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Communicating for Profits and Customer Satisfaction

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The President of a 200+ store division of a major retailer learned of a serious communication problem and commented that ‘this was to be expected in large organizations’.  Well, that clears everything up! Many retail executives don’t believe that communication is important enough to get it right by coming up with a methodology that will ensure accurate and timely communication to field personnel.  They don’t think communication is an issue that will affect the business one way or the other. They readily accept mediocrity in their communication methods because their organization is ‘large’.  How interesting.  You’ve got to wonder…does this extend to other critical areas of their business such as customer service and product quality? Does it extend to their employment practices and their commitment to labor standards?  Does ‘large’ mean cumbersome, ineffective and inefficient?

Consumers know that customer service in the majority of retail stores is indifferent, at best.  Of course, there are some retailers who treat their customers with respect and who work very hard to serve them well.  I am not talking about those few.  I am talking about the majority.  Do you know why the majority are indifferent to their customers?  It’s because so many leaders are indifferent.  Accountability for service at store level rests squarely on the shoulders of upper management.

Let’s look at a Store Manager who is an experienced, intelligent, customer service oriented individual.  She wants to do a good job by providing customers with a good shopping experience; by providing the company’s stakeholders with a return on their investment and by providing a decent lifestyle for her family.  You may think this individual does not exist in retail, but she does.  Unfortunately, the upper management of her company does not realize she is an important part of the organization. They think and say they do but, as evidenced by their actions, clearly they do not.

This Store Manager must receive accurate and timely communication (which includes training) from her Head Office in order to do the job well.  Yet she is close to the bottom of the list of people who are deemed worthy of receiving this communication.  Below her on the list are the store associates. As backward as that sounds, it’s true. Most customers interact with the Store Manager and associates.  Hmmm…could this have something to do with the problems consumers encounter in retail stores every day?  I think it has everything to do with it. 

Ineffective communication results in aggravated customers – let’s say you receive a promotional offer in the mail and you take it to the store only to find out that the store personnel has no idea that the promotion is in effect.  How that store personnel handles your situation will make the difference between satisfaction and aggravation.  Hopefully, the store personnel will use good judgment and common sense and will find a way to satisfy you.  If not, you are going to be an aggravated customer.  You have been inconvenienced – you’ve wasted your time and, once again, you are let down by a retail organization.

Ineffective communication results in high employee turnover – let’s say the scenario mentioned above is just one more in, what seems to be, a never ending communication nightmare.  The store personnel are embarrassed and made to look foolish through no fault of their own.  They do not want to be continually badgered by disappointed customers.  At some point, the management and staff decide to move on, having lost all confidence in their company’s ability to get it together and keep them properly informed.  No employee wants to appear uninformed.  And, contrary to popular belief, there are many retail employees out there who really want to look after customers properly and who feel embarrassed when they don’t have the information they need to do it.

Ineffective communication results in lost sales – if the store staff doesn’t have product information - features, delivery schedules, pricing, etc. – they can’t advise and inform the customer.  The more information they have, the better equipped they will be to influence buying decisions.  Isn’t it desirable to have associates who are able to positively influence the customer to purchase what the store has to offer? 

Every problem we encounter in a retail store, with the possible exception of rude behavior (and I do mean ‘possible’ exception), can be traced back to a lack of accurate and timely communication. 

It’s time for retailers to embrace an effective communications methodology and stop accepting mediocrity just because their organization is ‘large’. It’s time for the self proclaimed ‘highly important’ people at the Head Office of the ‘large’ organization to be brought up to speed as to where, and by whom, sales are made and customers are satisfied.


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