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Published:  01 March, 2007

Just back from the USA and a trip to Sawgrass Mills in Miami, a 2.2 million sq ft discount mall with all the big names you'd expect.

What you'd also expect, given we're talking America, is fantastic service - and sure enough, it was. The sales associate in Barney's knew his stock, recommended and even criticised my taste in a pleasant and convincing manner.

I have spent a large lump of my career on the subject of service in retail. From the Meadowhall Retail Academy and six subsequent Academies in the UK, Germany and Ireland, I have dealt with tens of thousands of entry level staff. My company also regularly monitors satisfaction in centres, pubs and restaurants using shoppers' responses and mystery visitors, totalling more than 100,000 a year.

The truth is that UK standards are diabolically low and my US experience highlights this. In the UK, we have become so used to low standards that we tolerate mediocrity - we sleepwalk through sloppy experiences. But what, you ask, is to be done? Training is one answer but unless you deal with the underlying cause, that will not deliver excellence per se.

The big difference between US and UK staff lies in their respective psyches. In the US, retail is seen as rewarding and aspirational. In the UK, at entry level, it is seen as a career of last resort. The key is self-esteem. As managers, you have only indirect access to retail staff but that should not deter you. Singling out staff who deliver excellence, recognising and rewarding their achievement, you will create a virtuous circle, which will drive service standards up.

For a copy of my paper, 'Behind the Smile - Why service is bad and what's to be done about it', email stephen@businesblueprints.co.uk

Good luck!

Stephen Logue, chairman, Business Blueprints