Call up Dominos or drive into a McDonalds or sit in any TGIF. Whoever takes your order will, without being prompted or asked, refer you to the best deal available at that point of time and suggest that you consider that. They are trained that way and the customer usually feels quite happy at being suggested deals that he would otherwise surely have missed.
Home grown Indian retailers sorely lack such “customer service”. In fact, I have often seen customer service desks at leading departmental stores arguing with customers against exchange of goods and trying to find fault with the consumer. Westside is an honourable exception in my experience.
I am a regular at Godrej Nature’s Basket and every time, without fail, at the check-out counter, I am asked whether I have a loyalty program membership. Every time I say “no”. And not once has anyone offered me a form or asked me to become a member.
Let me now relate an experience I had at Foodhall a few weeks after it had opened in late 2011. Foodhall is a premier grocery shopping destination and the first store had opened in Palladium, an upmarket mall in Lower Parel, Mumbai. They had an ongoing offer that if you shop for Rs 1,500 you would get a particular variety of jam (worth some Rs 250 or Rs 275) free. My bill was Rs 3,450 and I asked for two bottles of jam. I was told that only one bottle of free jam would be given for one bill irrespective of the bill amount. If that was the case I said they should have split my bill or at least told me that was the case. Worse, nobody out there was willing to take any decision. I shocked them by saying I will not buy half the merchandise, and once they had cancelled its bill I would like to buy them again and thus have two separate bills. A finicky, fussy, pestilential Indian consumer. There are many like me.
So what do I mean when I say ‘WoWing the consumer’? Let me again give you an example from personal experience. This was a Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas to Austin. My then employer had paid the extra $15 or $25 so that I could be among the first to enter the flight and thus have a seat of my choice. I chose 1F–more leg space, and a window. As the flight filled up, right at the end, the steward came in with a visually challenged passenger and asked if any passenger would volunteer to exchange seats with the man since only one seat in the last row remained vacant. I volunteered.
Once the refreshments service commenced, I ordered a glass of beer and a packet of nuts, which totalled to something like $10. To my utter surprise, the steward refused to accept any money and said it was complimentary since I had volunteered to give up my seat. My feeble protests were brushed aside.
This was not all. Imagine my surprise when before deplaning, I was given another voucher of $5 for use in my next flight for a glass of beer or a snack. No need for guessing why. It is over three years since I took that flight and the experience is still fresh in my mind. Sitting so many thousands of miles away, I know one small reason why Southwest is commercially successful and has fierce customer loyalty.
Closer home I see that Indigo does it quite well and Jet Airways used to (and is probably getting its mojo back). Most retailers do not care. Or do not give their employees adequate training, or the churn in their employees is too much to train them adequately on a regular basis. But as they struggle to retain the loyalty of consumers, the next round of battle for consumers’ mindshare will likely be fought on service standards.
There is an interesting article in Business Standard on February 4–Most Indian retailers stop at rewards. It speaks about reward, recognition and relevance marketing in loyalty programmes at retailers. For most retailers in India, loyalty programmes end with reward points. One well known retailer gives a discount of 5 percent on the spot if you are a loyalty programme member since, most likely, they do not have systems to track loyalty point accumulation and administering the same.
Before I end, here’s another experience from Godrej Nature’s Basket–this one was last weekend. My bill was a couple of thousand rupees and sixty three paise. As is usual, I paid by my credit card. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the bill was rounded off to the nearest rupee. I can understand the rounding off to the nearest rupee because of sheer convenience if I paid cash, but why should it get rounded off if I was paying by credit card? It left a sour taste in my mouth and I am really unhappy even if it was only thirty seven paise!
How can retailers create a great experience for customers? Some answers are there in this article from Knowledge@Wharton–Getting to ‘Wow’: Consumers Describe What Makes a Great Shopping Experience. Next time you meet a retailer or a consumer company, ask them what are they doing to WoW the consumer, how they track it, and how they reward their employees who WoW the consumer.
For more insights on consumers and retailers, please read my co-blogger Damodar Mall’s insights.