Why Target Starts Liquidation in Canada – Where Did Customer Service Go So Wrong?

I had to investigate what went wrong with Target’s launch into Canada. I had been so excited when they were arriving here, delighted that there would be no more line ups at the U.S. border for me. I really enjoyed shopping at Target in the States — in fact, I even looked up the closest location whenever I traveled there, knowing I would find a deal and some things I could not always find in Canada.

So what happened? Customer Service is so much more than smiling and friendly staff. Customer Service is understanding your customers, and executing on that promise. Target may have broken some basic rules of customer satisfaction.

Top 5 Rules for Customer Satisfaction

  1. Identify customers’ needs (from psycho demographics to demographics). Canadians did not want American flag bathing suits on Canada Day long weekend. Also Canada is multi-cultural and not only a fairly tolerant nation, but if you check out large grocery chains here, you will see they try to deliver and stock items for all different cultures, traditions and religions. Rule of thumb: “Know thy Customer”.
  2. Anticipate those needs (think supply chain and software or systems to manage those needs). If your shelves are empty, you lose money. Keep your order entry and transaction process running smoothly and look at the multiple options that YOUR customers want. Try to make sure you’ve got a system and appropriate software to track and fulfill this. If you go International, watch what holidays are different from your and their potential tastes? Also, shipping can be a nightmare when it gets delayed because you forgot certain holidays: for example, BC Day is every February on a particular Monday (it is only a provincial holiday but can wreak havoc on supply chain processes).
  3. Remember the WOW factor. It is always about creating “buzz” and then keeping that “buzz” going. In a matter of months, you become boring unless you can think of something new to introduce. The coffee industry has it right: introducing Candy Cane Frappuccino’s to “Flat White Espresso”.
  4. Don’t expand too fast and manage risks. Test market products, promotions, pricing. Learn and adjust. Plan for dollar fluctuations, snowstorms, blackouts, think “what could happen” and what is our backup plan.
  5. Create a “Culture of Care” starting with the leadership. Leaders have to have high emotional intelligence along with competence. They are sincere, transparent and have the capacity to understand others. They look for resolve. They track, investigate, ask questions, brainstorm and facilitate others to help fix problems from back end supply issues to front line customer service complaints. And by the way, if something is breaking down internally (you can easily identify the issues by going to any meeting and hear your staff complain), I guarantee your customer is getting “whapped in the face” with the problem – and they will go elsewhere. The top companies admit their problems and work on fixing them month by month, year by year.

It is with sadness that I see Target leave Canada, the job loss that this creates, and the impact to our economy when a business goes out of business. I went into developing customer service programs globally because I know if we can keep our customers happy, they keep coming back, and if they keep coming back we can keep more people employed. If we can get and keep more people employed, more money gets re-distributed and a town, city or country gets lifted into a decent or higher standard of living. Money is a current (currency) and it has to flow; poor service internally and externally stops the flow. I hope you care about your customers today, inside and out.

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