Please note that this is a very very lengthy post, but in order to create more awareness among consumers, NO ONE could have written any better than The Intrepid Beauty. That's why I have decided to publish as IT IS WRITTEN, without editing. I hope retailers out there, managers and everyone who are directly or indirectly working in the sales industry would find something useful in their quest to improve customer service, boost the sales and also in training their frontliners, esp their counter managers and SAs!
So, let me present my first guest writer, The Intepid Beauty (as she prefers to be known), with her inaugural guest post in the form of a letter to me.
I have been an avid reader of your blog for some months now and have enjoyed reading every one of your posts. I sense that you are a strong advocate of consumer rights which is an issue I am also very passionate and concerned about. I would like to offer my take on customer service in relation to the cosmetic counters based on my customer service experiences (both positive & negative) over the past few years. These experiences can be categorised as follows:-
First impressions are very important in any industry particularly the sales industry as a customer will be more inclined to linger at a shop/counter if they feel welcomed. A customer who is not greeted within the first seconds may walk on especially if the customer had no intentions of purchasing anything but only went in to check out a display. The longer the customer lingers, the higher are the chances of the SA making a sale. I have experienced SAs who barely looked up as I approached the counter and continued with their makeup at the mirror as if I did not exist. A SA who stops whatever she is doing and greets the customer as soon as she enters the shop/approaches the counter is one who places the customer first. However, if the SA happens to be serving another customer at the time, she could inform the customer who just came in that she will be with her shortly.
() Following the customer
It seems to be the norm rather than the exception for SAs to follow the customer around the shop. I would rather be left to browse on my own unless I have questions to ask the SA. Following a customer around the shop will not guarantee a sale, in many cases it may backfire and the customer will leave without purchasing. Recently, I was at a Korean cosmetics/skincare shop and the SA kept sniffling while she followed me around. It made me feel uncomfortable since I certainly did not want to catch her cold. Informing the customer that they can call them over should the customer require any assistance would be a better option than trailing the customer everywhere.
() Product/Promotion Knowledge
It is the responsibility of the shop/counter manager to ensure that their staff are aware of an ongoing promotion and that they are able to inform the customer of the prices of the products. There have been occasions when I have had to wait while the SA has to call her Head Office to confirm the details of the ongoing promotion. If the promotion has been published in the magazine/newspaper, the customer should not be confronted with a SA who declares that she has no knowledge of such. There are also SAs who have to keep checking the price of each product. New staff should have already memorised the prices of the products before they are sent to the shops/counters. Such delays only frustrate the customer especially a customer in a hurry.
() Full vs. part timer SA
Some companies, when informed of poor service from the SA, offer the excuse that the SA concerned was a part-timer. It matters not to the customer whether the SA was a full or part timer. As far as any customer is concerned, the SA represents the company and following from that, there should be no difference in the level of service expected from a full/part timer. If the company has seen it fit to place the person behind the counter, then we should expect the same level of service.
() Reluctance to give samples
Having read many blogs, I can see the difficulty some people have in collecting skincare samples even when they go to the shops/counters with the requisite voucher/coupon. This is a result of SAs interpreting the voucher/coupon according to their own whim and fancy which runs contrary to what is stated in the voucher/coupon. I have been denied samples on more occasions than I care to mention and the excuses vary from the typical "It's common sense to bring the advertisement" (even though said ad merely stated "come to any XYZ counter for a miniature sample" and not "Present this ad to the counter to collect a sample") to the downright silly "We note from our records that you have already redeemed this sample months ago" (don't they understand that it was a different promotion which was redeemed through a postcard sent by their company?). Note to cosmetic companies: please instruct your marketing departments to be unambiguous when putting an ad in the papers, if you wish the customer to cut out the ad and bring it to the counter, say so. There are those who seem to think that customers who request for samples are just out to cheat them of samples. Then there is the "We have run out of samples" excuse even though the giveaway only started the day before or the even more ludicrous "I will only give you when you buy something from me". The list of excuses goes on and on. I always stand my ground when these excuses are given and unless I am given the "run-out-of-samples" excuse, I insist that they call their Head Office to confirm even when they maintain that the samples are exclusively for Parkson Elite members when the ad presented to them says no such thing, for example. Any SA who refuses to give you a sample especially when you are entitled to it (e.g. because they have unilaterally interpreted the ad) should be reprimanded. I find that the best and most effective way is to take down their names and call the person in charge of Communications/Complaints at Head Office. You may not have come home with the sample but at least you will feel much better by informing their management about the treatment you received at the shop/counter and if the management personnel are worth their salary, they will make good on the promise of the sample reneged by the SA.
() Giving the customer more than they expected
I have experienced some wonderful service from SAs who give you more than what you expect. You may have approached the shop/counter just to have a closer look at a lipstick/eyeshadow and the SA offers to give you a mini makeover. This is a good tactic because the customer may purchase the product after having the product applied on her lips/eyes and realised what a flattering shade it is on her. I like the SAs who are patient and don't mind you testing just about every shade of lipstick/eyeshadow. I am happy to say that I consider some of these SAs my friends and I can even chat with them about anything if I happen to be at their shop/counter. They may even throw in a sample or two with your purchase which is a good way of making you return to the counter when you find that the sample given agrees with you.
I am sure your readers have also experienced both good and bad customer service. In this competitive environment, companies must realise that it is no longer just important to come up with a fantastic product. At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: nobody is going to return to a shop/counter where they have been treated unfairly or discourteously. Bad customer service can tarnish the image of the entire company. SAs represent the company and it is they whom the customer first comes into contact with so it is paramount for them to give consistently excellent service. Although companies generally welcome customers' feedback, by the time the company's management learns about an unpleasant encounter the customer had with a SA, it may be (if I may take the liberty of borrowing the lyrics of the OneRepublic song) "too late to apologize".
To finish, I leave you with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi "A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.......We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so".
The Intrepid Beauty