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A very prominent, high profile Business Leader who has a huge presence in the retail industry caused quite a ruckus recently in his quest to level the tax playing field between brick and mortar and on line retailing. I do agree with him that his message has been very poorly communicated, badly timed and this is more about protecting Australian profits and jobs rather than stifling people’s choice about where they shop. However, it raised a question for me – Why? Why are people so willing to shop on-line rather than touch and feel and communicate with a sales person? Is it simply to save on tax? I would doubt it. Is it simply to find something cheaper? Perhaps, people are driven by a bargain. Is it convenience? Yes for sure but I think it’s even deeper than this. My question is has the gloss and the experience of shopping been tarnished by poor service delivery? What is the catalyst?

I will do anything possible not to walk into some retailers these days and have to communicate with someone who doesn’t care and in most cases do not know what they are talking about. Yes I am speaking generally here because I know there are some great people on the front line. I ask the question, why are front line staff not highly skilled? My finger points to lack of leadership. It goes for the larger retailers. I was walking through one with my Mum the other day. It is during the school holidays and during what is supposed to be great sales that offer huge bargains. There were not many people about. If you look back about 10 years, this retailer would have been packed with shoppers. It is this retailer that I hear many complaints about their service too!

It is rare to be provided with a great shopping experience these days. My parents had a first hand example of an extreme lack of leadership. They belong to a prominent club and they pay handsome fees each year to belong. One of the benefits is to enjoy a lunch at one of the clubhouses in the country. With the high fees comes high expectation. They visited last week and were telling me the service was horrendous! They waited forever for their meals, their drinks order was fulfilled incorrectly, they did not get items they requested and some foods showed up at a sub-standard level at best. As Dad described it, the experience was not caused by a lack of staff. There were staff ricocheting all over the place as he puts it. The problem was simply a lack of leadership for these people. There was clearly no system in place for them to follow. No instruction that they have a designated area to look after and what exactly they are responsible for. Where was the leadership in overseeing client’s experience? Staff can only do the best they can with what they have. If the instruction is simply “serve the client” that is then left to peoples interpretation of service, which is dangerous!

To be really honest, I struggle to find good service anywhere. Café’s, restaurants, retailers, service providers and dare I mention Telco’s! When I do find it, it is a nice surprise however that should be visa versa.

My working years have been spent in retail and client service. All 25 years of them. When I started out, we were provided with fantastic client service training, consistently and the message of superior client service was delivered loud and clear. Clients come first, client is king and you provide them with a wonderful shopping experience so they return and so they tell their friends and so they spend more money. This was when leadership in client service was strong. It is different now. It is no secret; the focus of large organisations now is profit. Make more money, with less expense. They claim there is a focus on client service also. To be honest, I believe this claim is to appease shareholders and to tick a box. Smaller business provides service much better, because they have more control over it and are closer to the front line. However, this is not consistent across the board.

Retailers are suffering now because of the lack of leadership in client service. There is lack of role models, lack of structure to support front line staff and clearly lack of training. If this becomes a focus once again, they may have a better chance of attracting the clients back to their premises. If their decision is to indeed follow the online trend, they then need to know and understand the art of communicating client service to these clients and delivering on promises made. Retailing is such a hugely competitive industry, providing a great experience is something that should be a priority – for real.


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