The Hottest Trend in Retail is…Bad Customer Service?

Tags: Customer Interactions,Retaining Customers
Apr 13, 2017

Last week I found myself racing through my local mall at 8:40 on a Tuesday night. My daughter had a last minute “wardrobe malfunction” and needed a plain t-shirt for a school project the next day. Did I mention that the mall closes at 9:00? This outing was just as fun as it sounds – here are a few things we noticed during our short shopping experience. If we were greeted at all, it was something like “Just letting you know, we close in 20 minutes!”  Employees were practically sitting next to the door with their coats on, and 90% of the stores in the mall had their doors already half-closed. Sliding through the small opening of a metal gate doesn’t set the tone for the best customer experience.     

It’s no surprise that so many large and formerly successful companies are closing thousands of retail stores across the country. Store closings announced for 2017 (so far) include Payless Shoes (400 stores), JC Penney (138 stores), The Limited (250 stores), HH Gregg (closing all 220 stores and going out of business), GameStop (150 stores) –just to name a few. The list literally goes on and on and it is only April! Why is this happening?  Obviously online shopping is a factor but experts say online sales make up less than 10% of the total retail picture. There is something else happening here.

The Customer Experience is disappearing from retail.  When was the last time you went to a store and felt appreciated (or in some cases, even tolerated) by the employees?  Like they really cared that you were there… Acknowledged you… Stopped their personal conversation with a co-worker… Said Thank You… Did something beyond asking if you found everything you needed when you’re at the checkout?  At that point, what does it matter?  Are they going to stop and go find what you couldn’t? 

Over time, too many people at retail stores have lost the connection between creating a great customer experience in order to even have a job to go to. Too often, it looks like they’re suffering through their shift rather than focusing on making sure the customers (without whom they wouldn’t have a paycheck) are well-served, happy and want to come back. For example, the only store employee who engaged in a conversation during our shopping trip had this to say when I asked how he was doing. “I’m almost out of here so I’m good!” Really? That’s the best you’ve got?   

Without a great customer experience, people have less and less reason to expend the extra effort to go to a retail store.  If all they want to achieve is a transaction without any extra attention paid to them as a human being, then they can do that with their mouse.  Unless stores start to focus on the human connection and ensuring their customers feel important and appreciated, there will be little incentive for customers to make the trip.  Hey – if I want to be ignored, I’ll shop online!    

So as we move into an age in which more and more retail outlets are closing, it’s time to stop and think about where our focus needs to be.  While online commerce is here to stay, there is still hope for brick and mortar because there is no substitute for the human connection - eye contact, a smile, and the face-to-face acknowledgment that we matter as a customer and you’re glad we came in!  Some retailers are doing it well – Nordstrom is a great example. What sets them apart? Mostly the fact that they deliver amazing customer service. All retailers should provide training on the basics of customer service instead of just how to check people out and open and close the store. Simple things such as simply acknowledging customers, offering them an extra level of assistance, showing empathy when something goes wrong and connecting with them on a real level make a huge difference. Customers feel valued, know they’ll be treated well when they come in, and are much more likely to come back often.

At Bonfire Training we know that the human connection is the differentiator in today’s uncertain business climate, whether face-to-face or on the phone. Growth and success happen naturally for companies who make their customer service experience a priority and we can help you get there. Call me if you would like to improve your customer experience at 800-888-4893 or send me an email at If I’m not in I’m probably at Borders shopping for books. Oh, wait...