In Great Britain, Mary Portas used to help failing businesses get back on the right path, but now she has changed sides and stars in a customer service reality show. I admit I sometimes get hooked on reality shows; American Idol, New Jersey Housewives, and a few others, but now we make way for hidden cameras and mystery shoppers as the lack of customer service is exposed for all the world to see.
Portas thinks that Britain has the worst customer service, and customers have never had it so bad. Her small army of secret shoppers go undercover to various retailers, and report back to managers and owners - using the actual video footage as proof of the poor service. From shoddy floors, minimal service, and apathetic staff, Portas reports using the customer's point of view. She hopes to find out why customers are being sold short and plans to come up with solutions.
So what is she doing? Portas investigates many of the basic elements associated with responsible customer-centric organizations. In a furniture store, she evaluated sales personnel who sold people "stuff" they didn't need. In a dress shop, she went undercover and noted very little customer service. In a local supermarket she commented that the cashier only asked if the customer had their club card, but never told the customer the price of the item. Her visit to a jewelry store revealed the sales person did not know the inventory. In other words, Portas says we have lost the ability to communicate, and consumers accept this practice. She rated 90 percent of businesses as not putting the customer first.
When asked what she thought about customer service in the United States, Portas rated us as superb, but qualified that positive answer with American sales people sell on commission so are therefore more motivated to give better customer service. Portas told about her positive buying experience at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
The new host said her teenagers do not expect good service, and never even expect to be greeted by anyone when they walk into a store. She says it's the results of the last 15 years when money was easy, and everyone was spending. Now that the economy has drastically changed, people are much more concerned how they shop and what they buy. Organizations need to put the customer first, and spend more money, resources, and time on training than merely placing a sign on the back of a door reminding sales associates to smile before walking out on the sales floor.
Portas did extend kudos to The Apple Store delivering one of the best retail experiences with their Genius Bar - a part of the store where well-trained computer "geeks" gave out free advice.
Arguments and resistance, with a few nasty remarks thrown in, make for great reality shows. After all shopping is a great American and British pastime. I wonder if it's being pitched to American television too?