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Tell me what I CAN have, not what I can’t

How many readers of this blog have been into a store, or come to think of it, any retailer and been told they can’t buy what they went there to buy? Seems amazing doesn’t it, but that has happened to me three times this week and I feel compelled to write about it.

The first time I was visiting a bank in Africa, I was greeted at the door with all manner of signs telling me what I could not do - do not cook a bat here, do not launder money, do not loiter, do not... I should have realised, this was the pre-cursor to a disaster. What I actually wanted to do, was none of the above, I wanted to transfer money to the UK to my over spending daughter... and guess what, the person who handles this was ‘out to lunch’ and I couldn’t do that either.

The second incident involved a call to the tax office in the UK. Again, the ‘system’ was down and I could not get the information I needed.

The third and final incident - before I tore my hair out, was at the drive through Starbucks in UAE. I was hungry and thirsty, I went through the menu, one by one, and was told each and every time that I could not have what I wanted. Eventually, I gave up... maybe it was a bad week, or maybe there is a lesson to learn for retailers here.

I specialise in working with Banks and Telco’s, and I think it would be fair to say that their standards of service across the board leave a lot to be desired. Possibly, even worse than the experiences I describe above however, being the person I am, I try to look for positives in everything and then share that insight with you.

Upon reflection, what annoyed me about the three examples I give above is not that the product or service was not available, but the way the situation was handled by the staff in each establishment.

In each case, I was left feeling that the problem was mine, that it was my fault computers weren’t working, that is my fault the member of staff was on her lunch break, that it was my fault the kitchen had not prepared sufficient food to feed customers at the weekend.

Being a reasonable person, I realise that problems do happen, it’s part and parcel of everyday life. However, there is no excuse for poor communication skills in a customer facing retail business. Retailers need to be sure their staff are trained to handle these situations in a better, more proactive way. Let’s take the three examples I gave:

The Bank

  • Problem: Specialist staff on lunch break

  • Solution: Ensure another member of staff is able to perform the task required to cover for sicknesses, holidays or breaks... or recommend another solution provider close by - in this case, there was another bank a short walk away

The Tax Office

  • Problem: System down

  • Solution: Offer to call the customer back when the system is working again... and do it

The Retailer

  • Problem: Multiple product choices are not available

  • Solution: Converse with the customer, understand their needs and offer an alternative, or ask them if they are happy to wait whilst you prepare their choice especially for them or check for stock

It is really quite simple, staff should think like a customer and behave like a customer. Staff should turn the tables and ask if they would be happy with the response they are giving. Sadly, in all the examples above, the staff were un-prepared, poorly trained and lost a customer. They also did not realise that I would be writing about this and my story would be read by the 15,000 people per week who see my blog... can you imagine how badly this situation has reflected on each business?

The lesson to retailers

Train your staff to learn, teach and sell to customers, but most of all, train them to take ownership of a problem and deliver a solution. After all, it is much harder to win a customer, than to keep a loyal one. Situations like this turn customers away.

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