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“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” A short story on customer service

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” A short story on customer service

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” A short story on customer service

Of those industries that have suffered most during the pandemic, the most high profile ones – high street retail and hospitality – look likely to face continued challenges as the economy tries to reboot.

The enforced hiatus over the pandemic has put recruitment and staff retention on top of most business agendas for high street retailers – walking through Belfast’s Victoria Square it’s easy to see that footfall isn’t the only problem for those remaining retail outlets.

Victoria Square was the retailing jewel in Belfast’s reinvigorated city centre – a snip at £300 million, bringing to the North of Ireland some of the largest and most popular names in high street retail.

All in, 800,000 sq ft of retail, leisure and entertainment space, it was just what the city needed almost 20 years ago.

What now?

Customer service should still be king

I made one of my very infrequent visits to VS last week and it looks like age is starting to catch up on both of us.

Patience isn’t a prominent character trait for me if I’m honest – this isn’t an age thing either.

Thanks to Amazon and mobile technology, retail therapy for me is usually a quick fix – you’re talking minutes.

Anything over 5 minutes gets blamed on buyer’s remorse.

The appeal of the modern mall shopping experience wears of quickly when you consider time saving allied to the cost of parking.

What it should really come down to is the shopping experience – the kill zone for the high street retailer.

No competition, right?


I know someone who was heavily involved in shopping centre retail – owning 4 sites across the UK and ROI.

When I last spoke to him. 6 months ago, he was on the cusp of pulling out of all his commercial high street interests – it won’t happen overnight but it’s happening.

The pressure on high street retail is incessant and it comes from all angles…residual pandemic anxiety, online, ‘the great resignation,’ supply chain issues, the economy…and now the Russian – Ukraine.

I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in a Monday morning managers meeting trying to motivate the team for a week ahead.

In the last week of February.

Or anytime outside of November, December or the occasional random bank holiday, weather dependent.

It’s hard to rise in a depressed market but it feels like some of the retailers have given up the fight – easily said when you’re working from home.

Online customer service shouldn’t even come close

My experience in House of Fraser last week was surreal.

Concession staff by far out-numbered customers.

The energy was sapping and contagious – it seemed impossible for them to look busy.

I interrupted a young man’s texting to ask him a question – I wasn’t sure if it was me or the text message that had pissed him of so badly.

Some Netflix series or other was getting some unpaid promotion from another 3 young ladies huddled together by the sunglasses counter downstairs.

When expectation and experience don’t align, what remains is ultimately disappointment.

I bought what I needed but I genuinely didn’t enjoy any part of it.

On the same day, before coming into the city, I had spent time on the website of a well-known music store. I made a phone call in advance to get some advice on what guitars they had in stock as their website and limited supply.

I left a message with a customer service rep but I didn’t get a call back.

I ended up visiting their shop and leaving empty handed.

I just know Im going to end up buying online.

I’m not sure what the future has in store for any of us, never mind for high street retail. I feel that I want to give my support as much to the high street retailers as the local independents.

I believe that good customer service can inspire high street retail again.

Experienced people may have left the sector in their droves but there’s nothing to stop a period of rejuvenation – better pay, better training, better promotions, improved experience?

Looks like I’m criticising without providing a solution?

I’m certainly starting to feel strong internal anti-Amazon sentiment but to make the switch back, I’m going to need some help from the retailers.


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