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Dec
31 2012

8:27 PM

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How Courts lost a customer to IKEA

I walked into Courts yesterday to purchase a clothes rack. Courts is a large furniture and electronics outfit in Singapore, with branches around the island and a megastore in Tampines.

The wonders of being connected meant that I could look up their online catalog the night before to pick out what I wanted and verify stocks (to the point of even knowing that certain colours were already out of stock and will be restocked in February/March 2013). All I needed to do was to step into the store, look for the item, purchase it and out I go. Sounds simple enough.

It was a three-storey megastore, so I decided to ask the staff for directions. The staff on the second floor directed me to the ground floor “because that’s where all the accessories are”. Sounds fair, so I proceeded to the ground floor. After walking around in circles, I realized I was going nowhere and needed help again.

So I approached a boy in a black ‘Courts’ tee and relayed my question to him. After giving me a blank stare for several seconds, he admitted that he was “just a promoter” and that I had to approach a staff member in a blue tee. Those blue tees were pretty elusive to find, though. I nearly walked up to an ordinary shopper in a blue tee but common sense soon took over (he was carrying a shopping bag) to prevent potential embarrassment.

Circled the place again for nearly 5 minutes before I finally found two blue shirted staff members who were happily chatting with one another. I proceeded with my inquiry. One of them glanced at my phone (screenshot of the product), looked at me and went “no more!”

“No more?” I asked. “Seriously? Because I checked your website and it stated there is stock!”

“If you want, you go outside there and see!” He gesticulated wildly to the area outside the checkout counters. “If it’s not there then it’s sold out. No more!

He immediately went back to chatting with his friend, totally oblivious to me gaping at him, my mouth wide open in disbelief.

This is what happens you hire staff (or salespeople) who don’t care about your business. The typical staff member will simply show up to do the bare minimum, leave on time and take their monthly paycheck. On the other hand, the engaged, dedicated staff member who believes that he plays a crucial role in the success of the company would do more.

In this case, a dedicated staff member will be able to recognize this interaction as an opportunity to retain a potential customer. He would have known that the product will be restocked in a couple of months. He would also be aware that I could have placed an advance order online and request for a self-collection at any outlet near my home. All this is not rocket science – I knew it simply by browsing their website. This information will have been relayed to me as alternatives, and the he’ll provide any necessary assistance.

This staff member on the other hand, seemed to be more interested in his bantering.

After finally confirming that the item was out of stock – seeing an empty rack with the item label – I decided to ‘test’ another staff member on their service knowledge in the hope that the guy spoke to earlier was just an anomaly. No dice either.

By then, I was completely annoyed with the lack of staff knowledge that I just decided to give up on the product altogether. Sure, it was lighter and more compact. Sure, the product was cheaper as well. But it’s no longer about the product. IKEA was just next door, and they retail products that are of equally good quality. And I haven’t had a bad experience with them yet.

So, I headed over.

New clothes rack!
The PORTIS hat and coat stand.

Now, I have myself an awesome new rack at home from IKEA. While Courts lost a customer for life.

In today’s age, the average consumer is presented with a wide range of equivalent options for a singular product, that they’ve become indifferent. Companies can no longer afford to compete based on products alone because there is a low barrier to entry for consumers to simply do a brand switcharoo anytime they want. The products are all the same anyway. It’s the experience you provide that makes you stand out.

What makes the consumer sit up and take notice is not the “average” shopping experience, but something out of the ordinary. When faced with an extraordinarily bad service, the consumer will take to bitching online (which is what I’m doing now) or spread the negative message through word of mouth. In the consumer’s mind, your company will be tied to that bad experience forever.

Conversely, when the experience is surprisingly great, word spreads equally fast. In a world where consumers are generally used to receiving bad service, it’s extremely refreshing. Even inspiring. As for me – I’d most probably be waxing lyrical about the company to anyone I meet. And yes, I will definitely return.

It is the positively memorable experiences you provide that make your customers stick to you.

It’s high time companies realized that. Especially consumer-facing ones.

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