Customer Service in Grocery Retail Industry Dying a Slow Death

Customer service in grocery retail industry is dying a slow death. Little to no service, staff that are rude or more importantly appear untrained has been the norm and I am starting to think that some business have just given up, stopped caring about customer service excellence or maybe it’s easier to complain rather than be proactive or try something new.

Let me explain why I feel customer service in grocery retail industry is dying a slow death, if not already dead, but before I do the explanation, I will start by giving you the definition of customer service. What is customer service? Customer service is the sum total of what an organization does to meet customer expectations and produce customer satisfaction. But who exactly is a customer? A customer is a person who pays your salary after purchasing your goods and services. Your customers are the reason your company exists and you got a job.

Ok, now that we know what customer service is all about, when was the last time you entered a grocery retail shop and the cashier, or even the guard, at the door “thanked you” after purchasing? You will be lucky if they even look at you or greet you. Is it that we have suddenly “gotten used” to being treated that way that we have even stopped asking for better customer service in grocery retail shops or we suddenly figured out that the management in grocery retail shops have failed or become reluctant on implementing better customer service strategies that harness a customer centric culture in their organizations.

Last week I walked in one of the biggest grocery retail shops to buy my grocery and my inconsolable experience was from a frustrating long queue to a till operator/cashier who already seemed frustrated with her own job. She did not even look at me, no greetings whatsoever, angrily started scanning my items and after she had finished scanning my grocery, she just stood there without saying a single word. Also not wanting to offend a person presumably it was now company policy to also consider hiring the deaf and dumb in customer services, so understanding that I had to be that considerate and mature person in this whole scenario I slightly leaned over the counter to check the total cost of my groceries on her computer. But somehow almost jumped out of my skin when she blurted, “plastic?” I was shocked at the same time felt fooled that she wasn’t at all dumb or deaf, she could actually speak, only that she speaks when she wants to. Next thing I respectfully handed her the money in her hand but what she does next was unacceptable? She sort of threw my change on the counter for me to pick up without showing any signs of remorse. She paid no regards to me whatsoever, so now I am trying to pick up my change on the counter, she started scanning other items onto the counter that I ended up scrambling through someone’s bread and butter to get my coins underneath.

One time on my way to work I hurriedly got into another retail shop just to grab some toothpicks but 5-10minutes still looking for toothpicks, searched all the sections but I couldn’t find them. That I even approached this girl at the meat section enquiring on which section I could find toothpicks, assuming that since she dealt with a product that required toothpicks she may have an idea but surprisingly she also had no clue. There was no customer support when I needed it, there I was late for work wondering what reason I could tell my supervisor for being late, because I was looking for toothpicks. I’d have not wanted to get fired or write a warning letter over toothpicks so I suddenly gave up my search for toothpicks and quickly dashed out but whilst at the exit door there was this guard who was rather unfortunate when he wanted to search my backpack. I vehemently denied out of frustration that I was in the shop for almost 10 minutes looking for toothpicks. I had no one coming to my assistance but now you have got time to search my backpack, sorry I have no time. If I had gotten assisted quicker probably may have spared a minute or two for you to check my backpack but I am sorry that time was consumed whilst I was looking for toothpicks. He just stood there dumbstruck and I walked out without getting searched.

Another scenario, during one of those busy holidays with my trolley in hand, there I was standing in one of the longest queues, where I had been patiently standing for almost 10-15 minutes. Happy that my turn had finally reached, guess what she does? She suddenly put a sign “Till is closed” in my face. Seriously, after having waited in the queue for 15 minutes and she didn’t even tell me or us that she was working with a certain number of people, now she is embarrassingly closing the till counter on us. Trying to imagine the horror of standing in another long queue for yet another 10-15minutes? No ways I refused because that was unfair. The supervisor passing by overhead our conversation, he at least understood our situation. The till counter was reopened, I got served and I walked out a hero.

Last encounter, we both know that especially holidays or month ends retail shops will be packed to the fullest with long queues, that one has to be very watchful not only from thieves who take advantage but from mistakenly getting items that weren’t yours or you had not bought on the counter. And how does that happen? When till operators are working under pressure trying to minimize the long queues, they actually don’t wait for you to finish packing your stuff for them to start assisting another customer, that one has to mindful when packing otherwise may end up realizing that you have lost many items on the counter than you would have actually done outside. I remember having bought meat, bread and whole lot of other stuff but upon reaching home and had finished unpacking was dumbstruck to find adult diapers, without my meat in the plastic bag, seriously, what was I going to do with adult diapers, I have no use for adult diapers, well, wish I could say the same to one who got my meat.

I know many have had different experiences of such or even worse encounters but it is not supposed to be the norm that we seem to have now gotten used to, because as customers we deserve much better treatment, know why? It’s simply our customer right. Also not forgetting that we (customers) are those people who pay their salaries and keep them in business, lest we forget that.

Those who know me, follows my articles, friends and work colleagues know that I am not like an opposition party that just complains, opposes yet offers no solutions at all. For every problem or complaint I have I offer a suggestion or solution to it, so below I am going to offer solutions or suggestions on how to curb poor customer service in the grocery retail industry.

A. Employ/Hire Grocery – baggers: – If you have attentively been reading this article you will realize that there is the mentioning of time a lot and how much I value time as a customer, not just me alone, many us do, because lost time is never recovered.

Time and patience is lost whilst standing in queues, furthermore, packing the groceries, so how about retail shops employ or hire grocery-baggers who do the packing of our groceries so to minimize the long queues, save us time and customers losing their goods (Remember how I lost my meat and ended up with adult diapers in my plastic bag).

Retail shops are also on the losing end when after one sees a long queue simply walks out otherwise I don’t think hiring/employing grocery baggers will cost the business more comparing to losing thousands of dollars in a single day customers leave in their trolleys when they walk out due to time or lose of patience.

B. Customer Support: – What is the most important thing you can do to improve relationships with your customers? The answer is as obvious as it is overlooked: improve customer support. No matter how big your retail shop is or great your product is or how talented your staff is, one of the things that customers are most likely to remember is the direct interaction they have with your company. Bottom line, your customer service team is often the face of your company, and customers’ experiences will be defined by the skill and quality of the support they receive.

From my previous encounter, I spent close to 10 minutes looking for toothpicks without any luck that I ended up leaving the shop without getting assistance. Where was customer support? I approached the girl at the meat section she too had no idea. The Lobels Bread merchandiser was even clueless because she only safeguards her own brand, go home at 5pm and that is what she only knows and does. Can’t blame her.

C. Recruit the right people: – Your members of staff are the key to delivering top-notch customer service, therefore, establishing the right recruitment strategy is essential in order to create a defined customer experience and positive internal culture. “Hire for Attitude, fire for attitude”

Use effective selection techniques, and invest in staff training. To the customer, whoever they’re dealing with is your company. Are you measuring the right behaviors and attitudes that achieve high levels of customer service within your selection process?

Probably from my experience with a till operator who seemed deaf and dumb I’d strongly recommend that retail shops hire individuals with a positive attitude.

D. Customer Service Quality Monitoring: – Surprisingly grocery retail shops have cameras all over, for what? Only for catching thieves. How about using those same cameras to monitor their customer support teams as well?

I really wonder how they measure individual performance, apart from one accounting money in the till at the end of the day or shift. I suggest they start using KPIs (Key Individual Performance Indicators) that harness excellent customer experiences.

Have “ghost shoppers” who pretend to be shopping yet at the same time seeing where needs improvement. Shadow people in the organization. See how your systems and processes affect the customer, and see what obstacles get in the way of good customer service, Undertake regular performance reviews, not just during the annual appraisal. Give feedback about what’s going well, as well as coaching for areas needing development

E. Invest in Customer Service Training: – Choose a provider who will really get to know your business and who can support your business strategy and service standards. Develop your own short internal customer service training sessions to raise the importance and get your employees really involved.

Customer service goes above and beyond the point of purchase. It concerns the activities before, during and after an individual decides to buy a product or service. For this reason, customer service training can be a hugely beneficial thing to invest in, as by its very nature, looks to enhance the way a business serves what brings in money.

F. Find your customers a way to provide feedback: – No matter how proactive you are, you’ll never be able to get in front of every customer issue. To make sure you learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly experience your customers have, create an easily accessible way for customers to give feedback.

Whether it’s a phone survey to your well-known customers, suggestion boxes, an email survey, or a form on the “Contact Us” page of your website, creating a means for customers to give feedback makes it easier for you to learn what needs improvement. It also helps keep unhappy customers from voicing their displeasure on highly visible places like your social media pages.

Whatever steps you choose to take, remember feedback’s importance to customer satisfaction. Unsure what your strengths and weaknesses are? Don’t know why the numbers are dipping? Make an effort to get closer both to your customers and your reps.

Not only will you discover touch points and skills that need improvement, but your customers will see that are dedicated to providing top-notch, proactive customer service.

G. Grocery Retail Shops Management: – The customer service industry is usually focused on two important roles – the customer and the customer service representative. While those are of the main players, senior management of the business also plays an important but underrated role in the customer service environment. While managers make big decisions, and while their work may seem nebulous or too high-level for many customer service discussions, they have a major impact on the way in which customer service is handled.

Customer service reps do not establish expectations, but the senior–level managers have the authority to set standards and best practices for a company. When the team needs to up the ante, the supervisor is the person who steps in to establish new practices. The management set the bar, therefore, the management in grocery retail shops should implement better customer service strategies that harness a customer centric culture in their organizations.

Lastly have some time to talk your customers, there is nothing better than seeing a high level manager step “into the trenches” and work with a customer, not to mention it reinforces the customer-centric culture.

Like I had said before, mentioned above are mere suggestions that I feel if implemented will save customer service from slowly dying in the grocery retail industry. Suggestions I feel if implemented well will bring customer satisfaction and to the business bringing more revenue and standings.


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