Tuesday 14 August 2012

Alcohol leads to poor customer service in Dover

At 2:30pm, the anglophile Heker family from Germany was happily doing last minute shopping in the Morrisons, Bridge Street, Dover. A last minute stocking up on traditional British food and drink. By 2:46, Friday 10th August they were embroiled in a kafkaesque scene at the tills that lost their good will – and more importantly, their business to a neighbouring store.

Service at the till was going well till Mrs Heker made a crucial mistake, she deferred to her daughter to deal with the payment. The woman at the till queried the age of the daughter as the purchase included beers. As the daughter was under 18, the cashier had to refuse to accept payment for the alcoholic drinks.

Like all stores, Morrisons complies with the law to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors as signatories of the UK Public Health Responsibility deal (http://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/a4-underage-alcohol-sales/).

Morrisons also has a record of refusing alcohol sales to adults where there is the faintest doubt that purchased alcohol may be given to people under 18.

Like many Britons, the Hekers could not understand why the parents could now not purchase the beers as part of their shop. The queue was building. Those in the queue were having similar difficulties in understanding.

Unable to deal with the situation, the cashier did the right thing – she called for her supervisor.

At this point we should note that this year Morrisons was the proud winner of “The Grocer Gold Award 2012 for Employer of the Year” and “The Grocer 2012 Grocer 33 Award” – for best customer service in mystery shop survey and for more times that any other supermarket over the last year.

Britain was also basking in a general atmosphere of good nature and will with the successful Olympics.

With such an excellent service record, one would have high hopes of a well trained Morrisons supervisor coming in to explain a policy; in a way that would calm the customer down, gain at least acceptance if not understanding, from the customer and permit a shop – without the alcoholic item. The customer would leave with the non-contentious goods, the company would be true to its policy with only a partial sacrifice.

Instead, Mr Heker described the arrival of (loosely paraphased in translation as) “A battleship under a full head of steam”.

The result was the total refusal of any purchase from the store, anger by the Heker's for a very public “show trial” at the till and a very sour taste at the end of their family holiday in Britain. What is more, they immediately went to a neighbouring store to conduct their purchases without difficulty or hostility.

This was a Pyrrhic victory for the Dover Morrisons store. It had made a point that will reverberate with other customers in the store at the time as well as future visitors to the UK who ask the Hekers about their experience of these isles. People could adjust their shopping habits accordingly. It has made me, a resident of the UK, think twice about my store choices.

The main other loser from this incident, the person also most likely to be equally bitter about having been placed in this situation and the poor outcome, is the supervisor.

From a business perspective, there is a lesson to be learnt. Stores need to support their staff more with comprehensive staff training in dealing with potential flare-ups. How to keep your head in a possible conflict,  cool down and defuse situations before they go critical, these are skills that can be taught.

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