Since Mary Portas hit the high street shops Sales Assistants everywhere have been upping their game and giving the best customer service known to every person who enters their store..really? I totally get the point that Mary Portas is making in her documentaries titled ‘Secret Shopper’ but how much of a difference is it really going to make to the high street shopping experience.
There are two sides to every story and I think that Mary hugely neglects to show the opposing side to her argument (not that its 100% in the right either). As a sales assistant myself and in the particular well known company that I work in, we go through masses of customer service training on a very regular bases. In the company I work for customer service is a huge thing and is the basis of the job however, I do know that in other companies the focus is not so great. Take Primark for example, Mary and crew donned placards and had a minor protest in Primark about their lack of customer service and the very little product knowledge that the staff seemed to have. My experience of Primark? A Saturday afternoon in Glasgow City Centre, Primark is packed with hundreds of people grabbing things from shelves, throwing garments on the floor and leaving them for the staff to tidy. A headache for any customer! I can’t imagine how it must feel for the people working in the riot. I can honestly say if someone was to come near me around all the people shoving me and stealing my sizes asking ‘Are you ok there? Can I give you a hand with anything?’ I can not be held liable for my actions. The point is that Primark is really not a good example to use in terms of customer service. The fact is that for all stores it comes down to money and if a company makes enough money (which I’m positive Primark does) without the customer service, the customer’s don’t need to be aided to spend. It is a completely different shopping experience and regular shoppers in these places know what to expect and keep going back. It is shopping with a different frame of mind.
Again this argument is double sided as there are people who will want the best service where ever they go but for me the fact is that if I go into Primark and spend a tenner I am really not bothered whether or not the girl who serves me at the cash desk keeps chatting to the girl beside her, doesn’t make eye contact with me and makes no effort to converse with me. When I go to Primark I want to be in and out. No hassle, no chat. There are other stores in which this also applies such as H&M. After years of shopping on the high street and years of working in retail, I know where to go if I want top notch customer service and all the attention from the sales assistants and I know where to go if I just want to keep my Ipod in, listen to my music and just shop.
There are some stores where I agree with Mary Portas in that their customer service can at times be shocking, such as Topshop. In my opinion these are stores in which the company do emphasis customer service and provide the necessary training, but this comes down to the staff and their temperament. These are the people who should not be working in retail. It just isn’t made for them. Although it should also be recognised that, particularly on weekends when most people go out shopping, a lot of the people working in stores are part-timers, at university or college working towards something else and the blunt truth is that these members of staff are sometimes just there for the money and couldn’t care less about how you feel or look in that dress you need advice on, because your friend was too busy to come and give a second opinion that day. They will say anything to make you go away – “Yeah, it’s nice.” “Do you think I need the bigger size?” “No” – (a personal experience, lucky I decided myself with that lack of help.) I am not in anyway saying that this makes it acceptable that customer service is overlooked, but this does means that it is down to the company to ensure that staff are selected who are suitable in terms of what their store aims to provide to customers. If their aim isn’t customer service focused and is instead replenishment focused then fair enough, some people who may not be so friendly may be suitable.
Mary Portas makes a hugely valid point but I think it only applies in certain circumstances. And lets not think that all sales assistants are uninterested either. I like working in retail and the people I work with are amazing at their job. I know that many of the people I work with, including myself, would say that they enjoy helping customers who need some advice and love helping them to style themselves. As a sales assistant there is nothing more rewarding than having a regular customer. Someone who always comes back and always trusts your judgement. Even though you don’t know them and they don’t know you its a relationship which is built purely on trust, an honest opinion and general chit chat.
It is true that bad customer service is noticed a mile off, but the stores lacking in it have a reputation for bad service and as consumers I think we have accepted that. Nine times out of ten we still shop there and spend our hard earned cash there, we just don’t ask for help in any way shape or form.