Cork has become the first city in Europe to launch a customer service charter for businesses.
It includes guidelines on customer service, cleanliness and accessibility, and was launched in response to the global shift towards online shopping.
The architects of the charter say their aim is to make Cork a city of excellent customer service to set it apart from others in a bid to encourage shoppers to go into the city centre and support businesses instead of shopping online.
According to Retail Ireland, about 50% of Irish consumers shop online and this figure is rising all the time. A recent retail study by PwC said that 38% of 25-34-year-olds shop online weekly and some estimates have forecast sharper increases in online shopping in the year ahead.
Joan Lucey of Vibes and Scribes and the Cork City Centre Forum, a collaboration between various city businesses and public sector groups, said that traditional and high street businesses can compete in terms of offering a standout shopping experience.
"Forecasts for the coming year suggest a 30% swing to online purchasing and also customers looking for an interactive shopping experience," she said.
"This is where we in the brick-and-mortar shops can compete and win. Customers now want a real connection and a very high-quality service, so we all need to look regularly at our offering. We may feel we are doing our best but we now have to compete with our customers shopping in the comfort of their homes and retail experts all agree that customer service is the key to a successful bricks-and-mortar business."
The customer service charter is the first of its kind in Europe and gives businesses a list of guidelines and training on service, customers and the city. It focuses on fundamentals such as friendliness, accessibility and cleanliness, as well as the likes of respect, inclusivity and excellence. It was launched to coincide with Local Enterprise Week 2019.
It is the latest initiative undertaken in a bid to improve customer service in the city.
In 2018, 15 city businesses took part in a pilot training programme which made use of mystery shoppers to monitor progress and improvements in terms of enhancing their customer service. A second training programme will begin in late March.
John McCarthy, general manager of Penneys, is also involved in the initiative. He said: "We see this as another step in an ongoing journey. There is a great mix of organisations participating with large department stores and independents retailers, hospitality businesses and public service bodies. We believe this is the only such charter in Europe and we believe it will be another asset as we continue to promote the unique offering in Cork city centre."
The Cork City Customer Service Charter was developed over the past two years in collaboration with Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), which conducted research with city centre businesses and developed the training programme.