When it comes to critiquing customer service, Mary Portas has a bit of a reputation for her no holds barred approach. But what does she consider to be the worst customer service crimes?

Over the next two issues we’ll uncover her top ten, and look at the consequences of these ‘crimes against your business’…

Let’s take a look at the first five…

10. Keeping too few tills open

So many stores are guilty of this. The worst is Tesco Metro when they ring the bell to get someone from out the back and leave their finger on it, so it’s just bzzzzzz. You’re in the queue thinking, ‘that bloody bell’, I can’t bear it’

Having too few tills open or too few people taking calls if you run a call centre, is really just a false economy. As customers we all know what it feels like to wait in an unnecessary queue…so why do we insist on doing it to our own customers? Ok, every business gets caught out now and again, but if you have a good system for monitoring your customer flow for each hour of every day, you can get this sorted pretty quickly. There is no doubt that customers are lost this way. It’s also true that business can be built by offering a good service even when customer flow seems small. McDonald’s is a good example of this…moving their opening hours from 10am to 7 am, and more recently to 6am, has added thousands to daily sales.

9. Mute Cashiers

‘Till workers don’t even say the price. They’ve lost basic communication. You’re supposed to spot the price popping up on the screen, then they grumpily shove the chip and pin machine at you. Even worse is when they dump the receipt and change into your hand in one ungainly lump. You have to faff around un-crumpling the receipt and fiddling the change into your purse. Horrible.”

It’s back to the old adage for this one…‘hire for attitude, train for skill’. An employee who enjoys interacting with customers and has a naturally warm smile is the person we all want working our tills and our helpdesks, yet often we seem to settle for individuals who clearly don’t want to be there. Yes it can sometimes be down to poor management, but ultimately every individual chooses their attitude and how they behave…so make sure that you choose those who choose to give your customers a great experience.

8. Plugging inappropriate offers

‘At WH Smith you go to the counter to buy a newspaper and they offer you a £1 bar of chocolate. A massive slab of chocolate at 7.30 in the morning at Paddington station? Are you having a laugh? Yeah. You really understand the mindset of the commuter there. How about just smiling and saying good morning?’

There’s upselling…and then there’s upselling! I’m with Mary on this…that chocolate thing drives me nuts, not least because the people offering it don’t really think that you might want chocolate with your newspaper or your petrol…they’ve just been told to say it, and it shows. Meaningful and thoughtful suggestion of a related product…like shoes with a dress, a tie with a suit, fresh cream with chocolate pudding…when done well, is excellent for business, and can leave the customer feeling well looked after rather than badgered.

7. Assistants who don’t know their stuff

‘I was in Tesco Metro last weekend and asked for Yorkshire Puddings. He said, ‘Pudding, pudding…’ …and sure enough led me over to the bloody cheesecake! Coffee shops like Costa are bad for this too…full of people who don’t know what the hell you’re on about. DIY shops are the worst. Winding queues, nobody on the floor. Bank holiday in Homebase? I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. And ears.’

There really is no excuse for us not giving our employees the information they need to serve our customers. Starting with a thorough orientation and initial training programme is key, but then we must follow up with regular updates, particularly if we have a wide and varied product range. It doesn’t have to be high tech…weekly team meetings or regular use of a notice board in staff rooms can be just as effective. As customers we all want to be looked after by staff who know their stuff, so we know it’s worth the effort.

6. Shoddy fitting rooms

‘Primark and other ‘fast fashion’ stores? Loathe them. There’s a long queue to try anything on, but they say ‘only four items’. You should be able to take a big armful in. And there’s nowhere to hang your clothes, so you have to put them on the floor. Except the floors are filthy.’

Cleanliness in every area of a workplace is important. It’s not just about the areas that customers see, like fitting rooms and toilets, cleanliness should also be maintained in staff areas too. If we want our employees to be engaged in our business and take pride in their workspace, we have to do our bit too. Nobody wants to work or shop in a dirty environment and it’s one of the easiest things for a business to sort out.
Agree with Mary’s first five? Or feel she’s missed a few far worse misdemeanours?

Well, tune in next issue to discover her top 5 Customer Service crimes.

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