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The Plight of Customer Service in the Retail Experience

The Plight of Customer Service in the Retail Experience


By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business, American Public University

As a consumer, one service that I believe needs improvement is customer service. I prefer to stay home and shop online versus going to a store and experiencing poor customer service.

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The convenience of shopping in one’s home is far more appealing if the alternative is to stand in long lines for service by company employees who do not want to be there. If the online purchase doesn’t fit or is not what the customer expected, it is packed  up and shipped back, often using a company-provided prepaid label. No questions asked. No waiting in line.

If the retail world expects to continue to breathe life into the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, I have the following suggestions.

Customer Service Should Be the Priority, Especially When Customers Are Ready to Purchase

Schedule the appropriate number of employees for each required function. One of the most frustrating experiences for a shopper, especially someone in a hurry, is to wait in line and see employees standing around or working on other projects that could be addressed after the waiting customers have been serviced.

Customer service should be the priority, especially when customers are ready to make their purchase. Does adhering to a set schedule supersede closing the sale?

Hire the Right Employees Who Provide Good Customer Service

Hire individuals who (1) want to be there and (2) have the competency to deal with demanding customers and unusual situations. Customers can spot employees who are not happy at work, and that can reflect on the store or the company itself.

Retail Organizations Should Try to Avoid the Situation Starbucks Found Itself in Last Year

Also, retail organizations should try to avoid the situation that Starbucks found itself in last year when the store manager called the Philadelphia police to arrest two African-Americans she claimed were loitering. The pair said they were waiting for a friend.

The incident went viral, and Starbucks later ordered a half-day of sensitivity training for all employees. So make sure your employees are equipped with an action plan to deal with unusual situations that could harm the company’s image.

Provide training in conflict resolution, quality customer service and problem solving. These three categories are common concerns of many customers regarding the service they receive from sales personnel. While it would be helpful to develop a module for each of these areas, I would recommend creating an overarching approach to address each of the categories.

For example, one could argue that some of the negative behavior that occurs between individuals could be a result of an intercultural communication misunderstanding. People respond based on their backgrounds and influences.

Therefore, it might be beneficial to incorporate the topic of intercultural communication into the modules by creating scenarios that involve individuals who are different from one another. Being empathetic could be one solution to putting yourself in another person’s shoes and attempting to experience the situation through someone else’s perspective. Perhaps if that Starbucks manager had been more empathetic, she might not have called the police so quickly.

While there is a huge market for online shopping, retail entities shouldn’t give up on the personal experience of being in an actual store. It would be helpful if the sales team would endeavor to make the experience a pleasant one!

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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