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Blogs > Office Jotter

British retailers find new ways to ignore customers
Roger Whitehead By: Roger Whitehead, Director, Office Futures
Published: 10th April 2011
Copyright Office Futures © 2011

Anyone who has shopped in Britain will be familiar with the poor attitude to customer service often displayed here. Getting the attention of an assistant can be hard, especially in some chain stores. It can be even harder to find one who knows anything.

If you have a complaint, be prepared for blame shedding, diversionary tactics and ignorance (pretend or real) of consumer law. On top of that, the unwillingness of many customers to ‘make a scene’ encourages the lazy and the naughty.

Buying on the Web

Matters are little different in the on-line world. In October 2010, Which? magazine reported consumer’s ratings of nearly 80 online retailers. (The press release is here; you need to be a subscriber to see the report.)

Respondents rated two specialised shops best overall — one for cosmetics; the other for bicycles. John Lewis came top of the large retailers. Worst overall were the two DIY giants, Homebase and B&Q.

In the report, Which? says:

A site’s ability to sort out a problem when things go wrong is key to the order of the ranking.

That’s always seemed to me a sound test. Anyone can make a mistake; it’s what they do to correct it that divides the good from the bad.

I can’t hear! I can’t hear!

Of course, an online retailer has to hear a complaint before it can do anything about it. If a more recent report, from Auros, is true, many of them are not listening.

Auros first looked at how 25 major British online retailers used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and site blogs. Three unnamed retailers used none of these ways of communicating with customers.

In late February, the researchers then tried to contact each retailer (the other 22, presumably) through those channels, giving them a fortnight to reply. Auros assessed the responses against several criteria, combined them with a rating for online presence and calculated a composite percentage score for each company.

The results were poor, averaging 10%. Even the best companies scored much less than half the total possible. They were Thomas Cook (32%), Easyjet (24%) and Debenhams (22%). Auros has refused to name the worst retailers, which is a shame, but has listed the companies it looked at.

Most of the retailers had Twitter and Facebook accounts. Only half of those on Facebook bothered replying to questions raised on their ‘wall’. Even fewer — a quarter — responded to questions raised through Twitter. A mere fifth responded to negative comments on Twitter; just over a tenth did so on Facebook.

These retailers didn’t even want to know about potential links:

…none of the retailers followed us back when we followed them on Twitter even though we openly engaged with them, which meant we couldn’t send them a direct message.

Auros found that indirect contact also didn’t work and felt that these companies were not noticing mentions of themselves on Twitter.

More happily, five retailers each responded within about 1½ hours to questions directed at them on Twitter and were slightly quicker on Facebook. They were Play.com, Debenhams, Thomas Cook, B&Q and British Airways. (Perhaps B&Q took the Which? ratings to heart.)

Overall, Auros felt that a school report on these companies would contain the damning words, “must try harder”. I think their marketing directors should each be given 100 lines:

We must listen to our customers and respond when they speak to or about us.

You can get the report, free, from here. Registration is needed.

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