Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Service with a Smile

The next big thing is going to be a seismic shift in the British retail landscape. Currently in a limbo between its formal, bespoke past and its technology-driven, experience-orientated future, Britain must discover how to stand out in the international marketplace.

Classic BBC dramas like Cranford or Lark Rise To Candleford remind us how there was once a time when what we bought, be it candles or muslin, was handed to us wrapped in tissue paper, then bound in silk ribbon and finished off with a kindly word of advice (or gossip) from our local tradesman.

Today, a trip to Europe or even down Saville Row proves that this attention to detail is far from lost - luxury and artisan retailers feel an affinity with their product and pride themselves on the care with which they sell it. However, with more and more emphasis placed on price and choice, UK companies have cut back on their service offer, choosing to bring in less costly foreign floor staff but losing eloquence and devotion along the way.

Until recently, retailers in Britain got away with shoddy service as consumers got what they thought they wanted, namely cheap products piled high, but in the past five years our boisterous, American cousins have appeared on the scene. For Banana Republic and all the other American owned stores, excellent customer service is part of their mission statement. Their staff are as much as part of their brand as the items they sell. We have laughed for years at candy-pop cheerleaders who greet everyone with 'Hi! How are you folks doing?', but the shopping 'experience' is an integral part of a brand's image, and, ultimately, what we pay for.

The recent backlash against shops like Primark and Tesco in the UK highlight a massive change in consumer attitudes. The term ‘organic’ has taken on a larger meaning that goes beyond chemicals and accountability and now encompasses an entire lifestyle. What we do and experience will define us more than what we buy and own.

In the midst of a Credit Crunch, stores who offer more than just the product they sell in terms of service and experience, will find themselves with a loyal following as consumers enjoy the feeling of true value. With more UK brands focusing on customer experience, the Next Big Thing will be fantastic customer service that excites and enlightens the British shopper.

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