Retailers Called Out for Great/Not So Great Service

Discussion
Nov 22, 2011
George Anderson

Two separate announcements, one by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and another by Consumer Reports, call out retailers for customer service. While the NRF announcement focuses solely on retailers given high marks for excellent service, the Consumer Reports announcement identifies retailers with policies that it sees as unfriendly to customers.

The NRF Foundation/American Express Customers’ Choice survey, which polled nearly 9,400 consumers, named 10 companies that excel at service:

  • Amazon.com
  • J.C. Penney
  • Kohl’s
  • Lands’ End
  • L.L.Bean
  • Newegg
  • Nordstrom
  • Overstock.com
  • QVC
  • Zappos

Retailers identified by Consumer Reports as being tops in service include:

  • Amazon.com
  • Bi-Lo
  • Costco
  • Crutchfield
  • Microsoft
  • Orvis
  • REI

Bi-Lo was recognized for a double money-back guarantee when an item is returned, regardless of the reason. Others are also known for liberal return policies while some such as Crutchfield are given high marks for customer and technical support.

Retailers not getting great reviews included:

  • American Apparel
  • Gamestop
  • RadioShack
  • The Swiss Colony

Complaints focused on pricing and return policies that the advocacy group suggests requires consumers to beware before transacting business with these merchants.

Discussion Questions: Can you find commonalities between the companies lauded by both the NRF and Consumer Reports? Which companies would you vote as excelling in the area of service?

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11 Comments on "Retailers Called Out for Great/Not So Great Service"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

The list of winners proves that you don’t need to be a “high-touch” bricks-and-mortar retailer like Nordstrom to get high marks. But you do need to exceed expectations for the type of store or website that you are operating. Easy return policies and good execution are important as “silent salespeople,” in the absence of a live sales associate.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I agree with Richard that a retailer does not need to be upscale in order to provide exceptional customer service. The practice of exceeding expectations is what puts a retailer over the top. Consumers hate being disrespected or neglected but if you exceed what they expected, you will be a hero and a very positive talking point for consumers for a long time to come.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

It’s interesting that 7 of the 10 companies names by the NRF exist online. It seems that not having physical stores makes for better customer service. Missing from both lists, but getting regular kudos from the BrainTrust panel are Apple Stores; yet somehow Microsoft shows up on the consumer reports list.

Regardless of which companies made these lists, as we head into Black Friday and the holidays, it’s important for retailers to have enough sales people, treat their customers with respect, have fair return policies and handle customer disputes politely and quickly. Unfortunately, many merchants will fail in one or more of these areas. Caveat emptor!

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

All policies, and indeed all bureaucracy, are driven by fear.

I guarantee that these low-scoring retailers are riddled with fear in the executive offices as well as on the store floor. There is no way to provide sustainable and pleasing customer service from a fear base.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I don’t think self-service kiosks or checkouts, discounts, return policies, stocked shelves, or shipping are customer service. They are the machines, and the results of policies, and management decisions that define each retailer’s business, and should be surveyed independently.

Customer service is personal. Retail associates are the liaisons between the customer and the machines, policies, and management decisions. The interactions between the associate and the customer is customer service.

Whether it’s a live chat online associate helping a customer navigate a purchase or return, or an associate helping a customer in a brick & mortar store, it’s all about connecting with the customer to help them interact with the brand and it’s machines, policies, and management decisions in a positive way.

In a survey of real customer service defined as people helping people I would say that several who made the lists as winners would no longer be listed at all.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Ability to return stuff easily seems to be the key in rating customer service. It sure does not seem to have a lot to do with the knowledge of the people who are helping the customer.

I also have to wonder who the shoppers are that they are surveying. I wonder if most of them know what real customer service is, when I see names like J.C. Penney’s and Kohl’s near the top of the list.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 5 months ago
The customer is always right. If you start with that iconic focus as it relates to customer service thus engendering satisfaction, referral and yes — high ratings — you will win. It helps to build a culture of empowerment for your sales associates, whether in person on the floor of the store or at the call center. If you have to go through a list of what to do/not do while talking to a customer with a complaint or return issue, the ratings will always be low. Have fun judging/scoring service from a consumer pov on credit card company call centers! Is it a matter of intimidation at the corporate or store ops level as suggested, or simply lack of training and process management? The culture needs to be built to achieve greatness or create changed, if desired. Sometimes your policies have to be “tough” because the business model demands it — unavoidable for the most part — at a GameStop or RadioShack. Not giving them a free pass, can always improve, but the category… Read more »
Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

This is one of the cases where I would want to see the how the respondents were recruited, the details of the questionnaire and optional measures (those of Consumer Reports’ editors). There is no way to tell how the results were generated…subscribers vs. a more general population sample, unstructured questions vs. list of retailers, experts of the magazine. It would help the retailers to understand if their negative scores require immediate remedy or represent a few unpleasant experiences that are anomalies.

Regardless, Amazon.com comes up on top for both surveys a picture perfect factoid. As for the other retailers, hard to know what to make of them.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 5 months ago

There’s definitely one clear theme here: Simple, easy to understand and use policies (e.g., returns, exchanges, fees) that customers are clearly informed about (i.e., no hidden surprises). And a sprinkling of perks also helps (e.g., free help installing home electronics or some low-cost freebies).

In short, consumers want a hassle-free shopping experience with a few rewards. And that makes it the most disturbing finding here and a sad comment on today’s retail industry, given that’s the same thing every shopper has wanted throughout retail history. And yet it still escapes so many brands.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Positive ratings for customer service stem from the how well the retailer manages the key characteristics that the shopper desires, based upon the type and segment of retailer involved. If the shopper is looking online and doesn’t want to exert anything more than the minimal amount of energy to execute a transaction, then one-click ordering, in-stock availability, reasonable shipping costs and painless returns policies do matter the most. For a brick and mortar supermarket, a friendly face in the aisles that acknowledges your presence and asks if you need help finding anything makes a lasting impression, versus the cashier at the end of the transaction asking if you found everything. Few people will hold up the checkout line in order for the cashier to fetch a missing item. Return policies matter at a supermarket, however there is no need to give away the farm to secure loyalty.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Having just blazed a trail through New York, I would add Uniqlo, Sephora, All Saints, Duane Reade’s Look Boutique and a few others to the list. Fantastic service from all.

Customer service is such a hot button but another dynamic continues to strike me — more times than I can count, sales people, when I have remarked on the great service they have given, have replied that they appreciated how respectful and nice I was as a customer and how they weren’t used to it. When I’ve probed further, the details are often shocking. Perhaps it’s time to have a conversation about the effect that rude, abusive, or entitled customers have on salespeople? I’m amazed how many salespeople keep their cheer and professionalism in spite of it.

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