Posts Tagged 'Retail'

May 20, 2009

Dealing with Customer Service

No – this isn’t one of those blogs or editorials ranting and railing about how no one out there is able to provide good customer service anymore. This isn’t about how no one in the service industry – from restaurants to retail and everything in between – seems to care about the customer anymore. People have been writing those stories for the past 50 years (about half as long as they have been writing about the coming demise of baseball). This is just a short little missive lamenting how the same people that complain about lack of service are often people that work in the service industry themselves.

I often find myself in a retail store wondering why I can’t get help locating an object. Or in a restaurant wondering where the wait staff is. Or trying to work my way through an automated phone help system. Part of me sympathizes with the wait staff knowing that they are probably just too busy to get to my table. Maybe the restaurant is understaffed or maybe they have an unexpected rush of customers. And part of me even realizes the operational value of the automated phone system. The ability to reduce head count and lower costs with an automated system seems like a great idea (and sometimes it is).

But when I find myself in those aggravating situations and my anger is just about to get the better of me, I generally come back to the fact that myself and everyone else that works at SoftLayer is in the customer service industry. Oh, I might complain to a manager or I might tip less or I might shop at that location less. But more important than that, I try to use that experience as a reminder of how important customer service is. I’m not talking about just the ability to provide the product the customer is looking for – I mean the ability to be able to answer questions in a timely manner, to answer the phone as quickly as possible, to handle outages as quickly and professionally as possible, to provide customers with frequent updates and most importantly, to treat every customer interaction with the level of urgency that the customer thinks it deserves.

And THAT’s the important part – not just solving the problem, but making sure that the customer’s expectations are met.

-SamF

May 29, 2007

The Real Price of Retail

A few days ago Dell made a splash by telling the world they had established a partnership with Wal-Mart to sell their computers and other products throughout Wal-Mart’s 3,000 stores worldwide. This marks an interesting milestone in Dell's corporate existence. Dell has always been acknowledged as an innovative and cutting edge company through their direct sales model which took a layer of distribution (in this case retail) out of the sales process and allowed customers to "have it their way", so to speak.

With the competitiveness in the PC market and Dell’s admission of trailing behind the likes of HP and IBM, the motivation for this transition in their sales channel is clearly predicated on increasing overall volume to boost the market's perception of their thriving company and the goal of being #1 worldwide in the PC market. Obviously, this has sparked a debate on their ability to maintain a differentiated strategy in the branding of "Dell", which has generally been perceived as a higher quality because of their direct channel strategy.

In hearing the news of this new marriage between Dell and Wal-Mart it reminded me of an article that I ran across at fastcompany.com entitled "The man who said no to Wal-Mart" and it hit home with the story of Jim Wier, CEO of Simplicity (owner of Snapper Lawn Mowers) who was at a crux in his company's life cycle where he would have to choose a path that would shape the course of his company going forward. Was he going to choose a path of high volume, low margins products or high quality and sustained margins product sets at levels that his company needed to maintain its proper corporate health? To the surprise of many, including Wal-Mart, Mr. Wier respectfully choose the path that many others had not in the past -- the one without Wal-Mart. Although two unique industries here with technology and durable consumer goods, the thoughts have to be the same in the minds of both management teams. It’s a fascinating article and I would encourage anyone who runs a business that struggles with pricing and volume levels to read.

There is no doubt Dell has been one of the most influential companies of the last 20 years in the technology industry and their management teams, through addition and attrition, have paved the way for tremendous success both financially and technologically over those years. Not many other companies have the ability to coin a phrase such as "Dellionaire". With this shift, I trust the powers that be have thought long and hard regarding the pros and cons of the retail markets, primarily in the retail technology sectors. If volume is what they want, then volume is what they are likely to receive. The real question lies in “at what price?” and which of these two corporate giants has a bigger muscle to flex in the room, Dell or Wal-Mart?

-Sean

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