Not being properly served

During this time of the year I wade through reams of newspaper articles about L-Istrina, loads of waffle about New Year’s resolutions and ‘this was the year that was’ articles to look out for the only constant, unchanging piece of news.

Accessibility problems, traffic snarl-ups and the rising cost of utilities are great obstacles for many establishments
- Claire Bonello

Invariably – for as long as I can remember at least – there’s a news item about the GRTU’s take on the business situation during the festive season. And year in, year out, it’s always gloom and doom from the GRTU quarters.

Going by the mopey missives from the GRTU, the situation gets progressively worse year after year and it was so bad to start off with, it’s a wonder that all the shops haven’t been boarded up and the restaurants totally abandoned.

There’s always a different reason for this dismal state of affairs. Sometimes it’s the weather (too cold or too rainy for shoppers and diners to venture forth or too hot for them to bother about shopping).

One time, restaurants were having a hard time because punters decided to stay at home. This year, the slow start in business for the entertainment establishments is attributed to the fact that Christmas Eve fell on a Monday, or so said Philip Fenech. Next year, lack of sales will probably be down to the fact that Christmas Eve will fall on Tuesday, or that it’s election year, or that the planets are not favourably aligned or any reason which inspires the GRTU moaners.

Now I realise that there may be some truth to a few of the reasons for the downturn in business – especially retailing. Accessibility problems, traffic snarl-ups and the rising cost of utilities are great obstacles for many establishments. Then there’s the competition from online outfits to contend with.

It isn’t easy. But I can’t help feeling that some local businesses are approaching this whole competition aspect in the wrong manner. Instead of putting up a good fight and realising that they’ve got to pull out all the stops to keep customers happy, they simply assume a fatalistic attitude and assume that they can’t do anything to stop customers fleeing online.

While it may true that is difficult to match the variety of goods on offer from online establishments – or even to match the low prices they offer, there is one manner in which local business can outshine the online competition – and that’s by providing excellent customer service. Many people are rushed off their feet, most of the time. What they want, what they need is efficient, seamless service.

If they can get it over the counter at the shop down the road, there’s a good chance they will return for other transactions, foregoing the risk of lengthy ping-ponging of e-mails with some faceless seller abroad. Unfortunately there are still some local businesses which continue operating as if they were stuck in a time warp where they enjoyed a quasi-monopoly.

They still haven’t got used to the idea that there are thousands of competitors a stone’s throw or a click away. And they simply haven’t got their head round the idea that customers are the reason for their business and the source of their livelihood and not irritants interrupting the daily nail-filing and chatting session.

Then there’s the ridiculous – and unwarranted – refusal to exchange items despite the fact that there is no signage in evidence saying that items purchased cannot be exchanged.

A friend of mine walked into a shop where she is a regular customer and where she splurges out, and asked to exchange a couple of gifts she had just received. She produced the relative receipts and the goods themselves, still pristinely wrapped. You’d have thought it would be a simple matter. But no, she was told that they were Christmas items and couldn’t be exchanged outside the Christmas period. This despite the fact that my friend turned up on Boxing Day and that there were no signs in evidence saying goods couldn’t be exchanged.

When my friend was (rightly) sounding off online, someone from the establishment wrote in saying, “Unfortunately we cannot satisfy everybody no matter how much we try.” That’s just the kind of defensive attitude which gets customers’ backs up.

The effort necessary to satisfy this particular customer wouldn’t really have been too great. The simple expedient of exchanging a couple of candles would have resulted in one happy customer, positive word-of-mouth recommendations and returning clientele. Instead, this establishment – incidentally one which spends huge amounts of money on advertising campaigns – missed out on an opportunity to instill customer loyalty for a much cheaper price.

With this kind of attitude no wonder local establishments are haemorrhaging customers and giving the GRTU more cause for its customary gloom.

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