Happy to be of service

Q My staff get quite competitive about who has the best rapport with customers. It's all good-natured and seems to inspire a desire to be as friendly and helpful as possible. Would it be worthwhile, or counter-productive, to turn this into some sort of competition?

A Friendly, helpful staff are the single most important element of a positive retail experience - and are valued more by customers than factors such as range, price, availability and location.

That's the view of Fizzback, a consultancy specialising in customer response, following research among 500 shoppers who provided feedback to retailers.

It found that 63 per cent of positive comments related to helpful staff.

Chief executive Rob Keve said: "Increasingly, we see that good service is the thing that differentiates a retailer from its competitors.

"Poor or faulty products account for more than 40 per cent of complaints, but we are scant with praise when a product works well - only 8.4 per cent of all positive feedback relates to products."

Fizzback recommends "making it simple for customers to give feedback, both positive and negative", which allows employers to address problems and reward the best staff. "It's a great motivational tool," Keve adds.

Make feedback forms accessible and easy to complete, and perhaps incentivise customers to go to the bother of completing one with a monthly prize draw for a bottle of wine.

Staff receiving the most positive feedback could be rewarded with vouchers, Champagne or time off. The system will obviously break down, though, if you can't trust your team to be honest and not rig the vote.


I am redesigning the layout of my shop and would like to get hold of some old barrels to use for display purposes and possibly a tasting table. Where can I find some?

A Old whisky barrels are obviously in limited supply but some do find their way on to the market once they have come to the end of their working life. Many are sold to garden centres, which often saw them off to produce attractive planters, though some are sold intact as water butts.

Bakers & Larners in Holt, Norfolk, sell complete 225-litre wine barrels for £65 plus delivery. Check out their website at bakersandlarners.com for more information. You will also find barrels of various sizes and quality on eBay.

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