Saturday, March 9, 2013

Remembering Customer Service

A recent news report examined the state of so-called customer service. Apparently the public is pleased with most -- but not all -- retailers. The details, revealed by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, indicated that e-commerce businesses received higher ratings than more traditional retailers. Anyone who has utilized both methods of shopping would not be surprised.

The report examined nine retailers which are considered to have the lowest ratings. According to the article they are in this order:

1. Walmart
2. Netflix
3. Safeway
4. CVS Caremark
5. Sears
6. Supervalu
7. The Gap
8. TJX Companies ( including T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods)
9. Walgreens

No doubt store managers and corporate heads can justify why their particular businesses were included in this collection. Times are tough in the retail world. Folks obviously have less money to spend and are extremely careful how they spend what money they do control.

This particular survey dealt with "customer satisfaction" which seems to include how satisfied the customers were after dealing with these specific enterprises. In all fairness, reduced sales have resulted in employee lay-offs, leaving fewer people to assist customers, handle questions and speed check-outs.

Over the years I have dealt with several of these businesses and found only one name on the list which completely surprised me. It is a business with which I continue to deal with frequently. I have found it to be thoroughly efficient with helpful employees eager to answer questions. My experience with this one retailer has caused me to at least question the entire survey. Favorable and poor ratings must be somewhat subjective from one location to another. In all cases, shoppers might encounter employees/managers who really care and those who do not.

Another of the businesses listed above is of particular note to me. I had a negative experience with that retailer earlier this week. To start with, I do not care for this retailer and rarely go there because it is extremely unpleasant on a number of levels. But this same retailer is the sole provider of at least two items which are not available elsewhere locally.

This recent shopping trip was extremely frustrating. Oddly enough, there was only ONE container of either item available for sale. And in each instance the item on the shelf had been opened. One, in the frozen food area, had its box ripped open and stood with its flaps toward the ceiling. I did not purchase it.

The other item was a household cleaner. I like this particular item because of its cleaning ability and because a bottle does a lot of work. One bottle of the cleaner stood alone on the shelf, its lid standing open. A significant amount of liquid had dripped down the front of the container, bleaching the label and making a mess.

In neither case was any employee around to tell about the situation.

I also looked for a third item which I had purchased there before -- a type of adhesive in a tube. There were other brands available, of course, as was also true of the first two products. But that wasn't the point. I wanted these particular items and went there specifically to buy them. Of course, the adhesive was not on the shelf, there was no indication that might be out of stock and no one to ask.

When I returned home unsuccessful at finding these materials, I decided to send an email to the corporate office. Most corporations have websites with an option to "contact us" somewhere on the page. I sent a brief note explaining what had happened and as I clicked "send," I received a response listing the company's store locations in the area and asking me to select which store was involved. This seemed a hopeful sign.

An opportunity to explain this event made me feel as though someone -- somewhere -- cared. Whether anything ever comes of such a measure is not my concern. The store/district manager may simply delete the email. But a chance to describe my experience was more satisfying than ranting at some cashier who has no idea what is going on among the aisles.

I believe strongly in contacting a corporate office about an outstanding shopping experience, whether positive or negative. That's the only way that we can have direct input on the issue of customer service.

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