Bev's recipe for retail - go back to old-fashioned service

WHEN customers enter Bev's Remnant House for the first time, the owner, Bev MacInnes, gives them a quick run through the shop's layout and then leaves them to look.

"Customer service is not always about being there right on their shoulder and hassling them," she said.

"It is about reading the customer. Some people want you to hold their hand and lead them and others have a very clear idea and just want to know how to get to that point."

A Choice ''shadow-shop'' test published yesterday rated the customer service of 10 Australian retailers and found the majority of stores provided a ''frustrating'' shopping experience.

Ms MacInnes says for a "micro" business like her upholstery fabric store at Redfern, customer service is crucial.

"Good word of mouth is how you survive," she said.

Rita Di Mascio, who is a senior lecturer at the Australian School of Business, says quality customer service benefits a company on many fronts.

"Obviously when customers are happy they will tend to come back to the store again and they will let other people know," she said.

But the goodwill extends to employees and investors, too, who benefit from a positive working environment.

"When customers are not happy, they can get angry and they can become very volatile and violent [which affects employees]," Ms Di Mascio said.

She said good customer service is about being able to adapt to the needs of each individual, as well as to the type of transaction.

"For example, some customers like to be called by name and others don't, and some customers like to chit chat and others just want to get their business over and done with."

The biggest mistakes retail employees make are assuming all customers are the same and appearing scripted in conversation. "Sometimes they're so bored they just talk by rote without even noticing you, like it's mindless."

Bricks and mortar establishments are struggling to contend with online retail and Ms Di Mascio says customer service is one area where they can compete. "[It] is the face-to-face customer services, where they can understand what the consumer is looking for and answer questions," Ms Di Mascio said.

The Victor Churchill boutique butcher at Woollahra is the oldest continuously run butchery in Sydney and the store manager, Nathan Lo Russo, says it is all about old-fashioned service.

"We made a conscious decision to remove the boundary between our staff and the customer. We didn't want to have an 'out the back', we wanted the customer to feel like they could interact with the process," he said.

He says good service encourages customer loyalty and the business has many long-term regulars, some of whom purchase daily.

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