Customer service

PUBLISHED: 12:03 15 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:33 06 May 2010

SIR – I am replying to your feature about grumpy shopkeepers in St Albans (Herts Advertiser, October 8). As one who used to work for a well-known St Albans retailer for over a decade, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the survey findings. St

SIR - I am replying to your feature about grumpy shopkeepers in St Albans (Herts Advertiser, October 8).

As one who used to work for a well-known St Albans retailer for over a decade, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the survey findings.

St Albans has a rich diversity of wonderful shops catering for many needs. Yes, there are deficiencies and yes there are gaps where I wish more of one particular kind of retailer would come into the town and some others depart - but as the survey reveals, the stores aren't the problem. It's the staff.

In defence of the few excellent retailers there are in St Albans, not all are bad and one can find really exemplary service from some.

Alas, the vast majority of poor service is experienced in industries where the bottom line for the company is profit. This means little money invested in paying staff a decent salary and less still on training.

The end result is apathetic staff whose career goal is to get from 9am to 5.30pm as quickly as possible with the least expended effort!

As one who now writes on the consumer experience nationally, there are three key reasons why customer service in St Albans may well be as dire as the survey dare suggests.

1) We are an affluent city with relatively affluent customer base. Why oh why then do we pay retail staff the national minimum wage? If you pay peanuts, you always get monkeys. It's been the same for decades. Indeed, some retailers in the town are actually paying well below the national minimum wage levels!

2) Aside from poor wages, today's economic climate means that jobs are hard to come by and so staff are treated poorly by difficult employers, reluctant to invest time and money in making the sales assistant's job one that is valued. In America, although still poorly paid, people are at least valued for their service, not seen as servile.

3) And in defence of the beleaguered sales assistant, there is one final reason why service can be bad. Not all customers are pleasant. Today's shopper is price savvy, harried, doesn't want to engage in conversation and exudes whenever they enter a shop a demeanour that demonstrates that sales assistants are several grades below on the social scale. Is it any wonder then that customer service is so bad when all these factors are conspiring against a positive experience?

Before Cllr Melvyn Teare, the district council's Portfolio Holder for Economic Development (wow, what a title) begs to assess the questions asked in the survey, he might wish to read my letter and take a look at the bigger picture first?

He also wonders who pays for these retail surveys? It is the same people, councillor, who pay the salaries of people with hugely important titles like your own!

BARRY CASHIN

Green Lane, St Albans

SIR - This is my response to the article 'Fury as city traders slammed for poor shopping service' (Herts Advertiser, October 8).

I am the manager of LKBennett in Christopher Place and the winner of fashion retailer of the year 2008.

I have to say I agree with Councillor Melvyn Teare - whom, where and at what time? I am really angry with this sweeping comment. Christopher Place is mystery-shopped and LKBennett as a company get mystery-shopped twice a year - my store got 99 per cent last time.

Where did they mystery shop is my first question?

I know, having worked in St Albans for five years, the retailers are all aware of how we need to be aware of our customers and make sure their needs are met at all times to continue to build local loyalty and spread the word obout the fantastic shopping we have in St Albans, from George Street boutiques to The Dressing Room which is a wonderful mix of all the London brands, and then we have the High Street with Reiss, Monsoon, etc., and on top of that we have the Maltings with the faster turn over from TXMaxx to Pulse and Benefit and Wilkinsons - so who needs to go to London?

As retailers we are all working hard in this tough econimic climate to continue to give the best service to all our customers at all times!

St Albans continues to be a shopping destination for all of the Herts area so I know we will continue to give the best service.

As for the grumpy shoppers we are ready!

JACQUIE SEFRAS

Bronte Avenue, Stotfold

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