Customer service - a retailer's priority

02:39, Mar 06 2014

Auckland-based retail consultant Tim Ross grew up in Blenheim and was appalled at some of the service he received here during a holiday. He explains. --------------------

I felt it necessary to express my deep concern regarding the lack of "good" customer service I received on my most recent trip to Blenheim and Picton late last year.

What is good customer service?

Good customer service is treating customers with a good attitude, helping them in a friendly manner and efficiently, and making sure they have a great experience with your products. This service will help customers make the best choices.

Sadly, this was not the case on my visit.

Now before any of you write me off as being a stuck-up outsider, please don't, as I lived in Blenheim for some years and my family is still there today. It is a great town, filled with great people, but I fear that the region is falling well short of the mark when it comes to customer service, which was clearly apparent to me.


The reason I know this is because I have spent over 20 years working in retail, not only with my family but also managing large global retail company stores. I was in control of large numbers of staff and multimillion-dollar businesses.

The one thing I've learnt is, regardless of how deep your company's or business's pockets are, it is all down to great customer service and the people who deliver that. Get that right and you will have a successful business.

My first experience of bad customer service was as follows:

I was in an appliances store in central Blenheim looking for a phone charger, as I had left mine at home. There was one female staff member serving and three customers including myself. We were all lined up at the counter.

The woman at the front of the queue wanted assistance with an item the staff member clearly didn't have the answer to. The other man and I weren't in a rush so we were happy to wait.

I could tell, however, that the staff member was feeling the strain of having a queue forming and she wasn't any closer to solving the woman's problem, so she darted off and stuck her head inside a door, which I assume was the manager's office and was followed out by an older man who I guess was the manager. He had an annoyed scowl on his face, no smile and looked at us and his staff member with distaste.

His staff member politely asked him if he could assist the woman at the front of the queue, as she was unsure how to resolve the problem, while she sorted me and the other man out.

His response to her, in front of us: "I'm too busy to deal with this; I have a mountain of paperwork to do". And he scurried back to his office.

I was stunned, as were the other customers. Although she put on a brave face, I'm guessing the staff member was too.

Where do I start to dissect the issues here?

That manager shouldn't be working in retail if he has that attitude. His so-called "paperwork" isn't going to pay the bills in that moment. Customers are your lifeblood in retail - without it you don't have a business.

Also, what kind of example is he setting for his employee?

My second encounter with poor customer service was in Picton.

My family and I went to Picton for a nice lunch and to look around the shops afterwards. I was accompanied by my parents and my 5-year-old daughter.

We went into one store filled with art deco-type pieces, and I immediately felt unwelcome.

The man stood behind the counter and frowned at us. No exchange of pleasantries.

We looked around and my daughter found a piece she quite liked. As she picked it up to show me she knocked the glass table the object was sitting on.

In a blink of an eye the man was on her. "You break it, you pay for it," he said in a loud, gruff voice.

Those words were out of his mouth before he had even inspected the object to see if there was any damage, which there wasn't. And addressing a 5-year-old like that? Come on.

He made us feel like criminals and we had done nothing wrong. He could have handled that with a lot more tact.

Again another instance of someone who doesn't seem to be cut out for retail.

These two cases reaffirm why I have started a retail consultancy group, One Man's Rhubarb, to help retailers throughout the country to run "best practice" businesses.

Retail is one of the oldest professions but it seldom gets the recognition it deserves. Retail is hard work and it takes passionate people with a real vision to make a go of it.

But if you don't deliver on your service standards, the dollars won't roll in.

Give me a reason to spend my hard earned dollars in your community next time I'm down.

Tim Ross is managing director of retail consultant One Man's Rhubarb. He can be contacted on

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