Cork has become the first city in Europe to launch a customer service charter for businesses in a bid to help stores improve the shopping experience and meet the growing challenge from online shopping.
The guidelines are aimed at helping shops to improve their customer service, cleanliness and accessibility with an emphasis on respect and inclusivity to try and woo customers away from online.
The charter is the brainchild of the Cork City Centre Forum, which is a collaboration between Cork Chamber, Cork Business Association, Cork City Council, the Garda, and retail, hospitality and service sectors.
Shop owner, Joan Lucey of Vibes and Scribes, who led the initiative, said high-street businesses in Cork must work to ensure city shopping is an enjoyable experience for consumers.
“Forecasts for the coming year suggest a 30 per cent swing to online purchasing but customers are looking for an interactive shopping experience and this is where we, in the bricks and mortar shops, can compete.
“Cork has already been named as Europe’s friendliest city and we want to build on that accolade and become best in quality service also, but we need to work together to get there,” said Ms Lucey.
“No matter how wonderful you feel your service offering is, we can all be better. Customers now want a real connection and a very high-quality service, so we all need to look regularly at our offering.”
The rise of online
According to Retail Ireland, about 50 per cent of Irish consumers shop online and this figure is rising all the time while a recent retail study by PwC said that 38 per cent of 25-34-year-olds now shop online on a weekly basis.
Just last November, PwC found that the number of shop closures across Scotland’s high streets had accelerated in the first half of the year with 58 new shops opening but 107 closing – a net loss of 49.
The Cork Customer Service Charter follows a 2018 pilot training programme involving some 15 city-centre businesses which made use of mystery shoppers to monitor progress in their customer service.
The training course was delivered with the support of the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Cork City and a second training programme will begin in late March.
The charter was developed over the past two years in conjunction with Cork Institute of Technology which conducted research with city-centre businesses and developed the training programme.
Penneys general manager in Cork, John McCarthy was also involved in the initiative and said he firmly believed it would prove an important asset in helping Cork promote itself as a shopping centre.
“We see it as another step in an ongoing journey. There’s a great mix of organisations, participating with large department stores and independents retailers, hospitality businesses and public service bodies.”
Ms Lucey pointed out that retail experts all agree that customer service is the key to a successful bricks and mortar business that can compete with customers shopping from the comfort of their own homes.
“We’re doing our best but we need to do more – customer training and service is not just something you do like painting your shop or getting a new logo, it has to become part of the business culture.
“Consumers have platforms today that they never had before thanks to social media, so we need to turn that our advantage. Nobody raves about average on social media, they rave about excellence
“And that’s what we, as retailers, have to provide – an excellent shopping experience where consumers have a connection but it also stems from pride of place, pride in your business and pride in your city.”