[Written for Apparel Mag, March 2011 Edition]
I have never met a business owner, executive or manager who would say their company isn’t customer centric (totally customer focused). Never! Yet everyday we have examples of where the customer is not king!
I recently posted on my facebook page “Please give me examples of good and bad service you have recently received, feel free to mention names of businesses if you like!”. In the space of 24 hours I have received over 60 comments. Bad service comments like (only noting apparel companies) :
“Wanted to get some trail running clothes. Went into ZZZ Henderson. No one to help when asked, staff couldn’t care less. So bailed went to YYY Albany. Great staff and 2 staff hung out with me after closing to help me sorted with what I needed. Really understood what I needed helped me get the cheap stuff in sales and offered up discount without asking on stuff that wasn’t on sale. Ended up spending just short of $1k. Bad luck ZZZ. Won’t go back there again.”
“I had a horrible condescending woman at XXX in High Street (Akl) the other day – seems if you aren’t a size 8 or less then they have quite a different way of treating you.”
“AAA/BBB/CCC and those Cheap girl stores. They all go on about “greet the customer within ten seconds” but they never do it, they don’t help you out in the changing room / they are real robotic at the counter / they have no knowledge on clothing materials and fit and they do not have personality. All areas too. AUCKLAND/CHRISTCHURCH/TAURANGA! errrrrrrrrrrrrr 🙁 “
“DDD. Had bad service!!!! Clothes fall apart constantly, they act as if you are infringing on their important conversations…”
“No one in particular but I find most clothes shops are not that interested in me any longer, so now I just shop online overseas. The service is great and delivery times fantastic. So much fun as the range is just massive too!”
One apparel good service comment :
Zac, this is from a friends status this morning : “I will never forget how The Pyjama Company had fantastic service. My new dressing gown was taken with the towels after a stay at birthcare. It was finally returned without the tie and TPC gave me a new one. As a néw mum I was really touched. It’s the little things that impress me. Going beyond the call of duty. Great for word of mouth…”
There was one very pertinent comment “The moral: I was completely brand loyal, but given a reason to try a competitor, I am now a swinging customer…. it’s never good to give your customers away with bad service.”
I will not publicly “out” the names of the bad service examples in Apparel mag, but if interested check out my facebook page, it is there for the cyberworld to see. It was interesting to see very few apparel retailers noted (less than 15% of the comments) and well done Pyjama Company!. Obviously the power of talking service in cyberspace is unlimited…
So back to the title of this piece… “I’m so customer centric, yeah right!” There are many reasons why most companies (including apparel no doubt) do not walk the talk here. The dis-connect exists because companies have been treating customer centricity as an idea, as a concept, instead of as a business principle or mandate that drives action. And because it’s just an “idea,” customer centricity remains un-managed, un-budgeted, un-owned and un-measurable. Effectively it is not a living, breathing “thing” in our companies, everyday, 24/7.
A very important customer is someone who has an issue with you… It is in how you react and supposedly solve this issue that will have a potentially big impact on your company. Solve it to their expectation (and preferably over and above), then you will have turned a potential “complainer” into a massive customer advocate for you. These new, turned fans, will actually spend more with you in the future than they would have, if they had not had that issue you solved for them. If you do not fix their issue in a satisfactory way, then… Hmmmm carnage potentially.
Unhappy customers will on average tell 13 others. Please note this “13” is word of mouth “telling”, the number “told” will be growing above that as the power of cyberspace grows. Market share is very tight out there in apparel land whether you are retailing, wholesaling or both. 57% of people will leave you when they receive bad service. Interesting but bad service is only “reported” back to the “company giving the bad service” 10% of the time. So 90% of bad service is never raised directly with the “giver of such”. Man that is so scary! If you receive 1 complaint per week say, reality is you are actually growing your database of “complaining customers” by a net total of 10 per week. That is 520 per annum. They tell 13 others, gee that is a total of almost 7,000 extra people every year (ummmm 70,000 over 10 years and some) saying “you know XXX, their service [or product] is way crap, don’t go there!”. In todays competitive marketplace and with so many apparel businesses struggling to stay above the breadline, you cannot afford this.
What a waste of marketing money which hopefully might have grown your brand to attract new customers. What a waste of product development money. What a waste of money full stop. The cost of acquiring a new customer is 5 times that of retaining an existing one…
There are hundreds of ways to give good customer service so I will not start listing them as you will get sore eyes but… Biggest tip : Simple acts… Do the basics well like greeting customers, offering assistance and thanking customers for their business. Such simple little obvious must haves, result is this can increase customers satisfaction score by almost 50%! That’s a lot of impact for doing “common sense and courtesy”! Oh and simply treat others as you would like to be treated, always. Not rocket science is it…
Speaking of science, there is a whole lot of science around customer service. I do not understand why more companies are not focused on it more. When in doubt, ask your customer. They will tell you what they want and lead you to solutions you would never have come up with on your own.
It is not as if we do not know the importance of customer service in the apparel and fashion industry. The very famous book (read it) called “In Seach of Excellence” (by Tom Peters and written in 1982, yes 1982!) had a simple message. It said that no matter how the economy is, certain companies will perform well. Why? Their primary motivation is customer satisfaction superior to any other competitors. Hmmmmm that was 29 years ago! So why are we generally in todays times in a state of sales and service malaise?? Surely we would all be trying to give awesome service? I think that sometimes in fashion and apparel we think we are so cool or whatever, that we do not think service is important or otherwise you just plain forget to really focus on it. Hopefully this article will get you thinking…
Final Tip… Have a living focus on improving your service… Maintain energy too and lead from the top so the desire spreads across your whole company.
Live all this and you very well could be a totally customer focused business, wow!