During my Senate campaign the issue of on-line sales hurting shop-front retailers was brought to my attention by a number of business owners in our region. When I visited these businesses it was evident to me that the business owners and their staff took immense pride in delivering exceptional customer service. In my opinion, they were champions in the art of making you, the customer, the centre of the universe when they were undertaking to make a sale. Why then were consumers in these stores not choosing to buy locally?
In learning more about the issue, I was alarmed at the growing number of consumers choosing to purchase products on-line from overseas retailers. I was told that anecdotal evidence suggested that consumers mostly made on-line purchases after investigating products for fit/suitability at shop-front stores. They genuinely believed that they would get a better deal when making an on-line purchase. Maybe some do.
In speaking with business owners around our state, retailers lamented that overseas businesses have an unfair price advantage overseas businesses have because they don’t have to collect GST on purchases under AU$1000. Australian Retailers Association chief executive Russell Zimmerman is quoted as saying about ‘6 per cent of Australia’s AU$253 billion retail sales is online’.
Late last year, an Australian Government inquiry into GST distribution, recommended the threshold be lowered to A$500 “as soon as practicable” to prevent further erosion of the GST funds collected.
I understand that Australia’s A$1000 threshold is way above other nations such as New Zealand and Singapore where it’s equivalent to A$300 and in Canada it’s A$20 and in Britain it’s A$30. In recent developments in the US, Australian retailers selling their products online into America will now face significant challenges as a result of a recent US Senate decision to charge tax on online purchases. This move by the US Senate is to protect shop front retailers from losing more sales.
The GST debate has surfaced again. In a recent interview on ABC’s AM program Foreign Minister Julie Bishop MP asserted that the Coalition will not be changing the GST and that position would not change. Time will tell if that is a long-term pledge along with not altering administrative arrangements on overseas purchases.
Transcript here: http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2014/s3977262.htm
Last week the Commonwealth Bank announced that online shopping operations run by Australia's department stores are growing faster than their online-only competitors. This has led to comments by Choice's Tom Godfrey that local retailers may have overplayed the threat from international competitors when it comes to their calls for the lowering of the GST low-value threshold.
Whether on-line sales are hurting small business to the degree they report or not is, only one piece of the quandary in how retailers can generate more ‘in-store’ sales.
I have another theory; I believe that poor or lacklustre customer service is adversely affecting in-store retail sales too.
I believe that I may be getting less tolerant of rudeness and apathy as I mature, particularly so when it comes to customer service. Is it me or am I just becoming a grumpy middle aged woman? That’s a rhetorical question by the way!
I personally, have had a run of not-so good customer service of late (last 12 months) and it troubles me to think that in this day and age that the significance of customer loyalty is not valued highly enough by some staff/managers/business owners.
Am I wrong to suggest that when every dollar spent in a business (on-line or not) is keeping that business afloat that it is reasonable that you have to continually work at attracting and retaining custom? Do some customer service staff really not understand the consequences of poor customer service? If you lose a customer because they did not receive good service, a consequence of that is that you may well lose your job too.
If you lose a customer, chances are you lose 25 more due to the statistical evidence of how many people are told about a bad customer experience. My experiences have not been ones which have caused significant financial or emotional harm, nor have they left me physically injured in any way. So why am I annoyed?
Perhaps it is because I believe that a little bit of respect and politeness takes no energy but has the potential to pay-forward and reap huge benefits. I don’t expect the ‘royal’ treatment (whatever that is) when I am ‘consuming’, just the courtesy of good manners and fair customer service. Or are we talking about common sense, sensibility and civility? And is this a tell tale about something else happening in society?
Having a call-back or return email not followed up by the deadline promised is one of my pet hates. I too am guilty of missing the odd deadline and in doing so failing to deliver, as promised. It leaves me with such a sense of dread and of failure that I make sure I have done everything possible to ‘recover’ both the customer and their respect.
Whether your customer has one dollar to spend in your business or they have $500K to invest, they deserve both your attention and your respect. It would seem that in some instances little thought is given to the lifelong value of a customer with repeat business and referrals.
I will share some instances with you where I have been less than impressed.
- Took my car for a service, delivered it clean, inside and out, only to collect the car with mud and dirt on the floor. Would have been simple to place a sheet of yesterday’s newspaper on the floor.
- Visited a local pub for a meal. Use the bathroom at the same time as one of the kitchen staff. I washed my hands with soap and water, they did not.
- Visited a pharmacy and asked for a product which was not displayed on the shelf where the label describing it was. Was told it was ‘sold out’. There was no offer of ordering the product in or checking ‘out the back’. It may well have been sold out but offering to follow-up would cost nothing but a minute of time. It ended up costing that business my custom.
- Visited large metro office of well-known private health insurer. Not one of their staff did as much as look up from their screens to acknowledge my presence. I waited patiently before I was beckoned to a cubicle by one staffer...with the role of eyes and a sip from their drink container.
- Ordered a soy-milk coffee from a roadhouse. Reported the milk to be possibly out of date as it was curdled. Was quickly told that it wouldn’t be! I’m quite certain I know off soy milk when I taste it. Would have been easier to apologise and make me another cuppa! I will likely get coffee and my fuel elsewhere.
We are often quick to complain or criticise when we are less than impressed with a product or the way a service was delivered. So why is it then, when we experience exceptional customer experience that we rarely provide positive feedback?
I can think of many instances where I have received customer service at a level above and beyond my expectations. I always acknowledge that and ensure that a compliment has been delivered in a timely fashion to the right person.
What does define good customer service? Often, from my experience, it mostly occurs when you are in your local area and are ‘known’ and you have built rapport with the business or sales person. Whether it’s you newsagent, your service station proprietor, the baker, the hairdresser or the barista at your favourite café, more often than not, you receive good customer service because that business wants to retain your custom and they value your loyalty. Profits flow from providing good experiences.
Some examples of good customer service I have received when away from home.
- Flight out of Melbourne to Adelaide. Arrived early for departure. There was a vacant seat on an earlier flight and I was offered that seat at check in. I took it and was grateful that it was offered.
- I was not just given clear and friendly directions by a waitress to a business I had to visit whilst in Adelaide, but she offered to show me to the corner and point me in the right direction. That took one minute of her time and saved much more of mine.
- Was sharing my special dietary needs with a waiter in a restaurant at a popular tourist destination. He didn’t hesitate in bringing the chef to my table for a quiet chat about how they could happily accommodate my needs. I have since told many friends and used social media to give positive feedback.
- Was seeking advice about a building product from a metro company. Left with the knowledge I needed to make a decision as well as ample samples. A rare and welcome experience in the construction business.
- Needed some urgent printing done, staffer of business offered to stay behind after their shift had finished completing my job at no extra cost to me. Benefit to that business? Significant, they will keep my loyalty and I recommend them in a heartbeat to anyone who asks.
My message isn’t complicated. In fact I am sure there are many more examples of good customer service than not-so. There are probably many studies on what constitutes good customer service and how it can be delivered. So if you are employed in the retail game or any service delivery area I will state the obvious. Your customers/clients are your 'bread and butter.' Show them respect and have patience. You are investing, with a smile, in your own future and that of your employer and importantly your community.
Be attentive and really listen to their needs. Half-hearted listening often results is providing misinformation.
Offer a warm smile, a simple genuine greeting and care enough about your interaction with them and they might just pay your business, the business which employs you, another visit. Better still, they will tell their friends.
Walt Disney said he wanted people to have such wonderful experiences that they not only come back but he wanted them to bring all their friends. No one will doubt his success.
Old marketing adages say that the goal is to turn prospects into customers and customers into advocates for your business. Our experiences will turn us as customers into advocates, but what will we say… that this business is the best, or not worthy of that accolade?
My final word would be to consumers and customers....Please, in carrying out your business transaction, reciprocating the courtesy you receive should seal the deal!