When visiting Yorkshire on Good Friday I discovered a puncture on my car and visited an ATS garage to have it checked out. They initially reckoned it was easy to sort but then realised it was a more serious problem and required me ringing the VW specialist garage.
The guys in the garage said they didn’t have the required part and that they were shutting in 10 minutes anyway. As this door was firmly slammed in my face I called an independent garage that had been recommended by ATS who could deal with my escalating crisis. Even though it was 5pm on Good Friday he assured me it was no problem and that he’d have me back on the road that evening, which would allow me to return to London.
With a loan car provided until my own vehicle was ready I received a call at 7:30pm to collect the fixed motor. Not only was the job cheaper than I’d expected but the fact the guy had sorted me out on a Bank Holiday, whereas VW had been completely unhelpful, highlighted how massively different customer service experiences can be.
It put me in mind of how service remains at the heart of physical stores despite the retail world being turned on its head by the effects of the internet. The fact is, the core principle of going the extra mile to deliver the best service to the customer remains just as vital as it ever did.
The fear had been that online would pull down the price of goods across all channels but we now realise that service is still vitally important and can often override pure price. What’s needed today though is technology in stores to enhance service levels.
Providing Wi-Fi was deemed to be a danger because customers would search for rivals’ products. But we now realise that actually they are more likely to search for that retailers’ own goods.
Giving store assistants access to tablets was also regarded as a non-starter because they’d be on Facebook all day. It is now recognised that such mobile devices are essential tools on the shop floor otherwise employees will be perennially on the back foot knowledge-wise when dealing with customers.
Before widespread internet connectivity store associates were deemed to be much more trusted as advisors, who could recommend things to customers, but today with the democratisation of information they need to have an ever deeper level of knowledge and which potentially covers a much broader range of products and services. Technology is the key enabler here.
What is also needed is much greater responsibility given to store employees whereby they are given the freedom – within certain parameters – to offer flexible pricing to customers. Again, technology can help here because with the right software it can enable such employee/customer negotiations to take place with effectiveness and efficiency.
When flexible pricing is aligned with incentives (to avoid employees flogging everything at the bottom price they can) then retailers can better deliver a combination of competitive pricing and top-notch service.
The reason the guy in the garage stayed behind to work late on Good Friday is because it’s his business and he is therefore very effectively incentivised. As an independent/owner he is very focused on the level of returns for each day and he calculated what made sense price-wise and what would also deliver exemplary customer service.
There is no way that your average store employee would be able to go quite as far as this with the service levels they provide but they can at least go some way towards this ideal scenario if they have the right mindset, the right technology to hand, an effective incentives system in place, and are given the responsibility to make decisions.
It is all about removing the friction from the in-store processes that presently exist and can seriously hinder sales assistants in their day-to-day roles. Retailers should make every effort to give them the right tools to be able to deliver a great customer service. The guy in the garage in Yorkshire, rather than those in the VW franchise, should be the inspiration for the future of retail in stores.
Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, Webloyalty Northern Europe (@Webloyalty_Guy)