The best do not provide customer service

I was recently invited to be on a conference panel with those considered to be the best of the best in retailing. The aim of the panel was to advise an audience of retailers what they needed to do to become the best of the best themselves.

The first panel member mentioned that the key to success was customer service, the other retailers on the panel agreed and the audience started taking notes. This suggested that the retailers in the audience did not provide customer service. It was then that it dawned on me – the audience would all agree that they provided customer service, the group that were not providing customer service were the panel members themselves.

I have never met a retailer who has felt they did not provide customer service. To be in retailing you need a product to sell and a customer service approach to business – without either of these you will not have a business for very long. Customer service allows you to join the retailers club, but the best of the best do not provide service, that is why they stand out from the rest. The best businesses build a relationship with their customer. The average retailer thinks about the transaction, whilst the best of the best focus on building a relationship with the consumers that enter their store.

What are the best doing?

The best of the best focus on how they can provide value to the customer whilst the average retailer looks at the price of the product. Research around the world shows that price is not the main priority when customers go shopping. Their biggest need is for them to have more time and they have already given of their time to enter your store. If price was the real key motivator we would all be buying more online than we are now. Internet shopping is growing at double digit figures, but the consumer still prefers to go shopping at businesses who they perceive as providing value to them.

Customer service is still critically important, especially where you are not a commodity retailer, but that service expectation varies depending on the individual consumer. What impresses one person may have the opposite effect on another person. Your team needs to be trained in how to relate to different people in the community and to read individuals. Some people will give you the body language that they are interested in having a relationship with you whilst others will send out clues that they do not want to be approached.

Businesses that aim at building relations with customers have a policy where they aim to get maximum contact with the customer; they analyse the key touch points in the customers’ journey and build on maximising the positive contact at these points in the journey. Those businesses accept that they will not win all the time, but the underlying thinking in the business is an aim to create a win-win scenario in all relationships in the business. They develop an ongoing relationship.

Businesses that rely on customer service tend to have no ongoing connection with the customer. The customer comes in, is served and then leaves never to be contacted again by the particular retailer or their team. The end result of the no relationship situation is that no loyalty is built between the store and the consumer.

In today’s challenging retail environment the retailer has to work at getting the trust and respect of the consumer. The best are always focused on building the trust and respect – this may mean they may occasionally miss out on a sale, but in the end they have the support of the consumer and the long term benefit.

The winners train the whole team in customer relations and they do it constantly. They identify who are the key team members in the customers’ journey. In the best retailers’ stores, you don’t come across team members who say: “I am just the trolley boy” or “I am only a weekend person, I do not know.” The best make sure that all the team are proactive, they accept they will not know all the answers, but the culture within the business is they will find out the answer and walk you through the retail journey.

The best also measure their success. The best use mystery shopper organisations as a standard part of their management culture to ensure they maintain standards, they believe in the concept that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. It amazes me how many businesses do not check the most important part of their business – the relationship the team members are having with their customers.

As we start a new year, the challenge is to stop thinking about customer service, that is what the ‘me to’ retailers are doing. You need to develop a business that stands out from the rest, that means you need to start building customer relations, not service.


John Stanley is one of the top ten percent of speakers in the world today. He is an acclaimed retail consultant and Western Australian Entrepreneur of the Year 2009. John is author of several marketing, customer service and retail books including the best seller “Just About Everything a Retail Manager Needs to Know” His company is Western Australian Small Business Champion 2009 – Education and Training. For more information on how John Stanley can help you, visit his website HYPERLINK “” or email HYPERLINK “”