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Goods driven by service sector

Year-end results show that trading organisations have seen success but more growth is possible — including in the service sector
By Yuri Chernyakevich

In advance of the World Ice Hockey Championship, being hosted by Minsk in May, preparations continue at full speed. As hospitable hosts, we want every guest to feel comfortable, so new sports buildings and hotels are being launched and English language signs installed across the capital.

The service sector is particularly active, explains first Deputy Trade Minister Artur Karpovich. Speaking at a recent press conference in Minsk, he noted that shop workers, and others in the public service sector, are being given foreign language lessons. Of course, goods bearing championship emblems are on sale everywhere. Meanwhile, foreign visitors to dozens of Minsk shops are able to use a VAT refund system to reclaim their tax. Belarus is the first among CIS states to introduce such a system.

Trade figures for 2013 are up, for sales of foodstuffs and non-foods: most bear the recognised brand ‘made in Belarus’. Naturally, more is always possible. Customer service can certainly be improved, with shop assistants playing their part to tell customers more about goods available, and any attractive discounts. Recent monitoring by the Trade Ministry has shown that few shop assistants can communicate with foreign customers, even in the capital’s largest shopping centres. In advance of a major world event, the problem is especially topical.

Just as our impression of a theatre begins with the coatroom, so are impressions of a country formed while shopping. A smile from a shop assistant may inspire a visitor to return again to Belarus, just as being ignored may inspire the opposite. 2014 is Belarus’ Year of hospitality, with the aim of driving forward tourism:  the ‘golden goose’.

Service in the sphere of trade should reach the highest level, being an axiom of modern life. According to Аmеriсаn Express — the world’s largest service corporation — most customers who receive bad shop service never return, resulting in loss of income. All this is perfectly understood by the Ministry for Trade, which is taking all measures to raise Belarusian customer service to meet world standards.

Lyudmila Petrakovskaya, an adviser in trade and services for the Trade Ministry, emphasises, “I agree that quality of customer service is sometimes lacking — both in our capital’s supermarkets and in small regional shops. This occurs despite the quantity of shopping centres growing annually. We know about this problem and are working on it, holding regular seminars and training sessions. We’ve been inviting foreign experts to share their expertise with our service sector workers and have seen progress over recent years.”

The Ministry considers that it will take some time for the service sector in Belarus to reach European level, with shop assistants understanding that being affable is part of their job. Perhaps, as competition grows, it will inspire more rapid progress, ensuring that local and foreign customers receive friendly service. 
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