Uniqlo vs H&M: How customer service can put your brand on top

April 10, 2013

In the world of fast fashion, your employees can make all the difference.

You’re never fully dressed without a smile — Annie, the musical

I remember when the first H&M retail store opened in New York City. I was among the masses anxiously awaiting the moment, credit card in hand. In college, I had studied abroad in Sweden and had come home with a whole extra duffel bag of clothes I purchased at their stores in Stockholm. Trendy, fashionable clothes at affordable prices — what 20-something wouldn’t love it?

But over the years, the H&M experience has become less of an anticipated adventure and more of a necessary evil for those who are budget-constrained. Crowded, messy racks are difficult to sort through. Dressing rooms are overflowing with piles of unwanted items that have not been re-racked. Long lines at the register end with an emotionless interaction with a limp, fashion-conscious youth. Chaos seems to overlay the entire store. The last time I bought something there, my salesperson barely paid attention to me but rather listened to a story about how hungover her coworker was and then they mutually complained about another salesperson. While the clothes remain representative of stylish and playful Swedish design, the overall brand experience has become unruly. It’s as if the stereotypes of Swedish design and American manners have mashed together in the most unattractive way.

Enter Uniqlo. The Japanese company has recently announced its plans for world domination and few are balking at the seemingly outrageous claim of becoming the number one clothing retailer by they year 2020. The leaders of the company have realized that maintaining impressive growth requires incredible discipline and steady control over the entire brand experience. While their clothes may be simpler than H&M’s, leaning more toward wardrobe staples, there is nothing “basic” about the Uniqlo brand. Especially when it comes to customer service.

In a recent piece on CBS Sunday Morning we got a glimpse of the customer service training. Employees are drilled on how to say hello, where to stand, how to help a customer. They are even trained on how to smile. A little over the top? Perhaps. But they seem to truly understand that an employee is an extension of your brand, and whether they are on the clock or not, they are conveying messages about who you are and what you stand for.

The employees buy into it as well. Clearly, they are screened by the company for the right personality, but prospective employees also know what the expectations are. Uniqlo has a strong employer brand and a clear set of standards for whom they hire and how they should behave. The culture they have built for their staff creates a sense of togetherness, community and common purpose. It becomes something that brings everyone together for a clear, communal goal that they can take pride in accomplishing.

And what a difference it makes for the customer experience. As Larry noted in his piece on employee engagement, being greeted by an enthusiastic representative sets the tone for a brand experience. The welcoming environment keeps customers inside the store longer. And the longer they are there, the more likely they are to find something to purchase. While I may steel myself to dash into a chaotic store with surly employees to get that one flashy item, I’m much more content to browse around a well-organized store with friendly staff and stock up on basics. And I’m more likely to return if the experience is a pleasant one in my mind.

So often we hear about customer service experiences when they go awry. Let’s turn the tables and talk about those who do it right. Share your thoughts!

Do you have a store that you return to — or even may go out of your way to visit — because of the friendly staff?

When was the last time you were sincerely welcomed by a sales representative — did it affect your impression of the company?

blog comments powered by Disqus
Brandlogic and CoreBrand have become Tenet Partners — Where brand meets innovation®. More