On its knees!

Amazon has killed our retailers!

The high street is dying!

The hyperbole is increasing daily and the solution is complex. But how about we start with this ….

Retail Staff – instead of chatting to your mates – how about doing some selling and serving?

Is it just me, or has the number of times when I’ve experienced staff ‘chattin’ rather than serving’ increased dramatically?

It baffles me. Not just that staff are failing to sell – but that they’re completely focused on each other; even in great institutions such as John Lewis, where you would expect them to be taking care of their customers.

Just the other day, a transaction went like this ….

There are three people in this interface – ME: Partner 1: and Partner 2: And I’ve shortened it slightly for brevity.

ME: Can I have these please?

Partner 1: Takes the items and says to Partner 2, ‘Are you going to Julie’s thing tomorrow?

Partner 2: (while serving someone else), ‘I might be, depends what time I get finished here’.

Partner 1: ‘If you’re going, do you want to share a taxi?’

Partner 2: ‘Yeah, we could just get an Uber

Partner 1: “That’s £247

Just as I was thinking: ‘That’s very expensive for an Uber!’, I realised that the final comment was directed at me.

If she’d given me a clue, like looking at me, smiling or saying please, I may have reacted a little faster.

I didn’t need to worry though because as she took my credit card and £247 instantly whizzed from my bank account to theirs, she barely missed a beat.

Partner 1: ‘I don’t like Uber. I’ll see if Gary can give us a lift…

Regular readers will know that when I write about customer service, I prefer not to point out what’s wrong or share poor examples, instead preferring to share what’s right.

But I wanted you to feel, even third hand, what it’s like to be ignored. As I write this, I already know that you HAVE experienced it.

The solution?

1. Super Scripts.  Every member of staff needs 4 or 5 super scripts they can use to 
engage with customers. Not knowing what to say should never be a reason.

2. Managers – on the floor managing. When my daughter was 16, she worked in our local Waitrose. The checkout manager watched her like a hawk and if she missed a friendly conversation with a customer, he was straight over wanting to know why.

3. Train, train, train.  EVERY DAY.  It’s more important than ever to have some element of daily training.  Before the doors open, during the day, after a shift. Short, focused, relevant.

It’s hard work but if we’re going to save the High Street it’s never been more important.

Be Brilliant!


PS I haven’t even mentioned upselling, switching returns, recommendations, alternatives, positive first response, etc. What are your ideas for saving the High Street? Please comment below.

We’ll send a copy of my Best-Selling Customer Service Book, 5 Star Service to our favourite.  Please comment here.


  1. July 11th 2019 by David Jeffries

    It’s rare I respond but I do often read your emails, I absolutely agree:
    Marks and Spencer appear to still have some standards as do John Lewis and I assume have staff training, the rest of the high street is frankly going to hell in a hand cart.

    Nice column thank you.

  2. July 12th 2019 by Steve Bell

    A solution surely is for customers to rate the service they receive on a scale from 1 to 10 on a gadget at the till. Blacks do this (at least at the St Paul’s branch) and I’ve been consistently impressed by the helpfulness and attention of their staff.

  3. July 12th 2019 by Jim Hetherton

    Thanks for sharing such a Brilliant message Michael 

    Back in the day, I managed Tesco stores and our mantra was, no not “pile it high sell it cheap”  it was “when dealing with customers the BIG things are the LITTLE things” 

    It’s the eye contact, the smiles, the just so glad to serve you attitude, that makes all the difference 

    Best Regards 
    Jim Hetherton 
    Productivity Coach 

  4. July 12th 2019 by Ian Collins

    I regularly stay in a large hotel in Brussels (one of the biggest in terms of number of rooms) during the months of October – March probably once every 3 weeks and there is a guy who mans the desk who every time remembers my name, even if it is October and I haven’t been in since March. As he remembers me, he already knows my card and passport number is on file so he doesn’t bother asking for it again and check-in is very smooth and painless. I would even rather wait in a queue when they are busy for that person rather than another person. Also he doesn’t waste a second in getting you checked-in, no wasted time asking you about other things (which would annoy the person behind you) but pure focus on giving you very efficient customer service at speed. After a long commute to Brussels this is perfect.

    I think a lot of retail could learn from some of the best hotels and if I was running a retail outlet I would train my people by taking them to a hotel and showing how these good hotels service their customers.

    Saying that, many hotels I stay at (not the one mentioned above) seem to get caught out by the fact that people check-out every morning at the same time! This really seems to catch them out on a daily basis. If it was me I would have every checkout point manned at key checkout times by pulling staff from other places if needed, so that the last thing you see is as good as the first thing you experience. So many hotels neglect checkout and this is similar to your experience with retail.

    I think that summarises what is needed in retail – a good first impression followed by an efficient transaction and then a good final impression as you leave. Those shops who, like good hotels, get this right are the ones where people have a good retail experience. There is plenty of time to talk with other shop colleagues during breaks or after work, pure focus is what the best hotels have and that is what retail needs to differentiate itself from the internet and other competitors.

    The one thing that regularly annoys me about big retailers is when they have something on display that they don’t have in stock at all and sometimes haven’t had it for a while. You ask for one and they go away and then 5 minutes later come back and say they don’t have any. Why not just have a tag that says “Sorry, this item is currently out of stock at the moment but ask our staff for details on other options”. This is the most positive way to handle stock-outages. Actually one of the best retailers I have ever dealt with their staff member told me that they didn’t have something and recommended somewhere else who did have it locally – I did buy it from the other supplier as I needed it urgently but the honesty and helpfulness of the original server actually makes me go back to the original shop, so they didn’t lose a customer long term but gained my loyalty for the future as they did what any retailer is supposed to do (the same with hotels) – satisfy a customer’s immediate need. Do that and you gain credit in the bank with that customer.

  5. July 12th 2019 by Clive Harrison

    Let’s hope that Paula Nickolds, MD of John Lewis subscribes to your mailing list. I doubt it but but as an ex partner who experienced working for managers similar to your daughter did and now as a customer who’s been on the receiving end of the same service as you…she should.

    Great mail by the way…

  6. July 16th 2019 by Heather Stevens

    It’s definitely happening more and more, and in my neck of the woods, it’s at its worst in the High Street supermarkets. They crash you through the checkout like the building’s on fire, then virtually throw your change at you – coins on top of notes and till receipt, and all whilst they’re chatting to the checkout operator next to them, or the person behind you in the queue 😡

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