Why retailers insult their customers
Wrong or right: Retailers encourage customers to use smartphones in-store, but do staff know this?
Apparently, a checkout worker refused to serve a customer at her local branch in Crayford/London because the lady was talking on her mobile phone. “I will not check your shopping out until you get off.”
Stunned shopper Jo Clarke then enquired at customer services to find that the lecture on checkout etiquette was not company policy.
The 26-year-old property manager duly complained to the store manager, received an apology and an offer of free vouchers worth £10.
Game, set and match for the customer?
Not quite. The checkout lady’s stand for old-world manners has since unleashed a wave of support on social networking sites.
The customer has been vilified by thousands as “rude and disrespectful” on Facebook and Twitter. The Daily Mail, a self-appointed crusader of middle-class morality, has also backed the shop assistant with the pejorative headline “Mobile Morons!”
This caused J. Sainsbury Plc to change its stance and not to take disciplinary action against their employee. The UK’s no. 3 retailer by annual revenues has since stated that it is “pleased the story is leading to a wider debate on politeness”.
The Daily Mail also quotes an extract from a letter by Sainsbury’s where it is hoped that “the discussion this has created leads us all to think twice before reaching for our mobile phones and to recognise the great job the many thousands of sales assistants working across retail do.”
This company’s for turningThe Sainsbury’s U-turn after trial-by-Twitter has stimulated great debate in the UK as to what shop staff should or should not tolerate in terms of customer impoliteness.
This is surely all to the good although no one seems to have mentioned that most retailers actively encourage customers to use their smart phones in-store whether for self-scanning, product information, shop navigation or online orders.
May one also venture to wish that retail staff world-wide were a little more polite and forthcoming towards their customers?
It is often hard to find any staff at all in today’s self-service stores. Products are frequently shunted around large stores without warning, yet to ask for help is often regarded as a semi-insult.
The checkout is frequently the last and only resort for customers in need of help, but they are usually given short shrift.
POP — Point of Pain
The point of pay (POP) is often a point of pain at the grim factory belt. As customers part with their hard-earned money, they are well advised to mind their Ps and Qs when asked in staccato terms “customer card, yes, no?”
With a few exceptions the checkout procedure, where those who write books on etiquette would have today's time-stressed customers standing in line and gazing at the ceiling rather than making a phone call, is all too often reminiscent of a discharge from HM Prison Pentonville: “We know no good will ever come from the likes of you, and we know you will be coming back here soon!”
A boomerang that never comes back
At any rate, we are very far away from Feargal Quinn’s “boomerang principle” of treating customers in such a friendly way that they will want to return to your shop.
Obviously, poor service is primarily a management failure, and it is wrong for customers to take it out on frequently overworked and poorly paid staff. In fact it could well be that employees treat customers better than they are treated themselves.
But it does make for strange viewing when retailers file for insolvency. Staff then stand for hours on the High Street blowing whistles in front of “their” stores. And on TV we are treated to crying employees who sob for “our” company.
It is generally hoped that a smart young investor will arrive and “save” the company like some knight in shining armour. When this happens, everyone declares how “grateful” they are. A return to the stores later is instructive: staff behave just the same as before.
Cynically, one might ask why employees put their faith in dubious princes and even offer global billionaires cuts in wages, when they could give their company a USP at no expense to themselves by simply being polite to the customer?
Hats off, gentlemen!
Let us not end this blog, however, on a churlish note. Years before staff were ordered by management to go through their dreary “Customer card, yes, no?”-routine, one staff member at one local Rewe store in Frankfurt Nieder-Erlenbach, let us call her Frau Hahn, has always been helpful and obliging to customers and even seems to genuinely like them!
Frau Hahn knows hundreds of us mass consumers by name without having to look at our credit cards first. And, even more remarkably, often manages a friendly personal comment despite the daily monotony and drudgery of the checkout. Chapeau!
But as noteworthy as such exceptions are, they only go to prove a general rule. So why do mass market retailers throughout the world seem not to care when staff insult their customers?
Presumably, it is because they know that, if their customers walk with their feet, they will get just as bad service down the road. Now don't they call that cartel fixing?
Related article in German: By Mike Dawson in Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 31, 02.08.2013
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