‘People’ Make Good Service

As many retailers across Europe have closed their doors once more as a result of national lockdowns, we explore how getting service right will be more critical than ever during the crucial trading period leading up to Christmas.

It has always been important for the success of brands and retailers that they consistently deliver good service across all channels, and the importance of good service has only accelerated following the pandemic. In addition, consumers will always want a level of service that can only be achieved by ‘people’ in physical retail and the reassurance and feel good factor this can provide.

Delivering great service in store can be as simple as helping a customer find a product or offering on-the-spot advice, through to prearranged services such as consultations, demonstrations, alterations and treatments.

As consumers expectations from physical retail increase, extended service offers have become even more important. Services previously implemented by a handful of brands and retailers in recent years, such as contactless and kerbside collection, have fast-tracked to a mainstream offer based on the safety and security they provide, in addition to improved click & collect services.

But as brands and retailers now have experience trading in a post-pandemic world, and with many preparing to reopen stores following national lockdowns, delivering exceptional service in the remaining trading period leading up to Christmas is critical.


What Makes Good Service

Many consumers shopping in physical retail still feel uncertain about their safety. In the short term at least, essential to providing good service is ensuring that both store staff and consumers feel safe and reassured. Store staff will naturally project their mood – if they feel relaxed, safe and in control they will project this to customers. If they don’t, they will project this also. A projection of positive feelings will reassure customers, as well as visible implementation of safety measures such as social distancing and cleaning regimes.

An alternative approach to ensure that both staff and consumers feel safe is shopping ‘by appointment’. Some brands and retailers have been offering appointments in store since the pandemic for customers who feel uncomfortable being around other shoppers, or who want to guarantee one-to-one assistance. This approach often has the added benefit of higher conversion rates based on the personal, focused and uninterrupted service this allows.

To facilitate good service, having the right ‘people’ is key and ensuring they have the tools and facilities they need. Store staff are brand ambassadors within physical retail, and not only is it important that they provide reassurance, they need to connect with consumers at a human level, instil trust and encourage a feel-good factor that will build loyalty and keep consumers coming back. Therefore, it’s essential that store staff are fully on-board and equipped to deliver a brand or retailers service strategy.

People who share their passion, enthusiasm, knowledge and expertise of brands and product in store are inevitably going to provide a better service. People who truly care about the service they provide and the customers they’re serving, will happily ‘go the extra mile’.

The Independent Way

Many independent retailers are getting this right. Service is often at the heart of what they do and comes naturally as a result of their passion, enthusiasm, knowledge and expertise.

Recently, we visited several independent stores across a range of different sectors to gather their opinions on the importance of good service and how this has accelerated following the pandemic.

Jane, who works at ‘Lavender Florist’ in Staffordshire UK, believes that customers come to their store based on their extensive product knowledge and to benefit from the one-to-one assistance they provide: “As we work in a specialist sector, we are all highly qualified and have the attention to detail needed for a great service”.

Rose, the owner of ‘The Art Studio’ in Leicestershire UK, which also includes a café and art gallery, explained that in store demonstrations and workshops are a great way of connecting with customers and building a sense of community: “Customers don’t only come to our workshops to learn a new skill, but they come to socialise and build friendships”.

Many independents are passionate about their product and want people to get the most out of the products they love. Steve, the proprietor of ‘Keysound’ in Leicestershire UK, specialises in digital pianos and keyboards. He believes after sales service is hugely important: “Our after sales service is one of the main reasons people come to us. If a customer has any problems or are not sure how to use the product, they can come in for a lesson free of charge”. Keysound also offer free, expert home installation to all customers.

Surpassing customer expectations is something many independents do naturally. Rose at The Art Studio says they often go the extra mile without even realising: “I have a background in jewellery and will often help customers by fixing their jewellery. Giving a little bit back isn’t going to cost you anything but your time”.


Rolling Out Great Service

Although it’s not just independents that provide the level of service that makes a memorable and ‘feel good’ experience in store. There are numerous multiple brands and retailers that place service at the heart of their offer and encourage store teams to engage with customers at a human level.

Our client, Pets at Home invest a great deal in store colleagues, with basic training taking 9 months, 10 books and 14 exams to complete. Pets at Home CEO, Peter Pritchard, recently described their colleagues as their ‘most precious asset’ and has created a £1m crisis fund for employees following the global pandemic.

The award-winning store concept we created for Pets at Home includes elements that are designed to raise awareness of their service offer and help store colleagues bring them to life. For example, the new ‘Groom Room’ has a fully glazed frontage and a ‘spa like’ design, bringing theatre and experience to the service offer. ‘The Home of Nutrition’ is an area that provides all the facilities store colleagues need to offer nutritional advice, as well as provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience for customers. All other service areas in store have had a similar overhaul and help to bring the pet care experience to life.

In addition to providing engaging service facilities in store, Pets at Home have also explored other ways to improve customer service while keeping their store colleagues and customers safe. This includes upgrading their click-and-collect options to include a ‘call and deliver to car service’, where customers can collect items without leaving their vehicles.


UK furniture retailer HSL, is another example of a business who place excellent customer service at the heart of what they do. HSL produce handcrafted, quality furniture with the emphasis on comfort. Built around their customer’s specific needs, furniture is approved by an independent occupational therapist. Offered to all customers in store, HSL’s 7-point seating assessment helps store staff to expertly advise customers which are the best products for them, as well as explain the importance of good posture and how it will benefit their overall comfort. This process is carried out within a ‘no pressure’ sales environment – it’s all about the customer feeling comfortable.

Since the pandemic, HSL has introduced a contactless ‘by appointment’ approach during specific opening hours, and is continuing to offer in store appointments throughout the current national lockdown in the UK. In addition to in store appointments, HSL also offer home visits for customers who may feel uncomfortable or are unable to visit store environments.

For fashion brands, service may take on a different meaning based on appealing to their specific target market. This might include alterations, adaptions and personalisation, as well as repairs, recycling, rental opportunities, second-hand and vintage ranges.

Our clients, Henderson, a premium menswear brand and retailer with over 160 stores throughout Russia, have placed significant focus on service within their store environments. Included within the store concept we created for Henderson is an exclusive made-to-measure area and a visible alterations space alongside the fitting rooms, adding value to the in store experience and promoting Henderson’s unique service proposition.


Recognising the Challenges

But not every brand and retailer is getting it right. Many store colleagues are working in difficult and stressful environments, and are under additional pressure to keep stores clean and encourage customers to follow Covid-19 related measures. In some cases where store staff are experiencing abuse from frustrated customers, providing good service is an even greater challenge.

During recent store visits to large multiple retailers, we have experienced incidents when service in store has suffered as a result of Covid-19 related measures. This included staff in a clothing store telling customers off for trying on product when there was no communication to say this wasn’t allowed, through to following customers to their cars to tell them they’d broken Covid-19 related rules and poorly managing queue systems leaving customers confused and frustrated. These actions are uncomfortable and embarrassing for customers, and are likely to result in them not wanting to return to stores.

Delivering Best-in-Class Service

Solving problems and delivering a best-in-class service in store, lies in brands and retailers defining their service objectives and proposition, and providing the training, support, tools and facilities that store staff need to deliver it.

There is an enormous opportunity to win the hearts of customers in the final run up to Christmas and beyond. Customers want stress-free shopping, convenience, helpful advice and added value that makes their shopping experience enjoyable. Many of these things are simply delivered through the passion, enthusiasm, knowledge and expertise of brands and retailers ‘people’.

Briggs Hillier can help you bring service to life in-store, from creating dedicated service areas through to store team training manuals and guidelines. Get in touch with Jenny Hillier at jenny@briggshillier.com

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Jenny Hillier

10th November 2020