An incident over the weekend at a major high street computer retailer got me thinking about the service I provide to people and how easily trust can be lost over the tiniest of indiscretions. Now I’ll be the first to admit, I rarely shop on the high street anymore. It’s especially difficult when the service from online retailers is so efficient. Their prices are cheaper and I don’t even have to leave my house. This would lead one to presume that high street retailers would be looking to provide a “shithot” customer service in order to combat the price and convenience of online stores.
So when I couldn’t find something online, no matter how hard I tried, I turned to the bricks and mortar of a large computer shop whose website promised availability of said item. Perfect I thought, it’s so close to where I live that I can drive over there, pick it up and be back home within about 10 minutes. Beat that Amazon!
I register on the site, and go through their reservation procedure which checks stock around the country and reports back. It turns out that there’s stock in a store close to me but none in the surrounding area. This actually gets my hopes up as it shows that their stock-keeping must be pretty tight. I notice that on the HMV website when you try and reserve something it merely states “Low Stock” when they’re scraping the barrels in the back so you seemingly take your chances.
So I pick the store I want to reserve from and go through the checkout process. Moments later I receive the following email :
Thank you for shopping with us, we are delighted that you chose our Reserve & Collect service to buy your technology with us.
Your order will be available to collect at our store from 1 hour after placing your reservation right through until the store closes on the next working day.
Please remember to bring your reservation number ****** with you when you come to the store.
Our store team will be expecting you at the collection point, which can be found near the entrance.
Wow! Within 1 hour! Presumably that means my order has gone through to the store, someone will pick it up and put it behind the collection point ready for when I arrive later in the day. So far, so good. But then this is where it all starts to unravel.
I arrive later in the day (around 4 hours after I’d placed the reservation) and enter the store looking for the collection point which is (as stated in the email) just next to the entrance. Unfortunately there is no-one from the “store team” waiting for me as stated in the email. Promise 1 broken. There are 4 or 5 tills, of which only one is being used. The assistant is on the phone to what I can presume is head office whilst dealing with a customer. Fair enough, having worked in retail I know that sometimes enquiries are quite lengthy and you want to help the customer.
I went to where I had to queue and waited to be seen. No-one really looked bothered by this waiting. It was only when an assistant brought a couple over with the kindle they were buying that I was noticed at all. For a moment I thought he was going to just log onto a till and process their purchase first, but he put their Kindle behind the desk and shouted a colleague over to deal with me. His colleague went to log onto the system and called me over. I dug out my reservation printout (as asked by the confirmation email) and handed it over to the assistant. He looked a little flummoxed by it and proceeded to tap things into the computer, then he began looking around behind the desk for my item. He went all the way up and down behind the tills (which were stacked with boxes and wires and all sorts) looking for it. Whilst all this was going on, a queue began to form of about 3, then 4, eventually up to about 8 people. All with things in their hands to buy. No-one came over to serve them.
My assistant then decided it wasn’t there (as I was told it would be in the email) and he needed to phone through to the warehouse. However none of the phones behind the tills were working. He tried to call a colleague over to no avail, and the queue continued to grow. I could tell by this point I probably wasn’t going to get what I came in for. Eventually he found a working phone and came back to tell me that the item unfortunately wasn’t in stock. For a moment I thought about arguing the point that their online system said it was in stock and it allowed me to reserve it, but what was the point? I left the store itemless and trustless. By promising something and completely not delivering the trust is gone.
Now I’m not blaming this assistant, or even the store in general, but this insignificant breakdown in customer service means I’m probably never going to go back to this shop for anything in the future and I’ll ward off people who think about shopping there. This loss of trust has also happened with a well-known phone company, with numerous bad experiences meaning I’ll never use them for anything, and have probably lost them quite a lot of custom ranting about it to anyone that’ll listen. I’ve already told quite a few people about my bad experience at said computer shop. Now it probably seems completely insignificant to the store (and perhaps even to you as the reader). So their stock checking was out by a few, nothing lost, adjust the system, get on with business. But the fact that this was allowed to happen shows a general lack of care about the customer experience. It may seem like I’m exaggerating the point; what’s the big deal right? Just go somewhere else? But with high street stores fighting for their survival in the modern internet-driven age, this shouldn’t be allowed to happen. They should be going above and beyond to make sure the customer experience is exceptional to make it stand out from the sea of mediocrity and faceless internet companies.
Having just finished Steve Job’s autobiography it struck me just how much he cared about the customer experience and understood that one bad experience will lose you that customer forever. That everything, down to the tiling used in their stores, to the packaging iPods come in must be exceptional. It all adds to the experience for the customer and converts them into evangelists. Case in point, when I stood on my iPod quite a few years ago, I sent it off to Apple expecting a repair bill. They sent me a brand new iPod no questions asked. That one little gesture converted me into an Apple devotee, and I’ll tell that story to anyone that wants to listen. Now a lot of people will argue that Apple don’t care about the customer, that their closed-off nature doesn’t give the consumer choice. But that’s missing the point. You know what you’re getting with Apple, you know what you’re buying into and they deliver time after time.
Which leads this rather lengthy parable back round to the photography industry. As providers of a service, we have to deliver on our promises to gain trust with our clients. My friends had to wait 6 months to even see their photographs from their photographer, and then another 6 months to get their album. Expectations shattered, and promises not delivered on. Apple thrive in the retail space despite the current doom and gloom provided by the recession we’re currently in. Why is that? They go above and beyond and understand the value of providing excellent service and caring about the details. If you say you’ll be sending your clients their photos in 3 weeks, be damn well sure that that’s when they get them. Don’t guess, tell them up front and then deliver. That’s what sets successful photographers apart from the weekend warriors. You build trust with your clients.
In the same way high street shops should be going above and beyond to deliver a shopping experience to the customer, a photographer should go above and beyond to provide something that someone shooting weddings for £250 can’t hope to match. The service justifies the price. You want some cheap clothes, you go to Primark. It’s a hellhole of a shop, but you know what you’re letting yourself in for. The clothes will probably fall off your back within a year, but if you’re comfortable with that knock yourself out. You go with a cheap photographer who’s just in it for the cash who knows what you’ll get.
As a photographer, I’ve worked out how long things will take, and state all this in my contract. I underpromise and overdeliver probably to a fault. But all my clients know exactly what they’ll be getting which in turn builds trust. If I’m signing a contract then I’d damn well better come good on what I’ve promised. And by consistently delivering on time, and more often than not, more than promised, my clients are never left stood at the till with a reservation for a non-existent product ruing the day they decided to trust someone that doesn’t care about them.