Study Reveals Front-line Staff as Major Factor in Customer Dissatisfaction

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Study Reveals Front-line Staff as Major Factor in Customer Dissatisfaction

PHILADELPHIA -- Front-line sales staff can be the single biggest detriment to the shopping experience, according to the second annual Customer Dissatisfaction Study conducted by Verde Group, a consulting firm, and the Baker Retail Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

"Our goal was to find out what annoys American consumers most when they shop and the answer came back loud and clear -- SALESPEOPLE -- especially those who don't have the product knowledge they should have," Paula Courtney, president of Verde, said in a written statement. "A host of issues -- including the disappearance of salespeople when they're needed, long check-out lines, over-solicitous and insincere salespeople, and being ignored by sales staff -- is alienating shoppers and losing big bucks for American retailers."

The study -- which compiled answers from 1,000 American consumers in March -- found that not being able to find a salesperson is the most critical issue and has been experienced by 33 percent of consumers who reported a problem. As a result, American retailers lose 6 percent of their shoppers due to lack of help, according to the study.

In addition, 25 percent of consumers who experience a problem when shopping are ignored by staff, including a lack of a smile, greeting or even eye contact from employees, the study found. As a result, 3 percent of customers stop shopping at the retailer, and are more likely to spread negative word of mouth, according to the study.

"One in three customers spreads negative word of mouth about their shopping problems and each person tells an average of four others," said Stephen J. Hoch, director of the Patty and Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Interestingly, it's the younger consumer between the age of 18 and 29 that is least satisfied with their shopping experience. The older you get, the happier you are with your shopping experience."

Based on the survey results, Verde Group and the Baker Retail Initiative at Wharton identified four core competencies that front-line employees must display to drive positive shopping experiences:

-- Educator -- explains products, makes recommendations and tells the customer where items can be found.

-- Engager -- approaches the customer, smiles, makes eye contact and helps the customer no matter what else they are busy doing.

-- Expeditor -- sensitive to the customer's time constraints and helps them speed through long check-out lines.

-- Authentic -- lets customers browse on their own if they want and is genuinely interested in helping regardless of whether a sale is made.