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Keeping it simple for our most important customer, our people

Truth be told I am a great shopper. An outstanding shopper. Some would say a world-class endurance shopper. I don’t really understand the word austerity when I should, nor the concept of “a considered purchase.” I’ve been known to spend 3 hours on one floor of a department store and hence, I love a great sales assistant. I love the stories they tell, the product knowledge they impart or the way they can make you feel good, bad or indifferent about a product. I adore those who pamper you with their complete and utter attention.

These physical touch points of the brand work incredibly long hours, sometimes split shifts, late nights, early mornings. They are required to be multi-tasking ninjas; to always be happy, engaging, intelligent vessels of the brand. They need to be able to make you feel that your engagement with the retailer or brand is the right one, for you, sometimes beyond reason.

Over the past few months I have been documenting some interactions with retailers, brands and their team members to illustrate how systems, processes, training and policies can either support or let an experience down. Even to the point of a lost, loyal shopper.

The case of the missing coffee

Charlie and George, Stonefields, Auckland

One dreary morning I decided to have some special time with my son at Charlie and George; a well reputed café in Auckland. The place had just got over the early morning hump. We settled in a corner, planning the bucket of stuff we needed to achieve about town after placing our order which included a soy latte and a chocolate milkshake. We were waiting for some time (10 mins) when I enquired where our order was as some people who came in after us had their food and drinks served. The very apologetic lass followed up only to say they had run out of ice-cream for the chocolate milkshake. Bugger that – we needed to move on but I needed caffeinating. So I stood behind a bucket of people, got to the counter and the lady proceeded to charge me for my order. I politely explained quickly we didn’t get our order and, could I get my coffee to go. Her response was fabulous. She quickly politely questioned her team why on earth they were out of ice-cream and to pop across to the Fresh Choice to get some so not to disappoint the next person wanting a milkshake. She proceeded to hand me my coffee quick-smart and said it was on the house and sorry for ruining our morning. Situation saved. I still had a smile on my face despite being mucked around, as an empowered staff member made me feel important to them, using their charm, manners and good nature.

The case of the price check

Bunnings Mt Wellington, Auckland

I decided it was time to put the “price guarantee” that the hardware stores plaster to their DNA to check. I imagined this was going to be a terrible experience but hey, I was out to save the $60 I was entitled to between 2 planter boxes I wanted that were priced $130 at Bunnings and $99.90 at Mitre 10. These were heavy items I could barely lift.

I asked two people in Bunnings what I needed to do, pointing in the direction of the planters high up on some racking. Quickly I got directed to the Information Desk while the guys I spoke to in the garden department proceeded to get them down and load them on a cart for me, not really knowing if the price was going to be honored or not, but he said “let’s assume that it will be.”

As I explained my situation and showed my picture from the same item at Mitre 10, the guy jumped online to try and find the product. With no luck he then rang the local Mitre 10 for a price check. Confirmation made, discount applied, planters loaded into my car. A seamless process which could have been scary and confrontational, made easy.

The case of the defective product

I purchased a distressed denim skirt from Esprit which ripped within a couple of weeks of purchase (and no I hadn’t gone up a size). I rang the Newmarket branch and they said, yes, this was a product fault and others had been returned, so bring it back in and they would replace it for me with another product. I did purchase it from Sylvia Park, however the closest store for me to return was St Lukes. But on trying to return the product there the sales member said (1) it had to be returned to where I purchased it and (2) they wouldn’t transfer it to the store as their policy wasn’t to do any transfers “in sale” period. The sales assistant had no opportunity to use her common sense which would say it’s our product, we have put the shopper out, I need to recover, I’ll find a way. Once I got the Sylvia Park they didn’t even have the product I wanted as a replacement left in my size (it was at St Lukes) and they duly had to do a product transfer anyway. I was duly hacked off.

Unable to organize a piss-up in a brewery

I hate to be so harsh but I am beyond livid with the run around I have been given in the case of the returned product. I was (until now) a committed loyalist to Keihl’s skincare. A dermalogically tested natural product, it was perfect for my skin. With their policy of giving samples to trial helps transition anyone who has spent far too long with a glowing red, spotty face. So I came to trust anything their people told me. Why shouldn’t I. We were family.

Shopping at The Grove in LA the sales assistant pointed me to the newly formulated jar of cream I used. It did have SPF (which typically I react to) but she assured me that with my condition, this would be fine. So close to $160 later I walked out with my jar of magic which made my face flare up so much you could cook eggs on it. I had it with me as we transited through Sydney and asked a Keihl’s store there who said I would need to return it in the US. I was off on a trip to the US in a few months, so I took it into a store in Manhattan who said they couldn’t replace the product I wanted as they only had the new formulation but to return it in NZ as “we are all the same company.”

The Britomart store directed me to the Newmarket counter in Smith & Caughey as they couldn’t help me. These guys directed me to the international Keihl’s website. The website customer service apologised and sent me a phone number – which only worked in the US! I finally got a person who directed me to the L’Oreal Customer Service in (wait for it) New Zealand. Some months had elapsed by now. I got the Customer Service in NZ who asked me a million questions and then asked me to return the product plus receipt of purchase. After another few months of too’ing and fro’ing I got my replacement delivered to my door on June 28th. The letter of replacement is dated a month earlier. My journey started in July the year prior. Nearly a full 12 months. Guess who I am not shopping with again?

The above stories demonstrate how we need to support our front end retail ninja’s so they can do what they need to ensure they delight, engage and support our shoppers.

We need to stop laying more complicated work-arounds, complicated and senseless processes and provide them with clear communication on how they can enable flow within the store and with their customers.

The responsibility sits with us retailers, particularly those in management and support office positions who are endlessly crafting experiences. Make sure you are crafting the right ones.

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