Agents were taken aback when a 'mystery shopper' revealed she had visited four Advantage shops and was appalled by the way she was treated.
Without revealing the names of the agencies, brand guru Kate Hardcastle told Advantage agents at the annual conference in Malta that only one of the four provided decent customer service.
In one shop, Hardcastle, a partner at Insight With Passion, said she literally had to beg to get one of four members of staff to serve her.
Hardcastle said she visited the four agencies - all Advantage members - to inquire about a family holiday to Disneyland Paris. In three of them, she was handed brochures and was allowed to walk away.
When she returned to one shop, she said the sales consultant was so enthusiastic about Disney he tried to sell her a holiday to Florida when she had specifically asked to go to Paris, and he let her walk away without taking her name and number.
"In another shop, they just wanted to give me more brochures. They didn't want to connect with me at all."
However, Hardcastle spoke highly of one agency, a long-established local brand, where the brochures were all racked behind the counter and she was asked to make an appointment to speak to a sales consultant.
She said the biggest downfall of most businesses was a lack of communication. Agents need to find out what customers want, tell their staff, enhance the offer and build a brand that sends a clear message to the consumer, she said.
They need to target their market - not try to sell to everyone - and follow up on every lost sale to find out how they can do better. They also need to create a better in-store experience for customers to stimulate their senses.
"Sixty per cent of purchases are decided in-store. People are coming in to book a holiday. They haven't popped in by accident," she said.
"Turn the Steve Wright in the Afternoon quiz show off. They want to book a holiday they've saved up for. Don't spoil the experience."
At the same time, she urged agents not to sell solely on price. Surveys showed, she said, that only 20% of customers would refuse to pay more for a better service. Hardcastle said a quarter of lost business was due to poor customer care.
Ending her rapid-fire presentation, full details of which are available to members on the Advantage website, Hardcastle warned agents: "Eighty per cent of businesses that are struggling are struggling because they're not doing a good job."
She left the stage leaving the audience wondering which of their shops she had visited - and which was the one she rated.
By Linsey McNeill
Monday, April 30, 2012