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Owen Smith

Burberry Ltd

Service & Productivity Manager - Emerging Markets

Read more from Owen Smith

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Making it easy for your customers to shop…or not


When delivering customer service training it's always nice to be able punctuate the session with anecdotes of extremes of the good, the bad and the downright ugly of customer service. With that in mind I thought it might be an idea for us trainer-types to pool some examples to share with our audience and keep our anecdotal evidence 'fresh' - so please feel free to add your own examples in the comments section below this post. As a starter for ten, here is an (amended) extract from a letter I have just sent to a well-known Swedish furniture retailer - names changed to protect the, ahem, innocent and all that...use your imagination! Dear (Store Manager) Working in the Retail Industry myself I am astounded by the fact that (well-known Swedish furniture retailer) seem highly unwilling to take my money by making it next to impossible to complete my purchase of a XXXXX curtain rail system for my son's bedroom. When in store last night I was able to purchase everything I needed APART FROM the curtain gliders and hooks which were out of stock. There was plenty of stock of everything else in the XXXXX range, but not this essential item. The customer assistant in store told me that I should contact the central helpdesk today to find out when the next delivery was due as she did not have the information available to her. I was then told today on the phone by a customer service representative that the gliders/hooks had been discontinued and were not available any more. I found this surprising as this would mean the hundreds of pounds of stock in your Croydon store would be redundant for the sake of a 98p item. I was then told on my next telephone call by another (more helpful) customer service representative that this item had been replaced by the YYYYY hook/glider pack costing £4.99. There was no delivery date available for the Croydon store, but there were apparently 82 in stock at Lakeside. I asked to speak to someone at Lakeside to see if they could arrange to post, at my cost, this one item to me but it is your policy not to let customers speak to stores or transfer stock between stores to enable your customers to get what they want!!!!!!!! Now I am not saying that my organisation is necessarily always a shining beacon of exemplary customer service, but at least we understand that in order to make a sale you do need to talk to your customer at some level and make stock available to them! As a result of this, I am now going to have to return to the store to get refund for the items I have already purchased and then try and find a suitable alternative elsewhere. Being right in the middle of moving house with a 7 month old baby in tow, I cannot begin to tell you how thoroughly inconvenient this is - all for the sake of a set of curtain hooks! I have much more pressing and important things to be doing with my time right now. If I do not hear back from you about how you can help me with this problem I will be taking my business elsewhere - and that includes the purchase of new furniture for the remaining 5 rooms in my new house. This would disappoint me as I find (your) furniture to be of excellent quality and great value for money, but if this is how you treat your customers when they are spending just a few pounds, I am unwilling to part with hundreds and encounter problems of the same nature! Yours hopefully Owen Smith

3 Responses

  1. My Story Anecdote (and its true)

    I recently had the pleasure of staying in a chain hotel. Now it is some time since I stayed at this particular chain and I have to say how pleasantly surprised I was with the cheerful and friendly staff I encountered this time. Nothing was too much trouble.

    When I went for breakfast I was greeted by a friendly smiling face. This gave me the courage to ask if I only wanted a bacon sandwich would I have to pay for the full English breakfast buffet. I was politely advised this would be the case so I opted for the lower cost option of continental breakfast which included porridge. I decided to order a small bowl of porridge which promptly arrived. I asked if I could have some milk.  I was advised that the porridge was made with milk however the waitress brought some more to the table.

    A few minutes later the waitress came across and said she had spoken with the chef who was in the process of making a bacon sandwich for me. "Fantastic" I thought. First class service. The waitress had listened to what I wanted and delivered.

    I had booked for three nights having fully paid in advance for my stay. I needed to check out early as my plans had changed. I asked reception to cancel my booking for the third night.

    "No problem leave it with us" came the reply. "We will post your refund under your door in just a few moments".

    Sure enough ten minutes later the cancellation and refund statement came under the door in a nice branded envelope. Another gold star for customer focus.

    On the final night I was  in the restaurant with six delegates from the company I was working with in delivering a KAM training course. During the day I had been enthusing how good the customer service was at this establishment! Everything was going well. The food was excellent and the service was efficient. One of the guests who had really enjoyed his three courses was delivered his piping hot freshly made coffee. Dave politely asked if there were any mints or biscuits available. We were all astonished when the waitress exclaimed!

    You are joking? This is a Beefeater. If you want a biscuit there is a vending machine in the hallway in the hotel. You will have to get them yourself

    There I was about to pencil a letter of congratulations to the customer services manager of the hotel in question. This one comment became the hot topic of discussion around the table rather than the good food and service we had received up to that point. It just goes to show how one comment from one member of staff can change a gold star rating into ‘could do better’.

    It aptly demonstrates how important it is to deliver excellent customer service 100% of the time – it only takes one comment to damage a good reputation.

  2. Another crazy company policy
    Thanks Peter – a really good story. I remember hearing a counter-terrorist policeman on the news saying how the terrorists only need to get lucky once – the police need to be lucky all the time. Whilst customer service is not quite this extreme, it is scarily similar. It just takes one poor experience to damage the hard work of everyone else.

    Company policies and a lack of trust and empowerment of employees to make decisions and judgement-calls are another bugbear of mine.

    A couple of years ago we bought a very nice sideboard from a UK-wide clothing/homewear chain. After 9 months or so, one of the plastic doorcatches broke, and seeing that the sideboard was still available in their Directory catalogue I contacted their customer services to ask for a replacement part. Apparently they had ‘no way’ of contacting the supplier to ask for this (which makes me wonder how their buyer purchases these in the first place), but they would gladly replace the entire sideboard (worth about £400) as we had had it for less then a year. As I did not particularly want to take a day off work to sit around and wait for a delivery of a brand new sideboard, that evening I went to B&Q and bought a catch for £1.49 and fitted it in about 5 minutes. As the Americans say, go figure…

    I’m going to have a think about finding a positive story now, ’cause all I’ve done in my last couple of blog posts is moan, and I’m a glass-half-full person really!

  3. The Post Office

    If you have been into any post office of late I need say no more. 
    One example that stuck with me was at a large post office in central london where the Royal Mail employee made a customer cry by being so rude to them.  All the customer wanted to do was send some souvenirs of her trip to London home But obviously never having been into a UK post office before she was not prepared for the bureaucratic systems Royal Mail has in place to cope with international mail.
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Owen Smith

Service & Productivity Manager - Emerging Markets

Read more from Owen Smith

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