That’s what shoppers want from customer service in the increasingly competitive omnichannel world. And they want those characteristics wherever they shop, whether it’s in a brick-and-mortar store, on a smartphone or online.
“Customer service is very fluid and, at the moment, it’s very transparent,” said Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Inc., which is renowned for its service. “As a business, you’re not controlling the story or the message. The customer is in control. You have to ensure that with your actions and functionality, the customer is telling your story. We built this business on word of mouth and reputation, and more than ever, there are so many channels to communicate good and bad.”
An NRF Foundation/American Express Customer Service survey this year polled consumers with the open-ended question, “Thinking of all the different retail formats (store, catalogue, Internet or home shopping), which retailer delivers the best customer service?”
The top 10, in order, were Amazon.com, L.L. Bean, Zappos.com, Overstock.com, QVC, Kohl’s, Lands’ End, J.C. Penney, Newegg.com and Nordstrom.
Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, has polled American consumers about what was important to them when they shop. At the top of the list were shorter lines at checkout, well-lit parking areas, knowledgeable staff and easy-to-navigate stores. Encroaching on all these more traditional service areas is “I want customized coupons directly to my phone, or Web sites that make buying online easy, or access to information when I’m in the store. The technology or the digital component now, from the phone or the computer, has begun to encroach on some of the traditional formats,” said Liebmann.
Shep Hyken, author of “Moments of Magic,” “The Loyal Customer” and “The Cult of the Customer,” is also the creator of The Customer Focus program, which helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mind-set. He believes the customer has different expectations depending on the type of store they’re in. For example, a customer shopping at Marshalls or Nordstrom Rack doesn’t expect the same high-end service they’ll get if they shop at Nordstrom. “But the one expectation that doesn’t vary ever? When they need help they want it, they want it now and they expect to be treated well,” he said.
But there remains lots of bad service — and customers are becoming ever-more vocal about revealing it on retailers’ and their own Facebook pages, via Twitter or Instagram or simply through word-of-mouth. According to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, 79 percent of Americans cited one of the following “Big Four Gripes” when it comes to customer service: rudeness from an insensitive customer service representative (33 percent), passing the buck (26 percent), the waiting game (10 percent) and being boomeranged (having to keep following up on an issue, 10 percent.)
“Customer service across channels can be a source of big frustration for customers,” said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “Many people now get information and shop across channels, and the problem is very often they expect similar policies and service across the channels, but often companies don’t deliver that.”
One of the big problems arises when a customer buys something online and is unable to return it in a brick-and-mortar store. “The problem is people don’t draw lines between online and physical presence,” said Calkins. “When a consumer thinks about a brand, it’s all the experience associated with that brand. Consumers logically form their opinions based on all these different channels. Inconsistency can really damage your brand long-term.”
Calkins noted that people’s expectations are shaped by the big players. “Amazon has a big impact on how people think about buying online across all sorts of categories. Amazon’s policies create norms that other companies need to follow or respond to,” he said.
Nor is retailers’ competition in customer service restricted only to companies that sell fashion or beauty — it’s everyone. “People are comparing them to Amazon,” said Megan Burns, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “They are comparing you to Zappos. Even if you are an insurance company or a bank, the expectations are there.”
According to Forrester, for the third year in a row, retailers and hotels had the highest average scores for customer service across all respondents in its Customer Experience Index — an 81 for retailers and a 76 for hotels. Once again, health insurance plans (55), TV service providers (56) and Internet service providers (56) were at the bottom. For the first time in the five-year history of Forrester’s CXi, the top scorer was not a retailer. It was USAA’s banking business, with a score of 89. Joining USAA in the spotlight were retailers Kohl’s (87), Amazon.com (86), and Costco Wholesale (85), which scored the three remaining spots in this year’s excellent category. And unlike last year when nine of the top 10 scorers were retailers, this year’s top spots included hotel chains Hampton Inn (84), La Quinta Inn & Suites (83) and Courtyard by Marriott (83) as well as credit unions in the banking industry (83).
Asked how the fashion industry and department stores rate, compared to other industries, WSL’s Liebmann observed: “I think the fashion retailers are doing a better job.” She cited Nordstrom with their app, and some of the things Macy’s is doing. “You’re certainly seeing in the department stores a more aggressive use of technological enhancements for service. You also see it, in beauty, what Clinique does. Clinique has a very interesting service model now. If you go to Bloomingdale’s, you can pick up a basket like a drug store; that says, ‘Don’t bother me, I’m going to do it myself.’ Or, you can choose to use the iPad or you can ask the beauty adviser to help you. Some of these models are changing the way you think about service,” said Liebmann.
Breaking News: @louisvuitton's men's artistic director @mrkimjones is leaving the French fashion house after nearly 7 years. Jones joined Louis Vuitton in 2011, following a three year tenure as creative director of British luxury goods brand Alfred Dunhill. Jones is to exit Louis Vuitton after showing his fall 2018 collection for the brand in Paris on Thursday. Read the full exclusive story on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
For men’s fall 2018, @giuseppezanotti drew on elements from streetwear, sport, biker, combat and rock ‘n’ roll. Pictured here are a pair of shoes from the collection, featuring zippers, rhinestones, and silver hardware. Head to WWD.com to see a roundup of the accessories from Milan’s men’s fall 2018 shows. #wwdfashion (📷: Andrea Delb)
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of @ralphlauren’s snowboarding collection, the brand is mining its archives. The iconic brand is reintroducing vintage styles and dropping new designs for a color capsule that will be available in Ralph Lauren stores and @openingceremony on January 25. The capsule will consist of 10 pieces, including the Snow Beach Pullover, pictured here, which is a collector’s item that rapper Raekwon wore in Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple” video. #wwdfashion (📷: Tom Gould)
For @rochasofficial’s pre-fall 2018 collection, creative director Alessandro Dell’Acqua channeled the sophisticated and intriguing Catherine Denevue in the film “Belle de Jour.” Polished collarless coats, midi skirts, suits and ’60s graphic motifs were all featured in the collection, adding a sense of discreet luxury. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion
“We tried to produce clothing of that couture quality, but the most daunting part was that we only had a matter of days [to do it],” said costume designer Lou Eyrich, who recreated Gianni Versace’s iconic looks for @americancrimestoryfx. Eyrich searched online retailers and vintage shops for original pieces from the design house and for @penelopecruzoficial, who plays Donatella Versace. Head to WWD.com to read how she created the Versace world. #wwdfashion
Only three months after her stellar debut catwalk season, @kaiagerber has inked her first big design collaboration –– with @karllagerfeld. The collection blends Lagerfeld’s Parisian chic aesthetic and the model’s signature West Coast casual style via RTW, accessories, footwear and more. The #KarlLagerfeldxKaia collection will launch in September with a series of events. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
Harrods plans to remove the famous statue of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed from the bottom of the Egyptian escalators and hand it back to Mohamed Al-Fayed. “We are very proud to have played our role in celebrating the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed at Harrods and to have welcomed people from around the world to visit the memorial for the past 20 years,” said Michael Ward, Harrods managing director. “With the announcement of the new official memorial statue to Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, we feel that the time is right to return this memorial to Mr. Al Fayed and for the public to be invited to pay their respects at the palace.” More on the news, with reporting by @loreleimarfil, at WWD.com. #wwdnews