Saturday, October 31, 2015

service, not selection

Terrible service in the retail marketplace is like a virus. Rude waitstaff.  Uneducated "beauty advisers" who know nothing about their brands.  Salespeople who know nothing about the products or services they're representing. Untrained "professionals" who are merely glorified stock keepers and dust mopers.

Considering today's technology and on-demand consumer trends, anyone can get anything at any time from anywhere.  Customer service should be about the experience and interaction; otherwise, we'd simply order everything we ever wanted to purchase online or over the telephone.

Case en pointe, I've visited several different Ulta Beauty stores recently.  Each location, no matter how large or small the market, includes "stylists" in uniform smoking cigarettes near the front entrance.  This was at every single location I visited!  What a way to welcome customers?  Once inside, other than a drone like welcome shouted from the cashier, there has been virtually no interaction from employees.  I've been researching new skincare products over the past few weeks, and wanted to learn about and actually try some items.  In four separate trips, only one associate asked if I had any questions or offered any assistance.  Over the last two weeks at Ulta, I've noticed the same disgusting, crusted tester, as seen below. And it's too bad, because I love Murad products.

Then, I stopped at the local Sephora.  Many of the same items are stocked at both Ulta and Sephora.  But the experience at Sephora - hands down, far and above.  Each department was staffed with employees who were "experts" and trained in their respective categories.  Armed with product knowledge, vast understanding of virtually every ingredient included in their products, and actual tips and tricks for application and achieving desired effects, it's no wonder the number of customers shopping Sephora was at least triple that of the busiest Ulta store.  Self-serve tester units at Ulta were dusty, dirty, oxidized, and disgusting.  Not only was I offered samples to take home from Sephora, I was given detailed product sheets for each item, so I knew not only how to use it, but the active ingredients, and could easily identify later what I want to purchase.  Even the brands' YouTube channels are strikingly different.  This was only intensified at another Sephora location, where a trainer from a particular brand was on the sales floor with the regular associates providing in depth product knowledge training and demonstration techniques.

I'm sure there are some good employees and well trained staffs for Ulta somewhere, but I haven't seen one for myself.  Ulta isn't alone.  I heard a friend's horror story last week about ordering kitchen appliances from Sears.  After multiple failed deliveries and erroneous charges to their account, Sears ultimately lost another valued customer, along with the lackluster experience being told to hundreds of her close friends.  And rightfully so!  Circuit City was never Best Buy.  It's not enough to just stock the right products, in the right place, at the right time, at the right price.  Learn something about the goods and services you're selling!  Sephora isn't the only captain of their industry - I've had similarly positive experiences at space.nk and Douglas.  Dazzle your customers with product knowledge, create an atmosphere of education, stimulation, and dialogue!  Shopping should be fun, not frustrating.  Shopping should be a pleasure, not a pain; enticing, not enraging. 

Particularly in skincare and cosmetics, there are so many specific products, application tips and tricks, and trends to discover, customer service is paramount.  Take a look at a wonderful example from space.nk: 

On the flip side, there is a room for many different types of retailers in the marketplace.  Some "minimal service" or "no service" stores will always be in business, driven by price, quick opportunity for self-service, and selection.  You can walk into a Wal-Mart, spend an hour gathering bargains, typically items you've predetermined to purchase, ring yourself up at the self-checkout lines, and never speak to an employee.  Other than keeping the shelves stocked and toilets from overflowing, it seems there's not much need for employees there.  And that's ok.  Same with Ulta - if you know what you're getting, require minimal assistance, and don't mind a dressed up version of a drugstore.  With that being said - some consumer categories are service oriented, and always will be.

Product selection should never replace customer service. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

agree 100%!