It’s all in the detail

store open signAfter twenty years of marriage you develop a form of shorthand communication with your life partner that doesn’t require overt threats. A look or subtle noise conveys the message – loud and clear. So it was with a friend of mine recently whose wife made it very obvious that he was dragging the chain somewhat on completing a backyard project to her high, but not unreasonable standards. So he went into full on commando mode – as you do – and ripped into the project full steam.

He timed everything to be finalised with a clean up on the last day in preparation for a garden party his wife had scheduled. Hiring a tray-top truck, my friend checked the operating hours of the local tip – or recycling, recovery and relocation centre as it is apparently now known – and found that they closed at 4pm. So he worked like a Trojan, got everything completed, the truck loaded and set off to get to the ‘tip’ as close to 3pm as possible.

Some traffic delays later he arrived at 3.05pm to find a young girl in overalls closing the gate and affixing a piece of cardboard displaying her scratchy felt tip calligraphy, declaring a closing time of 3pm.

My friend did what any of us would do and politely approached her, asking if he could gain entry to deposit the load from his rented truck. The interaction went something like this:

“Excuse me. Could you possibly open the gate so that I may drop off this backyard rubbish on my truck please?” “No mate we are closed!” “But I checked your website and the closing hours are 4pm. It’s only just after 3pm.” “The website is wrong. Read the sign on the gate.” “But I hired a truck for today. It’s fully loaded and I need to get it back to the hire yard by 5pm.” “Bad luck. We are closed for the day.” Conversation over, she turned her back and drove off.

Apart from the monumentally poor recruitment and training on display in the “customer relationship” management of this employee there is one striking lesson for retail.

People use all channels for finding out information and – while this employee could have at the very least been somewhat more empathetic – if details change they need to be updated in every channel that communicates them. In Europe, price discrepancies by channel are illegal resulting in huge fines. But even things as seemingly simple as operating hours can cause major grief for customers. Had my friend been a more aggressive type, rather than just rolling his eyes heavenward, the interaction I described could have turned very ugly for the staff member.

Technology is not a set and forget exercise. If your omnichannel communication is operating and being viewed by any stakeholder group, then it is being viewed by all stakeholder groups and must be treated as live – meaning it needs to be attended to. Something as simple as changing operating hours must be updated on websites, advertising, and signage as soon as possible after the decision is made. A hand made cardboard sign and a shrug of the shoulders wont cut it.

Retail has always been about the detail and while a council may be able to get away with our preconceived opinion of them being operationally sloppy, a modern retailer needs to display they care or the cash register simply won’t ring.

Peter James Ryan is a retail expert and head of Red Communication. 02 9481 7215 or [email protected].

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