom, however, neglects the service component once customers are inside. It’s not enough to have one designated employee in charge of "being friendly and helpful" as shoppers enter. This desire to help should be instilled in every worker.
Overemphasis on efficiency: Associates are trained to maximize efficiency in all aspects of their work: to stock shelves as quickly as possible, funnel a steady stream of customers through the cash register, and so on. An unintended but frequent outcome of this approach is that the customer’s needs take a backseat. The customer almost becomes a conflict of interest: "If I have to help you, I’ll be distracted from finishing mopping the floor before my break."
Retailers would do well to borrow from hotels’ playbooks. The staff at every Marriott or Holiday Inn, maintenance, housekeeping the concierge desk, etc., have all been trained to reach out and connect with guests. They make a human effort to make guests feel welcome.
Transforming culture simply requires a shift in focus, where friendliness and helpfulness are emphasized as much as productivity and efficiency. Invite frontline employees to enjoy the "distraction" of helping customers out.
Is the overemphasis on value and efficiency at the core of why customer service levels at retailers are shoddy or at least erratic? Can retailers learn from their counterparts in the hospitality industry?