If they do, I suggest they either visit their stores in disguise, which many never do, or find a different career.
Today I went shopping with a friend who wanted to purchase a washer and dryer for her new townhouse. Her budget was small especially after moving, but she had researched items online and found a few that she was interested in seeing. Our first stop was Lowe’s. Upon arriving at the store, we made our way over to the section to immediately find an excellent selection of washers & dryers that were almost all on sale. We looked around, and my friend found two washers and dryers in her price range and had some questions.
Soon we realized there was one important part of the in-store experience missing: there was not one sales associate in the department to help us. There was no one. What made it worse were the two other couples looking for assistance were also waiting. One customer said there was an associate there when she arrived, but the associate left to go to find something. And according to the customer, that was 15 minutes ago. Eventually, the associate returned, and with two other couples ahead of us, I politely asked her if there was anyone else who could help us. I could not believe her response. “Are you buying or just looking?” I asked myself, "What kind of service is this?" I told the associate we’re buying if we find what we want. With that, a sarcastic, “hold on” and then she paged someone.
Several minutes went by, and finally, another associate entered the department who was instructed by the associate at the desk to help us. My friend pointed out the two washers & dryers she was interested in and asked a few questions. It was apparent that the associate had no idea and even though he was quite polite, he soon apologized, admitting he was from another department and knew nothing about washers & dryers. So, after all the time we wasted, we were nowhere. Looking back at the desk for the other associate, I noticed two more customers were waiting for the associate who was once again no longer in the department. That was it, and we left.
I realize this was only one Lowe's store and you can’t judge a chain of over 2370 stores by one location. But this was a busy store. They were having a sale, and we were there on a Sunday afternoon. Wouldn’t they think to have some staff available to help customers? And yet in a recent article, their CEO, Robert Niblock said he was committed to improving customer service by increasing staff hours. So, is that real or fake Customer Service?
Our next stop was the Sears at the mall because my friend had seen a washer and dryer advertised online. We found the set, and she had questions. That didn’t matter though because the two sales associates engaged in a personal conversation were not about to assist us until they finished. I politely gestured to one of them who acknowledged me, but they were not about to end their conversation. Finally, I walked over to the associates and asked nicely if one of them could help us. This time the person looked at me and said, "Just give me a minute, and I’ll be right over.” Then they went right back to their conversation. Now that I was standing right there, I could hear they were discussing the Mayweather/McGregor fight. Silly me. Surely that conversation was more important than assisting a customer who was interested in making a purchase. Almost ten minutes later, with me periodically looking over and them giving me a nod that they were coming over. At last, one of them walked over to the washer and dryer we were interested in purchasing.
My friend was on a budget and did not want to spend too much money on a washer and dryer. She had about $800 and while researching online, found a washing machine and dryer on sale for $349 each. Then added the tax and hookup fees, she would be within her budget. The sign said Free Delivery with purchases over $399.
Unfortunately, it turns out many retailers today are doing this. It was Free Delivery with any single purchase of $399 meaning that at least one item had to cost $399 to qualify for the Free Delivery. Well at first, she wasn’t happy, but the gas dryer was $100 more, so that put her at $449. It was a bit over budget, but she was willing to come up with the difference. But that didn’t matter. As I read the sign more carefully, it also mandated that the Free Delivery with a purchased item of $399 or more was only good provided the customer use their Sears charge card. So now how is that for good customer service? She didn’t have a Sears card, didn’t want a Sears card, so with that we left. This experience also meant another lost sale at a second retailer all because of Fake Customer Service.
It turned out that Home Depot, our third and final stop, did it right (which would explain their recent successful 2nd quarter). My friend still had to meet the minimum cost requirement of an item purchased. This time, the cost was at least $396, but we could pay for it with any method we wanted. Their hookup prices were a little better than Sears as well. But what mattered most was the person in Home Depot who assisted us. This store did not give us Fake Customer Service but instead gave us the real thing. The associate took the time to answer all my friend’s questions and made sure we took care of all the details. Delivery will be in a few days, and we remain hopeful that my friend will get everything Home Depot promised.
But Retailers beware. What I noticed today and have been seeing is customers are coming back. I doubt we’ll see customers in droves like in the 80s. Nevertheless, store traffic is improving. Why? For the first time in many years, we saw a 3.1% growth in GDP. Consumer confidence is at an all-time high and unemployment is at an all-time low. So, retailers beware. The way retailers can compete with the internet as well as each other is by wowing their customers with outstanding customer service. Keep playing the game and providing Fake Customer Service and as retail continues to improve, yours will not, and you may very well find yourself out of business! Fake Customer Service is NOT Real Customer Service!
Invest in your stores, invest in your staff and find out what real customer service can do for your business before it’s too late.