Customer service, anyone?

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Among my errands this afternoon was a trip to Bloomingdale's to return a pair of trousers. I walked up to the counter in the DKNY clothing section, and as I approached, two employees behind the counter murmured to each other: One said, "It's your turn," to which her co-worker replied, "No, you take this one." Presumably they were discussing who would help me with my return.

I stood there for a moment or two, one walked away, the other tried to look busy and a third clerk, already ringing up another customer, finished there and asked immediately if she could help me.

Finally. But frustrating in the interim, as I waited for someone to begrudgingly help me out with a simple return in a store I've spent a good sum of money in over many years. I bring this up because it points to one of those basics of good marketing that is too often overlooked: attention to customer service.

Whether you rely on a CRM system to help keep track of customer purchases online, or clerks in the retail store, satisfying customer service is crucial. Especially in Bloomingdale's. The New York department store just day opened a store in Santa Monica, California, modeled on the store's SoHo boutique branch. The word boutique is relative; the floor plan is 80,000 square feet of selling space. If you're going to devote that kind of real estate to commerce, you better do a very good job of it because online sales will continue to eat your lunch otherwise.Crowds and checkout lines already keep people away from retail; don't add poor customer service to the mix.

As Forrester Research analyst Patti Freeman Evans notes in her Postmortem: US Online Holiday Season 2009 report published recently, online holiday buyers bought more online in 2009 for "convenience, selection and price."

Smart retailers who have a multichannel presence in-store and online need to continue to pay attention to treating customers well no matter where they shop.

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