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Friday, January 4, 2013

Customer service, return policies, and technology at the register can spur or negate retail profits

Today I can buy "stuff" anywhere - online, at estate sales, at Goodwill, or in upscale retail stores - and pricing is highly competitive.  How I do my shopping, however, depends on the way I am treated during the sale and how I will be treated should I want to return items.

"We take care of our customers," said a salesperson when I asked about seating arrangements in the dressing room corridor. I was shopping with my daughter in Express, and he made sure a comfortable bench was brought in so I could view her future purchases. He was smiling and courteous but not a pesky salesman who bugs you every two minutes or watches you as if he thinks you are trying to steal something.

Sometimes loss management decisions can sour customer relations. At Dillard's while returning two of six clothing items on one receipt, I was told I had to go to a different floor and return one item to the proper department. Since I was carrying several bags of returns and had an aching hip, I informed the saleslady that I had bought the item at another store location and didn't know where to return it.  Furthermore, all the items were on the same receipt; all the appropriate tags, including the return tag, were on the item, and I had my debit card for the return transaction.

"It's company policy that you return the item to the department where it was purchased," she commanded. She said they were short staffed. Walking through the store and onto the up escalator, I found myself in the Petites Department where I couldn't find a cashier, so I had to go to customer service. I had the store manager called.  "We will have upper management review our policy," I was told.

Customers also examine the way salespersons look as a reflection of the store's image and the way they care about their employees. One salesperson in Dillard's had a paperclip inserted into her glasses to keep them together which was dangerous and could have resulted in an eye injury should she fall or snag the clip on a piece of clothing. A good manager should have noticed that!

Macy's has perhaps the best idea of what customer service should be and the technology to manage returns at the customer's satisfaction.  A sweater my husband received from his sister was paid for on her credit card. Since it was a gift, we were able to return the item and credit his account instead of receiving a gift card.  Phillip, the store manager on duty, made the transaction effortlessly after listening attentively to me explaining my Dillard's experience, but making no comments which showed professionalism.

Von Maur, a store new to the Atlanta metro, has perhaps the best customer service I have witnessed when I was helped by Juniors Department Manager Madison. During the Christmas rush, she made sure a blouse that I purchased was spot cleaned and the jewels were re-tacked. She said that if the spot was not removed to my satisfaction, they would order the same blouse and have it shipped to me at no charge, even though it was a sale item. Now that's great customer service!

When you receive exemplary service, you should call the store and praise the salesperson, for retail is no easy business. The hours are long and the work is sometimes backbreaking. That is no excuse for how customers are treated, though. When you get poor customer service, report it so management can improve next time if you decide to return.

©2013 Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved.  

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