A couple of months ago, I had asked my friends a question about some ‘touch and feel’ examples of Customer Delight! My friend Gurpreet Wasi, COO of GoFish – a full service support and solutions provider for the Indian Retail industry – sent me this piece. The piece was originally published in the October 2007 issue of USP Age – a magazine for marketing communication professionals. I asked Gurpreet if I could republish it…
So, here’s a retail pioneer – having previously overseen marketing & strategy at leadership level for brands like Lacoste, Barista and then Co-founded Amorettos juice bars – sharing insights as a marketer-customer. Enjoy!
All thoughts expressed by participants are personal opinion of respective authors and do not represent the views of Blogworks or any other company/ organization.
Customer Service In the Indian Retail Industry: Gurpreet Wasi.
“Do what you do so well that they come again and bring their friends” – improvised Walt Disney quote.
Service is something that we all love to talk about in the context of Indian Retail but its only best understood while talking about it since very few Retailers have actively managed to walk the talk as far as Customer Service is concerned.
Since we are talking of an industry which is still in its infancy, I remember my first brush with organized Retail was when Crossroads opened in Mumbai and we walked around like a group of awestruck teenagers, marveling at the glitz and whatever else while grim faced sales people gave condescending looks to hoards of Kishore Biyani’s ‘India B’ who trooped in to have a look. I remember walking into Ashley Shoes at Crossroads and feeling like walking into a funeral. What made it worse was that then I didn’t really expect anything different. Just a nice store with uniformed staff, who could reply in some form of the English language was all that customer service was expected to be back then.
How things have changed ever since. I have not visited Ashley Shoes in a long time but I feel the popular shoe brands like Reebok, Nike, Adidas do a good job of selling and service. They make the customer feel welcome and the youthful energy of these brands comes through in their service attitude. Though one cannot of course easily differentiate between the service styles of any of them. Its only the odd effort at genuinely superior service that makes the vital difference between brands which compete neck to neck.
To give you an example I was recently attending a Retail Seminar where the MD of Reebok India was anchoring a session on ‘retailing to women’. I had recently got a pair of Reebok Shoes as freebie with my new Sony Ericcson phone. The shoe was available only in Men’s sizes and I had grudgingly kept the pair though I knew I would never wear them. I couldn’t resist taking a quip at Mr. Singh that evening and told him that I only wanted to point out that women were getting a raw deal from MNC marketers. The gentleman gracefully accepted my point and while I was walking out of the seminar a Reebok guy casually asked me about that particular experience and we exchanged visiting cards. A few months later I was hand delivered a pair of size 5 Reebok shoes at my office address. I was floored and I think this is exemplary customer service. I am now a die-hard Reebok follower after years of having only patronized Nike. I buy shoes for my husband and 2 kids and no prizes for guessing who gets the business from now on. That is the power of customer service. No amount of advertising can create the emotional connect that excellent service creates in an instant.
I was in Jaipur last week and dropped in at the just opened Express city. Each one of the too many staff in that new store beamed a 100 watts practiced smile and a loud ‘good afternoon’. The first time it happened, I got startled and almost jumped. It was obviously a rehearsed part of their training but was endearing in a funny way. I wondered how long they would smile since it was a only a week that they had been open yet. The enthusiastic welcome was also a stark difference from the sleepy indifference that I have experienced at the ‘Boutiquey’ retailing at stores like Anokhi, Kilol and the likes. It is obvious that these stores do not face the heat of the competition that is the fact of life for food and grocery stores. Its obvious that competition drives the need to provide superior service since at the end of the day its easy to replicate the physical product but the ultimate differentiator between store brands remains the quality of service that a Customer remembers.
For years now my friends including me return to TGIF to celebrate every happy occasion though there are so many more options to choose from. The bunch of young TGIF boys singing the TGIF birthday song and clapping in genuine merriment as they make the birthday person stand up on a chair is something that has created a very explicable ‘friendship’ that we share with TGIF. The simple act of delightful service made the brand part of a gang of friends. A lot of learning there.
I walked into the Archies store in Khan market a couple of weeks ago to check what’s new. I feel fond of Archies in the same way that I feel fond of Nirula’s since they have been part of those golden years of school and college in Delhi and its so interesting to see the formats evolve to keep up with the times. A very sad looking young girl in uniform came and stood behind me as I touched the trinkets on the wall. I smiled at her and she looked very uncomfortable returning my unwanted familiarity. On an impulse I asked her why she did not smile and greet people. After getting over the initial shock of that question she explained that she was scared that if anyone did not return the gesture it will be humiliating for her and that she will seem foolish. It was her perceived rejection from people that made it so difficult to flex her facial muscles! I knew in an instant that instead of a stick from the manager asking the staff to smile one needs to invest in boosting the self confidence of these young people and that they require to know the power of positive thinking. At planet M two boys told me that both of them ‘collect’ smiles and compete with each other about how many people smiled back at them during their day.
I must mention here that I love to visit Planet M in Saket. The boys in the store have been around and they are familiar faces and they talk to my kids when I am busy browsing. They happily participate in my story-telling efforts when I want to pull my daughter out of the store and tell her that none of the cartoon DVDs could be sold to anyone that day! It is hard to say what defines this quality of service but its definitely worth much more than any advertising or promotion.
Its easy to go on about my favorite topic as far as Indian Retail is concerned but I am most tempted to share yet another experience about how Advertising and promotions can lead the horse to water but cannot make it drink! Like most women I must have at least 10 pairs of jeans in my wardrobe and still feel I could do with more. And like must yuppies I am also very brand conscious where my jeans are concerned. While waiting at my daughter’s dentist I spotted this fabulous pair of Levis in an ad in a girlie magazine and since the Levis store is close to my office I decided to check it out. I stood in the ladies section waiting to be waited upon while two sales girls on that floor didn’t as much as look at me and kept folding denims. I tried to shout over Shakira blaring in that store to make myself heard and was pointed to a shelf. It was obvious that the shelves were labeled and the style names were on the top of the racks and there was a poster explaining all kinds of Levis styles and fits and that it was DIY Levis store. I told them that I still needed their help and one of them came up with both hands on her hips and announced that none of the ‘Diva’ jeans (from that Ad that took me to that store) were available in my size. After first having made me feel very unwelcome, Levis was now making me feel like a dinosaur. I told her I hadn’t told her my waist size yet. And then in an instant I felt I did not like those jeans anymore and walked out.
The next weekend while window shopping at South Extension I walked into Wills Lifestyle to check of the VM displays. The breezy fresh girl who said a discreet hello when I caught her eye and the happy bunch of them made me feel glad to be there. I bought a pair of Wills Lifestyle jeans. I never fail to surprise myself!
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