Politeness costs nothing, but a lack of it can cost retailers dear

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AN elderly relative who first worked his way up in the retail trade then went into the insurance industry, where he was top of the sales league for decades, was asked why he had done so well. “Simple,” he said. “I knew my job really well and I was nice to people.”

Those two factors are indeed simple – and yet for too many people in the retail industry the sacred rules seem to be unattainably difficult to follow.

At a time when many of our retailers are struggling badly, it would seem logical that good customer service is more crucial than ever, yet too often both big stores and some smaller shops treat their lifeblood – the consumer – with carelessness or even contempt.

Tesco announced disappointing sales for last year and poor customer service is surely part of it. When they were on their way to taking the number one spot, they introduced 1+1 queueing, one person being served at the checkout and no more than one person waiting.

Now you often see banks of unmanned checkouts and long queues. If you go at 7pm it’s terrible; at 7am there can be no checkouts open at all, forcing you to use the self-scanners which often stop to call for assistance. Add to that poor availability of some stock, and customers start to look elsewhere.

On our suburban parade of shops, a small independent retailer I would really like to support for all sort of reasons including diversity of offerings locally and convenience, is driving customers away because the owner’s snooty, frosty manner and unhelpfulness make people believe she doesn’t really need their money.

While DIY stores have some lovely older staff who know the products, when trying to choose an item at an electical retailers you’re likely to find that the sales assistants don’t know enough about their wares to explain their respective merits.

Even in Marks and Spencer, where once a staff member would help you to hunt down what you needed on the shop floor or maybe check stocks on the computer, the message can now be: “If you can’t see it, we haven’t got it...” before she resumes chatting to her pal.

We’ve all experienced bad treatment of one kind or another, and it’s logical that this will affect sales, especially at a time when we’re being more careful about spending anyway.

According to new research carried out among 5,000 shoppers, nine out of 10 people will leave a shop with their money unspent if the service is not good enough. Research group Market Force said some retailers may mistakenly believe consumers prefer to shop online, so customer service is not as critical as it once was.

Data showed that 79 per cent actually prefer to shop in-store because they expect shopping in person will mean better service. But four out of 10 said the biggest frustration was staff’s lack of interest in their needs.

Tim Ogle of Market Force, said: "Good customer service doesn't have to be expensive.

“Small, inexpensive changes can have an oversize impact on whether someone buys in your shop and how much they spend.

“For example, our research shows eight of 10 shoppers want to be taken to a product when asking about its location. It's these little gems of insight that turn a question into a sale.”