Customer service in brick-and-mortar shops in the Czech Republic keeps on improving. This view is corroborated not only by experts who have made the issue the focus of their work but also by the development and educational project CPI Akademie Retail. The project’s inaugural year was recently capped by a round of mystery shopping that sought to assess the skills and helpfulness of salespeople in shopping centres. The results show that salespeople are, for the most part, more than happy to assist their customers, with ‘smiling a bit more’ perhaps being the only thing for them to improve on.
“Retail brands are starting to pay closer attention to their customer service quality and to what they can do to improve. Retailers grasp very well that at a time of product oversaturation on the Czech market it is imperative that their salespeople’s behaviour is in line with the fact that they are the brand’s frontline representatives,” said Petr Brabec, Head of Asset Management, Shopping Centres, CPI Property Group. “For many businesses, it may be difficult to ensure that their employees have regular access to fully-fledged seminars or workshops. And some are not yet even contemplating providing such training. That is why we have joined forces with Ipsos and launched the CPI Akademie Retail project in our shopping centres. The project’s objective is to teach the skills essential to high-quality customer service. CPI Akademie Retail is open to all salespeople working in our shopping centres and everyone who took part in the program this year deserves a big thank you!”
Nine of the 15 Czech shopping malls that feature in the CPI Property Group portfolio participated in the program this year. On top of an e-learning course available to all employees, shop managers also attended practical workshops conducted by experienced Ipsos lecturers. “In cooperation with CPI Property Group, we were able to provide a wealth of materials that explain in fairly simple terms the essence of high-quality customer service. The materials provide guidance on, for example, desired behaviour in various situations, practising the right responses or establishing that all-important initial contact with the customer and developing a conversation with them,” explained Barbara Hrabalová, Executive Director Ipsos Mystery Shopping & Customer Experience.
The inaugural series of courses and workshops were followed by mystery shopping in 168 retail outlets involved in the project (with a total of 336 mystery shopping visits). The aim was to monitor and assess the uptake of skills communicated by CPI Akademie Retail. Assessed criteria included the initial greeting given by salespeople, the ability to smile during the subsequent dialogue and the willingness to assist and advise. The greatest room for improvement was detected in the ability to smile, while the willingness factor was clearly the strongest point of most salespeople. “It may seem like we are dealing with minor things but it is exactly these minor things that combine to make or break the customer experience and satisfaction. An unpleasant or unwilling salesperson can reliably put a customer off making a purchase, while what might seem like aloofness can be a sign of a lack of confidence on the part of a salesperson unsure of how to engage with a customer,” observed Petr Brabec.
Quality of customer service in the Czech Republic is on the rise
According to experts, recent years have provided ample reasons for optimism when it comes to customer service quality. “There are benchmarks that demonstrate continuous improvement in terms of customer service. For example, smiling salespeople are no longer the rarity they used to be, say, 15 years ago. On the other hand, the most prevalent shortcomings seem to stay unchanged. There is definitely room for improvement in establishing a meaningful dialogue with the customer, in other words, to work out what they really need and to offer the right product matching that need. There is still a tendency to jump straight to the offer stage and skimp on explaining why the product offered is in fact the right one,” said Barbara Hrabalová. “Then, there is another, perhaps even more important aspect and that is customer expectation. Customer expectations have shifted fundamentally over the last 10 to 15 years. Customers have become much more demanding; they expect to be humoured and offered advice because they already arrive in the shop equipped with information obtained on the internet,” continued Barbara Hrabalová.
Attitude of the business makes all the difference
While some brands have put customer service at the front and centre of their sales operations, others continue to underestimate its importance. “Many businesses have already established dedicated customer experience departments. Also, their salespeople clearly show an increased interest in expanding their skill set. They generally display considerable interest during workshops in learning how to engage with demanding customers or in knowing how brick-and-mortar shops can compete with online competition," said Kateřina Müllerová, a customer experience lecturer, moderator and analyst. According to her, the best customer service is traditionally delivered by banks while the poorest quality of service and communication is usually seen in grocery chains and consumer electronics shops. “Household products and perfumery shops also often leave a lot to be desired, while in the clothing and sporting equipment segments it generally depends on the particular brand. It is becoming quite apparent which brands pay attention to customer service and which don’t,” added Kateřina Müllerová.
“The current boom of online commerce does not spell the end of brick-and-mortar shops, far from it. As a matter of fact, the importance of these shops is on the rise as they become an important point of contact for customers. They let the customer communicate directly with the brand through the key medium of salespeople. Abroad, salespeople view their jobs much more as a service and are keen to be of service to customers. Salespeople in our country are gradually warming to the idea and we are striving to help them in that transformation and support them by sharing the latest knowledge and practical experience.” Petr Brabec, Head of Asset Management, Shopping Centres, CPI Property Group
“Our research clearly shows the importance of positive emotions in serving customers. Customers expect to be humoured while shopping, even in segments where we would not have expected it five years ago, such as registering their home’s main electrical circuit breaker. That is why it is necessary to shed any reservations and develop an emotion-based service.” Vladimír Hrabal, Activation Lead, Ipsos
“In our mystery shopping programs we see a definite improvement in the behaviour of shop staff: they are more welcoming and they smile more, but there is still more to be done. We find it intriguing that there are still retailers who do not realise that sales staff are, in a way, the shop window for their brands when it comes to customers’ perceptions. Advertising, if effective, can bring customers to the shop. But whether they spend their hard-earned money and how much of it is entirely in the hands of the shop floor staff.” Barbara Hrabalová, Executive Director Ipsos Mystery Shopping & Customer Experience
Shopping centres in Czech Republic owned by CPI Property Group:
- Quadrio Prague
- Zlatý Anděl Prague
- Spektrum Čestlice
- Fénix Prague
- City Park Jihlava
- IGY České Budějovice
- Géčko České Budějovice
- Futurum Hradec Králové
- Futurum Kolín
- Královo pole Brno
- Olympia Plzeň
- Olympia Teplice
- Olympia Mladá Boleslav
- Bondy Mladá Boleslav
- Nisa Liberec