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A new study by the National Retail Federation (NRF) suggests that there are real differences between how shoppers and retailers view customer service.

According to the survey, all merchants believe that customer service is extremely important and 55 percent believe they have become more committed to customer service. However, stores also acknowledge that their customers do not feel that merchant commitment has changed.

When asked what customers thought was important, many merchants overestimated the value of certain service elements. For example, while 61 percent of merchants thought customers would say it was extremely important for store employees to be well educated about the merchandise, only 52 percent of customers cited that factor as being very important.

Additionally, 44 percent of merchants thought their customers would find it extremely important that employees get to know customers, while only 25 percent of customers saw it as extremely valuable. More than a third of merchants (35 percent) thought their customers would place a high importance on the quality of merchandise offered, though only one in five consumers felt quality was extremely important.

Nearly three out of four customers (71 percent) are extremely concerned with accurate item prices though only 58 percent of retailers saw accurate pricing as critically important to customers.

Additionally, three out of four shoppers (73 percent) felt that it was extremely important that retailers not share information with other companies, though only 59 percent of retailers saw this as important to shoppers. Staffing levels was another where gaps existed between retailers and consumers. While only 31 percent of retailers felt it was extremely important to customers that their stores were staffed with an adequate number of employees, 47 percent of customers thought that aspect was extremely important.

"In some areas, merchants are aligned with their shoppers, but in others, they are not," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. "There appears to be a disconnect in what consumers feel is important and what retailers value. When retailers are able to determine what their customers want, they can focus on improving areas where customers find real value."
KC's View:
No real surprise that retailers and shoppers have different views about customer service priorities.

But we have to say that we are concerned by the statistic suggesting that 73 percent of shoppers felt that it was extremely important that retailers not share information with other companies, while only 59 percent of retailers saw this as important to shoppers. This is an alarming discrepancy, and we certainly hope that retailers aren’t playing fast and loose with their lists.

Coincidentally, we happened to be watching NCIS last night, and in one scene a telemarketer was being questioned by an investigator about where call lists came from – and the marketer said that every time a person uses a loyalty marketing card in a supermarket, that shopper’s personal information and purchase history gets used to formulate targeted lists that are sold to telemarketing firms.

That’s a pretty inflammatory statement to be making on a hit television program that millions of people are watching. If it is not true, then the industry ought to somehow address what is clearly an image problem.