The long vision of SpecSavers versus the short-sightedness of Boots

I’ve always believed that it’s the little things that really matter when it comes to excellent customer service.

I’m talking about the types of thing that don’t require a huge effort by an employee of a company, or a conscious thought that an action is required because of customer engagement training or a policy about customer service. It’s more about the willingness and ability of the employee to know instinctively that what he or she does to address a customer need, request or concern will have an effect in some way on the relationship with that customer.

In sum, it’s all about an employee with confidence – in his or her abilities, knowledge of the company and its whole ethos – to make a positive difference in how the customer feels about that employee and the company he or she represents, and vice versa. It can have a positive impact that lasts for years.

I have a perfect example to share with you, two contrasting experiences of my own.

A week ago, I visited a Boots store, one of the large out-of-town stores, looking for a case for my sunglasses. I wanted a soft case not one of those hard shell-type cases. They seem to be very hard to find but I figured surely Boots must have such things. They do glasses, after all, although this particular store didn’t have an opticians department.

But sure enough, I found precisely what I was looking for in a pretty logical place – the section in the store with a big sign above it saying ‘Sunglasses.’ The items had no price tags I could see but I thought they’d tell me at the checkout how much they cost.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the checkout and the cashier said he couldn’t let me have a case unless I bought a pair of sunglasses. It turned out that the cases were promo items, giveaways with the sunglasses. I asked him if I could just buy a case. That wasn’t possible, he said, as there would be no price reference to the case when he scanned the barcode.

As I was buying a handful of other products on this visit, I asked the cashier if I could have the case anyway. I said it with a big smile, even if it was a bit cheeky. But he said no, he wasn’t allowed to do that.

I noticed he hesitated before he said that – and I’ll swear he really wanted to say yes.

But it was ‘No’ that I heard so I paid for the items I had and left the store. On my drive along the motorway, I mused on that experience, one that will remain with me when I think of Boots and the service offered by its employees. The store cashier was polite and friendly enough but unempowered and without confidence, it seemed clear to me. Maybe such behaviour might be a major improvement focus after Walgreens completes its £6 billion acquisition of Boots.

Maybe they’ll import some good old-fashioned American style of customer service! Mind you, that doesn’t look like perfection at Walgreens either.

Wind forward to Friday and a visit to London with my wife. Walking along Cardinal Walk, Victoria, my wife spotted a SpecSavers store and said “I bet they have a case!” It wasn’t entirely a random suggestion as SpecSavers is where we both had eye tests and bought new glasses (including sunglasses) in July, although not at this specific store.

So we went in and I asked the young man who approached us if he had a soft case. And he did. He asked me if I was a SpecSavers’ customer; my reply, of course, was yes although not this particular store, to which his response was, “Here you are, with our compliments” referring to the case. And he included a soft lens cleaning cloth for good measure.

Now that’s what I call service! Especially that final gesture, adding the lens cloth. Nothing earth-moving in terms of galvanising resources, a cost implied or otherwise, or making a huge fuss. Just one empowered employee with lots of confidence, a natural ability to engage and a winning smile.

These are two different experiences in two different stores from these two different firms. Each firm suggests excellent customer service is what each offers in all its stores, as you’d expect them to do, even if the corporate structure of each firm is different: SpecSavers is more of a franchise model than Boots. So I’m not suggesting my experiences reflect what you might expect in every store at each company, all the time. This is people we’re talking about, after all.

What I am saying is that these were my experiences with Boots and SpecSavers last week and on Friday respectively, experiences that, believe me, will influence not only my own behaviour when it comes to visiting a pharmacy or an opticians in future, but also in what I may answer to anyone who asks me what I think of each firm.

Like I said earlier, it is the little things that really matter.

(Photo at top via Frank Gruber under Creative Commons License)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Casper_tweets

    Boots do odd things sometimes, my example is that I order everything online as no time to visit shops cos I’m at work mostly. Pretty much all retailers offer free pick up which saves £££ and also as I won’t be home anyway its not worth the money. Boots charge for you to pick up unless it’s £20 or more!!!! Since I found out (the 1st time I spent less than £20) I don’t bother using their service out of principle. Not my favourites anymore.

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