Wednesday 13 December 2017

Problem solver: Has a supermarket customer ever annoyed you?

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Feargal Quinn

Q: Did you ever get annoyed with a customer during your retail career?

A I actually don't think I ever did, although I'm sure there was times I was tempted to. In my experience the majority of irate customers are not annoyed because of something that has happened in your business, but rather something that is happening in their wider life. It may well have been an incident within your business that triggered their anger, but it could well have a background lying elsewhere.

That was how I always viewed customers who are irate or rude. Every week I made a point of phoning any customers who contacted our head office with a complaint or query, sometimes to the astonishment of the customer. My experience was, that if you listened to people and empathised with their position, they quickly mellowed.

The danger is for any staff member dealing with the public is that they allow themselves to be dragged into the emotion of the argument or feel it is personalised. That will result in the staff member possibly losing their cool with the customer, in which case nobody wins.

We spent significant money on training our staff and in conducting role plays. These always included a trainer who would present in an irate fashion so as to help staff understand the words to use and possible reactions to calm the situation. I believe this helped us greatly in gaining a strong reputation in solving issues.

On an occasion when a customer is being extraordinarily rude or aggressive, the staff member would be justified in calmly explaining to the customer that they can only deal with the complaint if the customer refrains from using language or aggressive behaviour, but quite honestly these are very rare occasions.

Q I'm designing some new packaging for a food product that will be sold in supermarkets. Can you give me some advice?

A It's great to see that you are asking the right questions. Some new producers tend not to understand that packaging and branding is one of the most important aspects which will determine their potential success or failure in retail.

I know several good products in the market place which get minimal sales because they don't have the right packaging and branding.

First, you have to understand branding is about the communication of key messages you want the customer to get. It is not as simple as putting a nice image or logo on a pack and hoping it will work. As a small and early stage producer you will need to be sure the consumer understands what your product is about and the first challenge will be to get them to take it off the shelf.

Make sure that on the front of the pack you highlight the one key message that makes you unique. On the back of the pack you also need to ensure you are "telling your story". Whether it is a story about you or the product and its usage suggestions, it will be vital that there is something that helps you to stand out.

In reality your product will probably be slightly more expensive than some of the mass-produced ones and if the customer doesn't understand why the product is different, they may hesitate to buy it. As obvious as it may seem, at a glance many products look like they are produced in Ireland or in a particular part in the country so also make sure that the provenance of your product is clear.

You'll need to work with a professional branding company. Do not be tempted to take shortcuts or use online services and do not confuse a logo and a brand. A logo is simply a picture or an image whereas a brand is a story that communicates to the consumer.

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