Do you know how your customers are treated? Modern Retail’s new headache!

Given how QSR (Quick service restaurants) are hot now, with venture capitalists chasing them and newer stores opening up everywhere, I often wondered how do the new startups manage growth? how are they able to leverage the competencies of the systems and their people to offer an uniform customer experience ?

And I am disappointed to report, they don’t.  And given the state of things, I am not surprised that they are soon forgotten or are forced to shut down. Let me share my experiences.

Let us start with a new product, frozen deserts.

I sent my kids to pick up a frozen yogurt from a store in Napean sea road and was waiting outside the empty store. They returned back, with the product in hand, and handed me the change, which found was Rs 15 short. I was also told that they were given a bill only when they insisted on it. I went inside to ask the cashier, who feigned ignorance, and then on confronting her, she admitted her mistake. Her colleagues said that she was new, and she had made a mistake, inspite of using a computerised billing system, and a calculator! She offered to give me the balance change, but I asked that she write on the bill that she had paid me Rs 15 short, in a Rs 335 sale.

I took my kids to a newly opened showroom selling nitrogen ice cream. Pretty good stuff, and the newly opened store was pretty crowded too. Since we could not eat more than one shared one, we packed the others and took them home. Imagine our surprise when we reached home, and found that there was one cup less. I called the store to complain, and the attendant heard me and just hung up on me. Repeated calls were not picked up! And there was no response from the store on this subject.

I did write about these incidents on social media ( i am a senior contributor on Tripadvisor and have multiple followers on twitter and my blog) but the lack of response from these stores, frankly made me wonder.

What do you think is the future of QSR stores, if they do not make any efforts to check on what their customers feel about their brands? The fact that both these stores were empty after the first month, should send warning signals to the owners.

Let us also look at some other examples of super service.

I was in Starbucks, and the lady at the cashier suggested i try out the new flavour. I was not very sure, and stated that I did not want to risk trying out the new flavour. She said, if i don’t like it, she would change it. I bought the new flavour, and tried it out, and did not like it. She replaced it with the flavour that i wanted, at no additional cost!

On another note, I had booked an low cost airline ticket and found that I had to pay an extra Rs 200 for an aisle seat. Irritatedly I paid this amount. The site froze, and my payment could not go through, so I had to rebook my seat again. Mercifully , it went through the second time. However, on reviewing my AMEX credit card bill a few days later, I noticed that i was charged twice for the seat. I called AMEX and told them about this, and sent a mail to the airline, pointing out the mistake.  Guess what happened? AMEX gave me an instant credit for the amount.

Not an issue of the amount, but the fact the above two brands did this, speaks volumes. Maybe that will explain why the only card I use is  AMEX for over 20 years now, and guess which is the only store where I buy my coffee from?

There are many examples that I can give, of my personal experience of horror stories, which would make any entrepreneur’s blood freeze. And the best part is, that the management does not even care or know or even aware of what is happening!

I will tell you my story some other time, of how a Mumbai airport duty free cashier was willing to let go of a sale of 98 Euros, because I had given him, 97 euros in notes, and 1 euro as two 50 Eurocents. And he stated that they had a policy of not accepting coins. The fact that I had got these two coins as change from another cashier a few minutes ago, from another purchase, did not cut any ice. it was only when the manager went and verified with the other cashier, carrying my bill to him, did they agree to do me a “favor” and accept my money!

I know another water filter company which has film stars promoting it, but the after sales service is so lousy, that unless we called the MD’s office to complain, no one in the local office would budge. Finally, we got fed up and threw the RO water unit away and brought another brand. Thankfully, that is a little better.

Things that you can do:

1. Get your training right:   Let your people know, that their salaries come from the sales that the customers buy.

2. Don’t take customers for granted: This is a BIG mistake that most companies make, especially during the heady days of rapid growth. I see this with a lot of new restaurants when they open, when people are standing outside waiting for their tables. The attitude of the staff to the customers is sad. I have seen only a couple of restaurants, who have treated people right, even those who did not have reservations or could not get seats. And these are the restaurants that are always reasonably fully, even after the initial six month honeymoon trial period is over.

3. Communicate with customers : How easy are you to communicate with? If a customer has an issue, whom and how can she call? and if someone does call, what response does she get?

4. Encourage customers to communicate with you: I know a lot of companies which make it impossible for anyone to contact anyone at the top management. Try some of these cellular phone providers or even credit card companies, who are hiding their people behind call centers and automated phone systems which i think are built to frustrate any attempts to contact anyone empowered to make a decision or resolve their issues. In the meantime, they go along disconnecting phones if you have a disputed charge or seek clarification.

5: Communicate in simple english: Imagine buying an item and then finding out that the charge is a lot more, or that there are a bundle of other charges along with the product that you did not ask for… In fact, most cell phone plans, credit card charges, ketchup with burgers, minimum balance charges in savings accounts, are all examples of hidden charges which can cause problems if not communicated well.

Retail entrepreneurs should take heed that unless they make active steps to engage with, and communicate with their customers, they will lose, especially when the customers have no way to communicate their displeasure. Because it is one thing to assume that you are in an ivory tower and can survive without these irritating guys AKA “customers”, but most disappointed customers will vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere. And this is usually to the competition ! Going forward, my prediction is that we will see increasingly, a situation where those brands who care for their customers, being rewarded by increased repeat sales, and positive word of mouth publicity, and the others ? They will probably become an additional statistic in the list of retail failures. Already a field which plagued by high failures and rapid shifts in customer loyalty.

And the worst part is, if you do not know, (since the customers are not able to tell you what is wrong) you have absolutely no way of correcting it!  So make yourselves more easier to reach out to , incase the customers have a problem, after all they are the ones who bring you your profits. (The yogurt place did not even have a number to call, in case of difficulty!)

Ask your self, for every one customer who takes the pain to complain, there must be at least a hundred more, who will not even bother to complain and just shift their business!

Perhaps you will understand, why I will never step into the two above stores ever.

The question is, can you do something about this, or are you just not bothered?