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BW Businessworld

Case Analysis: Triggering A Rude Behaviour

Improve the quality of the shop floor sales staff. At the same time, give powers to those in charge to draw a line with a rude customer

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Aryaman aiyer, the coach, is absolutely right when he says value formats like supermarkets and hypermarkets tend to hire a very, basic person with minimum education required to do the job to keep costs low as margins are already squeezed. The result is an employee who is close to zero on etiquette and manners, will do the bare minimum or the tasks assigned but will provide very little in terms of customer service.

To answer Thiruvel Joseph, GM of the Naman Group, let us for a moment step into the shoes of customer Chandu Bhagan who has been shopping at Namma Retail for the past 20 years. Chandu never openly complains and has been waiting in the queue of counter No. 24 for a while. Understandably, getting quite irritated because no employee of the store was making any effort to bring any order to the queuing. This results in a fairly large crowd milling around him, talking and debating over his shoulder, shoving, breaking the queue and getting ahead of him. Add to this, his basket was weighing him down and his arms were hurting. That is when this young lady Rajeshwari comes along and addresses him directly in some vague English, something that sounds like: “You get in line like others”.

Having tolerated the various inconveniences, the last thing Chandu needed was to be singled out as the person responsible for creating confusion in the queue. Chandu loses his temper. Add to this another employee who comes along asking him behave and be mindful of his choice of words. Chandu, who has been a customer here for 20 years, pushes his basket aside and walks out of the store leaving behind his shopping, probably never to return, thereby shaving off Rs 5,000 a month or Rs 60,000 a year from the top line of the store. There is a saying in retail that for every two customers who vocally complain, there are eight who don’t and many a times they too leave their shopping behind and walk away. So, one can imagine the loss of business at the point of sale due to the poor reading of a customer’s rude behaviour or shop floor staff’s nonchalant attitude.

So, was Chandu rude? Yes, to the casual onlooker he was. However, the question to be answered is who or what triggered the rudeness. Clearly, the blame lies with the store. There was no senior staff or checkout supervisors to manage the queuing system. A young inexperienced staff member tries to take initiative and bring some order and gets it all wrong and then her colleague comes along and adds fuel to the fire.

Now, coming to the story that played out in Menaka Designs. You have Kannan, a customer, who is bit of an upstart with a short fuse, ready to get into an argument if he believes he is being wronged. He is out to impress Kanchana, his new bride from a small town, who is sensitive. Kannan brings her to Menaka Designs, a high-end store to spend the gift vouchers they had received during their marriage. In both episodes of Menaka Designs, the trigger for Kannan getting upset on both occasions, has been the store attitude. In the first, it starts with the cashier taking a close look at the voucher in the presence of Kannan and getting into an animated discussion with one of his colleagues regarding the validity of the voucher.

When Kannan realises what the delay and discussion was all about, he angrily points out that the vouchers “clearly state” that they were valid all over India and the sale goes through. But this incident sets the tone for what follows in episode two. Here, Kanchana was clearly at fault for not following washing instructions, which she acknowledges. Now, the store staff knowing fully well what happened during the previous visit of the customer and their temperament, should have exercised caution and displayed compassion. Instead, along comes Shreya, the garment and English expert, to add fuel to the fire. If Joseph had not intervened, Kannan could have scaled up the argument because there is a difference in ‘Dry Clean Recommended’ and ‘Dry Clean Only’. The point here is that point-of-sale communication both printed and verbal should be scrutinised for misinterpretation before being presented to a customer.

I hope Joseph now sees and appreciates where the trigger or catalyst of his customer’s rude behaviour stems from at least in the context of the two episodes on hand.

While it would be unfair to attribute customer rude behaviour entirely on retail employees or service providers, one needs to reflect on the larger issue of us Indians being arrogant in nature, deeply rooted in the so-called VIP culture, where we expect people lower than us on the economic ladder to bend backwards to please us. Based on our money power, qualification, status in society, contacts in high places and even caste, we expect, demand, anticipate and even break rules for special privileges and invariably the victim of our arrogance or rudeness would be a security guard, an auto driver, a restaurant steward, lowly manager, clerk....

Joseph has his task cut out. He needs to get his shop floor teams to get proactive by improving the quality of training in the areas of verbal and non-verbal communication, soft skills, customer interaction and service. Make it a policy for staff to connect with the customer the minute they walk into the store by meeting and greeting them, offering to help, ushering them through the shop floor. It doesn’t matter if they do not reciprocate but then they can’t fault you for not taking the initiative.

Misunderstanding of offers, promotions, discounts, redemption points, redemption and validity of vouchers, expiry date, best before date are major pain points in retailing and to overcome this, Joseph needs to ensure that shop floor sales staff are well versed on terms and conditions governing all marketing initiative and any printed point-of-sale communication are cross checked for lacuna and misinterpretation.

In the case of certain products such as coloured cosmetics, refrigerators, air conditioners, designer garments etc., brand owner or company trained promoters who have product specific training and knowledge should be available on the shop floor to assist and advise the customers. If a company promoter was on the shop floor, then the problem faced by Kanchana could have been avoided.

While the saying goes that “Customer is King or is always Right”, it doesn’t mean that they can get away with rudeness, arrogance or whatever behaviour they choose to display. To overcome this, many service organisations like hotels, restaurants, airlines and even retailers have in place policies that draw a line on customers maintaining decorum on their premises. If they find that a customer has crossed that line, the managers have been given the authority to not serve the customer or ask the customer to leave.

Joseph may like to explore this option. This said, Joseph and his team have to learn to resolve issues amicably so as to retain the customer because today customers have limitless options. If a retailer is not willing to bend over backwards to please him or her, they will take their business elsewhere. In addition to that, let us not forget that the internet provides them a platform to voice their opinion and even tarnish the image of the retailer if they so choose.

Now let us take a look at the internal issue at Namma Retail – of Ganapati, the store manager, Jagdish, the supervisor and Rajeswari, the young inexperienced shop floor assistant.

First, Jagdish, being a supervisor, should have approached the incident with the intention of defusing the situation. Ideally he should have sent Rajeswari to the back office, then taken customer Chandu aside and pacified him. This approach generally results in the customer cooling down and, at times, even apologising.

Ganapati’s dealing with Rajeswari and Jagdish, leaves a lot to be desired. He could have been a lot more understanding and compassionate with Rajeswari and taken the opportunity to appreciate her for the initiative taken while explaining to her some of the hard realities of retail customer service. Now coming to Jagdish. Ganapati could have ticked him off or warned him in the privacy of his office that attitude displayed by him was not acceptable rather than make a spectacle of it in front of his peers and subordinates.

What Ganapati probably missed out is that his no-nonsense and matter-of-fact stand has now resulted in two of his staff feeling victimised. Moreover the issue could lead to labour related problem with his store staff ganging up to get justice for Rajeshwari.

Finally, at this juncture, I am tempted to quote Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Anil Menon

The writer is freelance retail consultant and trainer. He has over 10 years experience in modern retail as Operations Head of Food World, now Spencer’s Super Markets, Hyderabad. He was also the Operations Head of India’s first Hypermarket, Giant, now called Spencer’s in Musheerabad, Hyderabad

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