(Article reproduced with Author’s permission)
A few weeks back I invested a princely sum of money to buy my Airmax 2010 Nike shoes from the flagship store in San Francisco. Last week, just before traveling again, I washed my shoes and was aghast to see a big hole on the inside lining of my brand new shoes. I photographed it and sent the complaint to the marketing folks at Nike India – got ‘Shunya’ (zero) response. This made me madder. Armed with the receipt and with war in mind, I stormed into the New York store determined to make a fuss and noise. This was the ‘Indian’ consumer psyche kicking in – ready to fight and draw blood to set right what should not have gone wrong!
The ‘returns’ counter had a very pleasant girl who greeted me and asked me my problem. When I snarlingly showed her the hole, she shrugged, said ‘oops’, and asked if I wanted my money back? Her reaction took less than 7 seconds. I melted. Yet the Indian consumer was still kicking. ‘Yeah- gimme my money back’ I grumbled. She did and then pulled out her trump card – she gave me a 20% discount on any purchase bought within the hour in that store. Well, you guessed it – I bought the same pair of shoes (new color), pocketed enough dollars for a great dinner, walked out feeling like a prince and started doing social marketing for Nike!
Can you ever imagine this happening in India?
Why does Retail Service in all the stores we visit in India – be a boutique or a super mall suck so much?
The staff at the retail counters doesn’t use the goods they sell and have no information about the product.
The folks in Nike USA are athletes. They know everything about running or the sport that interests you. The guys at the Nike store in Mumbai have fat paunches. They wear Nike shoes but I’m sure only as ‘store wear’. The Nike guy in SFO asked me what kind of running stride I had. I had never heard of this before. The guys in Mumbai did not understand the difference between running and jogging.
The brand owners have to make these sales folks use the product and ‘get into’ the brand they sell.
The Brand owner hasn’t educated the sales folks about the philosophy of what their service standards globally are.
The Tommy Hilfiger stores in India are pathetic! The store sales folks never smile – they look like they are recovering from an epidemic or something – neither offer fashion advise nor bother checking if your size is available beyond what’s upfront. When I walk into a Tommy store in the USA – the experience is absolutely the opposite. The problem is that I expect the same experience irrespective of which Tommy store I visit!
Big brand owners must learn from the original software exporters of India who sent young engineers abroad on assignments and then ‘contracted’ them legally to work with the firm when they came back. The big retail brands should send a few key Sales and Service folks to their International flagship stores or even as just consumers walking the high streets of New York or LA. The investment will be well worth it.
The orientation should be ‘service’ and not ‘sales’ because sales precede great service automatically sooner or later.
The Apple store in San Francisco gives you free lessons on how to use and juice Twitter or begin blogging. It’s an open classroom – just come, sit, learn and go. Nowhere do you get the feeling that someone is going to sell you something. In India, within a few minutes of walking into any store, someone will ask you what you want. When I answer – ‘nothing’, I get glared at! Why the hell did you ask me in the first place?
The Oberoi and Taj groups in India and my favourite – Jet Airways have done a spectacular job in selling service to the India consumer not the product. Stay put in an Oberoi or Taj lobby for hours and no one will disturb you. Put the key brands sales teams thru a hotel or airline experience and then put them in front of consumers.
Don’t focus on looking smart yourself – make the consumer smart instead!
I still remember walking into the Levis counter at Vama (Mumbai) a couple of years back (Vama incidentally wins my prize for the absolutely worst store…in terms of service in the world). The girls at the Levis counter were slim and pretty, chewing gum, strutting around and constantly chatting among themselves without a bother in the world that they had a job to do. I saw a few customers (girls and their moms) standing on the side absolutely intimidated and shadowed by these ‘modern’ girls! I asked one of these wannabe models what was the difference between all those red, blue and black ‘tabs’ of Levis – she looked snidely at her partner and asked if she knew… in a tone that made me feel like a moron. (hmmm… shouldn’t she have known in the first place)?
The customers in the corner had vanished and so also had vanished valuable sales for Levis.
Tell Sales people to either become models or Sales people and thus choose between one profession. Don’t mix them up.
International brands can open as many stores in India as they want and stuff them up till the walls burst, but it’s the sales folks who will make the cash register ring. Set that right first.
Send me your retail experience in India or anyplace else as a comment and contribute to this piece.