In the contemporary globalised world of business, with its attendant stiff competitions, effective customer care is universally accepted as a sine-qua-non for corporate survival, profitability and growth. It is an offshoot of the marketing concepts, which emphasizes customers’ satisfaction, as opposed to the selling concept, which is organization-centric (Edeani, 1996:163).
According to Kotler (1997:530), customer care practices include all those activities which cast an organization in positive light before its customers and thus, aimed at wining and retaining their patronage. They revolve around such organizational activities like:
- Pre-purchase information, education and services;
- Public relations programmes
- Sales promotional programmes
- Appropriate pricing and sales-discounts
- Conducive selling environments
- Appealing organizational staff attitude to or friendly corporate culture with customers
- Neat, attentive, assiduous and customer-friendly sales-attendants.
Hence, customer care practices have been identified as a key factor that could influence customer’s decision to buy products from a particular supermarket instead of the other.
Talking about supermarket, Kurtz and Boone (1984:429) defines it as a large-scale department entalised retail store: offering a variety of food products such as meats, produce, diary products, canned goods and frozen foods, in addition to various non-food items. It operates on self-service basis and emphasizes low prices and adequate parking facilities.
To remain in business, a supermarket must be abreast of its competitor activities and also customers-focused. This will guide the firm to adjust her policies, products and services towards meeting both competition and customers’ needs. To be customer-focused, you must continually engage you customers; learn their needs and preference and act upon the information acquired. Companies that do so gain a tremendous advantage: the ability to customaize products and services to individual request (Leerskov (2004:4).
Ultimately, customers will remember more, how a company treated them, than where they interacted with it, Schmitt and Schmitt (2003). This underscores the importance of customer-cares in winning and retaining customers. In the views of Jeff Thull (2003:24), “Knowing thy customers and what they value most and then, taking the challenge to deliver it as they want, makes the difference between corporate failure and success”. Those seeking a Panacea regarding all customer information and touch points, or interactions, must evaluate their channel partner regarding all customer information and touch points, or interactions, must evaluate their channel partner mix and technology usage aimed at competing with highly adaptive rivals. Many customer relationship management (CRM) projects will fail-doomed before code is written, processes changed or employee roles redesigned – because they focus on improving customer relationships for values not understood, around corporate infrastructures that support outdated business models. The widely evangelized merits or CRM rely on an infrastructure that will listen to and extract knowledge about customers, enhancing a company’s understanding of their needs expectations and behaviours and enabling it to respond dynamically to opportunity (new products and services) or change (i.e. when, where and how customers want to conduct business), yet fulfilling this directive across customer touch points – direct sales, services, marketing as well as all resellers ,value added resellers distributors and partners would be an overwhelming, if not impossible goal involving daunting issues such as security. User acceptance. Support, data integrity, and managing knowledge compilation and data sharing. Many companies i.e. for the same business and would unlikely share their knowledge with competitive partners. Few companies have realized a smaller version of this goal within their sales, service and marketing organization (Ritchkoff, 2000:16). Moreover, such a myopic vision of customer values and needs cannot deliver the ultimate value sought. (Ritchkoff, 2000) adds. Is time being wasted in assimilating customer knowledge to be used in selling to buyers who now insist on buying rather than being sold? Sellers focus on marketing, selling and product support. Yet customers focus on shopping, buying and problem resolution. Missing this point perpetuates divided enterprise.
Money has been spent to build efficiency based CRM systems-to improve flow and achieve prescribed objectives. Such objectives include compiling comprehensive knowledge about customers that enables selling from a position of understanding – about trends, needs; buying habits etc. those objectives also incorporate delivering data to marketers who attempt to be more focused in traditional marketing, though experts espouse the virtues of one-to-one marketing. Finally, CRM objectives entail providing comprehensive information to service and support functions so that call center personnel, for example can respond more quickly and accurately to customer questions. Though CRM systems need to be designed to optimize customer satisfaction, integrated voice response units can be used to capture customer calls and drive customers to tears before giving a sales representative the opportunity to serve them.
To be successful therefore, managers and owners of supermarkets in Nigeria must ask themselves the following questions, according to peppers and Rogers (2000):
- How do our customers want to buy from us short term or long term?
- What do our customers most deeply value?
- What business models allow us to adapt quickly to daily market demands while serving customers expectations and our business needs?
- What is a practical strategy of integrating customer interactions through, internal business functions and external constituencies?
- What is the future for direct sales, resellers and intermediaries in the market?
- Do we understand the 21st century customers and know how to sell and service that culture?
- What is a logical, manageable strategy for doing so?
- What can we do today to avoid poor execution of our existing customer interaction activities?
To what extent therefore are supermarkets in Nigeria living true to these standards? Are the sales attendants friendly to customers most of the times? Do they talk to customers in courteous and respectful manners? Are they prompt to customers’ calls and requests? Do they take care to render to their customers adequate -sales and after sales services/attention? Do they undertake periodic appraisal of customer needs and how they want those needs served them? Are their business practices customers friendly and customer-focused’?
All these, we would try to unravel in this study with a special focus on selected major supermarkets in Enugu metropolis ,Eastern shop, Heritage supermarket and Roban stores.
1.2 BACKGROUND OF OUR CASE-STUDY FIRMS.
- THE EASTERN SHOP ENUGU.
The Eastern Shop Enugu started as a family business by two brothers. It was incorporated in December 1411, 1976, as Omenka Unity Trading Company which was later divided into Gaylads stores and Eastern Shop.
According to Nwafor A. A., THE general manager administration, the eastern shop has a branch in Nsukka and in other places which were later closed down. Easter shop opened up another branch in Onitsha in 1998.
The objectives of the shop include:
- To Provide for peoples product needs;
- To add to the economic activities of the country;
- To provide employment for people’
- To make profit for the owners.
Eastern shop has good quality staff and a wide range of locally manufactured and imported products. Hence, two types of products are sold in the shop. These includes
- a) Topic from manufacturers: Where the manufacturers usually fix the prices for their products which is cheaper than market price;
- b) Topics from middleman or wholesalers;
The shop gets goods from abroad twice a year. Some customer practices available in shop according to the General Manager, come in form of
- Going for market survey before fixing product prices;
- Special festive season sales which opens for a longer period in the nights;
- Offers clearance
- Provides security and parking space for customer
- Offer large discount for quantity sales.
“The strategic positioning of the shop, according to Nwafor, the general manager Admin, helps to reduce advertising. Hence, the shop’s corporate and previous goodwill is an advantage. Also, the company tries to offer quality products and the staff are trained to be courteous to customers. At eastern shop, customers are s right, therefore letters of apology arc usually offered to offended customers. The shop refunds a customer whenever he/she is over-charged. Eastern shop products are displayed attractively and carry price tags. The company packages their products in specially designed bags.
- HERITAGE SUPERMARKET.
According to Nzurumike, Donald, the manger, Heritage Supermarket, the firm was established in February 1993 to make profit and also satisfy the customer’s needs with genuine and high quality products.
The firm has branches in Cross River and Abuja. Agbo Paul, the salesman, state that some of the customer care practices of the company include; discount to large quality purchases. Also during Christmas period, some special customers are given gifts packages to encourage regular patronage.
The company engages in adverts and publicity both in radio and television. To ensure customer satisfaction, expired goods are removed from the shelves on regular basis while the supermarket engages in corporate sponsorship of sports event and programmes. To ensure effective pricing of their goods, the heritage supermarket engage in market survey and market research to make sure that their goods are sold within current markets prices. The supermarkets take care of their customers by proper packaging and proper display of products. Therefore there are also parking spaces for their customer that comes to the supermarkets with their cars or vehicles. The companies attend promptly to complaints and make refunds where necessary.
- ROBAN STORES:
This is owned by Chief Rob Onwatu, a prominent member of the Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, ECCIMA. The supermarket• which competes with Eastern shop as to which is number one in Enugu, is situated at Abakaliki Road, adjacent the Enugu Trade fair complex.
As at the time of’ this researcher’s call at the supermarket, the manager could no be reached for an interview. But the other sales attendants were busy responding to customers.
The place is really a beauty to watch with neatly stacked assortments of local and foreign goods with price tags on each of them. There is adequate spacing and passageways for a would-be customer to walk around while doing his/her pickings. Everything there seemed well-organized.
These researcher however spend about two hours at the place, serving in-coming customers with questionnaire on this study.
1.3 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Over the years, there has been a high rate of liquidation/closure of Supermarkets in most Nigerian cities. This according to some experts accrues not from mismanagement from the owners/workers in those firms, but from low customers patronage. Building a profit-sustainable customer age and achieving time customers’ intimacy continue to be an elusive dream for most supermarket operators in Nigeria.
Majority of Nigerian prefer to do their shopping from the open markets, not minding the better environments, price-discounts and probable better services from the supermarket. All these, then raises some pertinent questions:
- Are the sales-attendants in Nigerian Supermarkets friendly to customers all the time?
- Do they take care to render to customers adequate pre-sales and after-sales services and respond promptly to customers’ complaints?
- Do they talk to customers in courteous and respectful manners?
- Do they undertake periodic appraisal of customers needs and how they want those needs to be served to them?
- Are their business policies/practices tailored to be customers-friendly and customers focused?
Unraveling the answers to all above mentioned question, is therefore, the major thrust of this study.
1.4 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
The main objectives of this study are;
- To ascertain if sales-attendants in Nigerian Supermarkets are friendly to their customers always
- To find out if they render to customers adequate pre-sales and after-sales services/attention.
- To discover if they respond promptly and satisfactorily to customer complaints.
- To verify if they undertake periodic appraisal of customers needs and wants.
- To ascertain if their business policies/practices are customers-oriented and customers-focused.
- RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS
To find answers to the above, the following hypotheses were formulated for tests:
- Ho:: Most sales attendants in Nigerian Supermarkets
Do not display friendly attitudes to customers.
Hi: Most sales-attendants in Nigerian Supermarkets display friendly attitudes to customers.
- Ho: Supermarkets in Nigeria do not render to
Customers’ adequate pre-sales and after-sales services/attention.