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Focus on customer service or fail, retail expert warns

Clothing retailers are being urged to perk up their customer service or continue to experience gloom and doom when it comes to sales.

As the fashion sector continues to report low sales figures, specialty retailers are boasting the best customer service in the industry according to a Service Integrity study of 73,774 stores.

And lagging well behind are the fashion retailers, scoring the lowest ranking across all industries with a disappointing average score of 70 percent. The study also revealed clothing retailer’s lack of product knowledge has scored the sector a poor 63.8 percent, when specialty retailers scored an impressive 89 percent.

The study revealed the specialty sector’s stationery brand Kikki.K topped the best service list with an overall score of 86 percent.

“Clothing retailers aren’t as focused as specialty retailers,” Service Integrity director Steven Di Pietro said, commenting on the recent study.

Di Pietro told Dynamic Business retailers are investing too much energy on store and staff presentation and are underestimating the importance of product knowledge and engagement between the staff and customer.

“You cannot just put up a shiny store and expect people to buy things from you. People don’t buy off shelves, they buy from a person, and that’s forgotten,” he added.

Di Pietro stressed clothing retailers must focus on building rapport with customers and communicating the expectations clearly to their staff.

“Do those two things and the rest will follow,” said Di Pietro, who added that those who don’t risk losing customers to the online shopping revolution, which will “result in their demise.”

According to the study, fashion retailer’s customer interaction was very poor, receiving the lowest score when compared to specialty retailers, banks and car retailers.

“With the advent of internet shopping, people can get a cheaper price somewhere else. Customer service cannot and should not be compromised because it’s all they [clothing retailers] have left,” Di Pietro said.

Gasping at bad customer service

Di Pietro also has another warning for retailers: Social media amplifies word of mouth – both good and bad.

Rewind to September 29, 2011 when clothing chain Gasp made national and international headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A dissatisfied Gasp customer’s email exchange regarding Melbourne’s Chapel St store’s sales assistant went viral on social media and as of December that year, the fashion house shut its doors.

This example, Di Pietro said, should serve as a warning for all Australian retailers of the need to focus on customer service in today’s digital world.

Despite the internet changing the way we shop, Di Pietro says there is hope and provides the following tips for retailers who wish to improve customer service and to take advantage of the one competitive edge they have over their online competitors, human interaction.

1. Product knowledge: Improve your product knowledge – you’re the experts! According to Di Pietro, this one of the biggest customer complaints his business hears about.

2. People skills: Build rapport with the customers. The most common complaint provided by the mystery-shoppers is about being ignored and the lack of  attempt to build rapport with a customer. Don’t be mechanical in your service..

3. Work on your sales-closing and selling skills: Never assume customers don’t want to be sold to. Di Pietro said the study found the clothing sector scored a disappointing 40.2 percent average in this area.

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Derya Goren

Derya Goren

Derya Goren, a recent journalism graduate and currently a Masters in Islamic Studies student at Charles Sturt University.

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