Regular readers of my blog may remember the post I wrote in January about how retailers blame poor sales on just about everything apart from the customer experience. Which? Magazine has just published its annual Shopper Survey, based on satisfaction and likelihood to recommend – and the importance of excellent customer service could not be clearer.
The headlines are that Lush, Disney, Richer Sounds, John Lewis and Waterstones make up the Top 5 and Apple has slipped down from the no.1 spot last year to number 13 this year. Is this down to customer service issues (problems with getting Genius Bar appointments are noted) or simply a recent lack of innovation in store? As Which? notes, their customers “still like it, but are less likely to love it.”
Languishing at the bottom is WH Smith, a brand that has the same problem as M&S, in that everyone knows how to fix their problems but them. The Guardian Comment stream below the survey is full of the same criticisms; the handfuls of useless vouchers they chuck at you, the relentless pushing of giant chocolate bars (as the supermarkets finally remove sweets from the tills, WH Smith continue to try and force them down our throats), the worst self-service machines on the High Street and unkempt, shabby interiors. Their carpet even has its own Twitter account (check out @whs_carpet). Don’t these brands ever read their own publicity?
Talking of M&S, they’re joint 22nd with a mixed bunch (Evans Cycles, H Samuel, Harvey Nicks, New Look, Schuh and Superdrug). Falling profits for the third year in a row and not rated by its own customers. Not looking good, despite the latent love and goodwill of the British public.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Next, the new darling of the High Street, is not far behind at 24 (or actually 29, given how many are tied at 22).
Down at the bottom of the table alongside WH Smith are HMV, Homebase, TK Maxx, Halfords, The 99p Store, Ryman and Shoe Zone. Looking at them together, some interesting themes emerge.
Ignoring the independents, the Top 20 comprises retailers who are largely specialist, treat-oriented, offer value for money, aimed at female shoppers and/or have a strong online presence.
By contrast, the Bottom 20 are discounters, generalists, have been saved from administration, operate a ‘warehouse’ format and either male-oriented or gender neutral. More interestingly, their online presence is patchy to say the least.
So whilst it maybe no surprise that they’re failing to deliver a great customer experience, the similarities paint a clear enough picture of the things customers don’t like. Cheap clearly doesn’t mean cheerful. And whilst online may be killing the independents on the high street, it seems the reverse is true when it comes to the big players. Customers expect a great, consistent experience whether they’re in-store or online. (Three of the Top 10 – Lush, Lakeland and Screwfix – actually started life as mail-order brands).
As Which? director Richard Lloyd says himself: ‘We’ve seen time and time again that consumers won’t settle for bad customer service… Those stores giving people the care and attention they want have happy customers who return.’
It’s not rocket science, is it?