Bad Service Blitz

Reporter: Rodney Lohse

Ignored … rude … even coughed at -- it's not easy trying to buy something these days. Tonight the most extensive customer service blitz ever conducted -- more than 230 stores shopped undercover-- and for the verdict on their service, judgement will be passed by Australia's premiere retail expert.

There's no doubt the retail sector has been struggling ever since the credit crunch hit -- many of our giant retail centers are ghost towns during the day, so you'd think they'd pull out all stops to make a sale but what you'll see as we go through store after store, many can't even open a courtesy account with a customer, let alone seal the deal. Retail guru Barry Urqhuart always says you never get a second chance to make a first impression and Australian retailers are getting it wrong time and time again. For instance, g'day mate may be the most Australian greeting there is -- at home at any BBQ -- but Barry says its just one of a long list of greetings that should never be brought to work. " Mate is not respectful in a business setting. The key word is professionalism, is that professional?" he said.

Overall, Barry says shop assistants and sales staff are too familiar, not giving the customer the respect they deserve and its costing them sales. "You happy browsing there -- no the mere fact I walked through your door suggests I want to buy, the only reason I'm browsing is there is no-one to serve me", Barry said. Browsers handled the right way can be converted into buyers. Not like our enquiry at Crazy Johns. "He coughed at you -- that's inexcusable. Hey bro is street talk and should be left on the street", Barry said. And the juggling clown at Fone Zone should be in the circus. "80% of the communication between people is body language -- his body language is you're a distraction", Barry said.

But what's worse -- being made feel like you're a distraction or like you're just a number - we had proof Barbara really does live in 'bank world'. The St. George bank was virtually deserted yet there was still no service until you're officially reduced to a number. "Every customer believes they're the most important person in the world and you've reduced them to a number", Barry warned. Many businesses these days employ specialist greeters -- their sole job just to say hello and make us feel special -- yet even that was a chore at Suncorp. Being ignored in many stores seems to be the standard treatment for a customer. At Rip Curl friends come first; in Jays Jays anything's better than talking to us, even when you're standing right there. "No engagement, no response -- hold on, the lights are on but is anyone home", Barry said.

Across the hundreds of stores we visited, in some of the countries biggest shopping centers, Barry says 75% failed the service test. "This is a wake up call -- Australia you're not being served", he said. "If somebody wants to say mate is unacceptable, then mate I'd tell him he's dreaming", said United Retail Federation President Scott Driscoll. Scott agrees rude and ignorant sales staff is not helpful to any business but says some of Barry's criticisms are equally outrageous. "We're in Australia and quite frankly, if you can't use the word mate about your fellow Australian, I think we've got a problem", Scott said.

Scott says every customer and every attendant is unique and it's about what works. "It's about relationships and its making sure it is warm and it is engaging", he said. Barry agrees -but he says what he's seen so far is neither engaging nor working. Barry says "don't shoot him he's just the messenger and if businesses can't tell from their retail figures that they've got to try something else, well nothing will. Management needs to take remedial action because it's costing them big time".

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