The (Lost) Art of Customer Service

Comments 12 by Rebecca Bollwitt

In this is the age of “do it yourself” with self-serve checkouts and the ability to purchase anything, anywhere, anytime from the comfort of our own living room with a computer, I actually really miss some nice in-person, good old fashioned customer service.

When I worked in retail (Surrey Place Mall represent!) we had a store rule of “10 seconds or 10 feet”. If someone was 10 feet in the store or had been there for 10 seconds, we were to greet them if even with a, “Hello.” This seems to be rarity these days. Either stores have elusive un-badged or unmarked personnel, or employees that circle you in vulture-like fashion waiting to tear apart your wallet for their commission. Here are a few mini-stories about some recent customer service experiences.

Photo credit: John Bollwitt on Flickr

On the bright side…
Duane recently wrote of his pleasant experience at the Apple Store in Vancouver, “The best part about the store is that every employee I talked to was absolutely thrilled that they were working there. And not just that — they were all extremely knowledgeable people. I had random chats about Photoshop, Garageband, the Apple Air, and everything else I could think of, and the responses I got from the employees showed that they were all serious Mac power users.” [Duane on]

Keira and I were shopping in a specialty store one afternoon and when we walked in (being the only customers at the time) the shopkeeper was on the telephone with someone who seemed to be inquiring about different sizes for various items. The entire time we were in the store (about 15 minutes) not once did the clerk recognize that we were there. We picked up some items (we had gift certificates so we couldn’t really just go anywhere else) and when we were standing at the till she was still on the phone until she realized that for my debit transaction she had to free up the line. Again, when I worked in retail 10 years ago we were told that the in-store customer always comes first. Take a name, number and message and return the call another time – there were always plenty of lulls in traffic throughout the day that were ideal for such a thing.

Since switching to a new host for my website I experienced about 12 hours of downtime within the first month. To me, it was pretty appalling and inexcusable but every time I called customer service they were so friendly and helpful, my rage subsided, I listened to their excuses and I hung up the phone every time saying, “I think I’ll give them another chance.”

John and I love breakfast, I think it’s our favourite meal of the day. As a result we’ve checked out numerous restaurants and diners around the Lower Mainland and know where to get the best pan fries, where you can sub hash browns for fruit, and who has (literally) the greasiest spoon. I once told him we can probably match up our favourites with the ones that keep the coffee flowing and refilled the most frequently.

Photo credit: Lloyd Budd on Flickr

Restoring my faith…
Yesterday I had to get some cash and the only ATM I could think of (close by on my lunch break) was a small independent one tucked away in the back of a convenience store in Yaletown. I choked down the $1.25 transaction fee and selected the $40 option from the machine’s menu. After a few clicks and whirs a 20 dollar bill popped out… and that was it. I informed the store owner and she told me that there’s nothing really she could do but call the machine’s company. She took down my number and I walked back to my office, down $20, feeling really stupid for using something so sketchy. I logged on to my online banking account, printed our a copy of the transaction and took it back to the store for their records. Back at the office again the store owner called and said she started looking around the machine and tucked up in the cash dispenser she saw my bill stuck between two metal plates. She said I could come back and get it any time so after work I headed on over for a third time. They handed me a crisp $20 from their till and even paid me back my transaction fee while apologizing up and down for my experience. If I could have skipped back to the office in my heels I would have.

Great customer service leaves the consumer feeling content and confident with their decision to deal with the establishment. Also, customer service is not all about tips, a steady and repeat customer-base is to be valued most and it can be gained no matter the nature of the business. You don’t need to bother the customer every minute or hold their hand while they browse the store, you should simply be available to offer advice and answer questions (I actually like to know a lot about what I’m purchasing). This ultimately provides the most positive experience.

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12 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Tyler IngramThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 7:11am PDT

    When I worked in retail it got to the point where I didn’t want to talk to the customers because they just wasted my time. I don’t care if you’re mum bought you lunch today, are you going to buy that item and return it to me within out 15day period or not? lol

    I remember when I worked for another big-box company learning the in’s and out’s of their store and sitting at the counter while 4 of the other employees around me started pointing to me who would be and wouldn’t be buying things.

    Another aspect I disliked about the above company working retail was when someone would ask me if I spoke a particular language. I’d say no and get someone who could. Only to find out a few minutes later they were speaking English anyway.

    Oh don’t get me started on those customers who think they know more than the sales rep and butt into a conversation between me and a customer only to have the customer go against my recommendation and go with the product that this ‘all knowing 3rd customer’ recommended and then to have the person come back a couple days letter to return the product saying that they should of listened to me in the first place.

    Just remember as a customer, if you don’t keep me happy, you don’t get paid! mauahah

    Shall I continue? Naw… I’m sure others have stories too!

  2. RaulThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 7:25am PDT

    I recently blogged about my negative experience with Rogers’ customer service. But they’ve come through now 🙂

    Great post, Rebecca!

  3. Mom604Thursday, June 5th, 2008 — 9:08am PDT

    I remember walking into a lovely ladies dress shop with the intention of getting rid of some hard-earned cash. I stopped at one rack of tops, when a saleslady immediately called out to me in a loudish and not-so-pleasant voice, “The large sizes are at the front!” (I was only a size 10 at the time!) I only replied, “Thank you” can walked out the door, never to return. I’m not quite sure what happened after that, but I did mention the event to several people and by the next month, the shop was shut down? Coincidence? Hmmm……

  4. Rebecca GillisThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 9:09am PDT

    Customer service has definitely taken a ‘back burner’ on the best ways to run an effective business.

    Last December I got married and moved to the prairies with my husband who is a pilot in the Canadian Air Force. Upon my arrival there was one thing I noticed from day one that had me shocked… the lack of customer service. Now I’m not the type that goes into a store and wants the sales clerks ‘falling all over me trying to help’… but to be acknowledge as even being in the store would be nice 🙂 For me, making sure my customers are happy and extremely pleased with the work I do is extremely important. I make sure to go that extra mile ever time so my customers leave having had a great experience.

    If I go into a place with poor customer service or with ‘snooty’ sales people, I will just simply not go back again. My husband and I talked about this one day after I had a horrible experience with a downtown shop. A more expensive place with really nice dresses and clothes. I entered the store wearing a pair of old jeans, flip flops and a tank and the women in the store didn’t even look at me sideways let alone acknowledge my existence… so I experimented a little… dressed in a more business like attire and went back. Not only did they acknowledge me… they practically stumbled over me trying to help me look for a perfect dress… what does that tell you?

  5. fotoeinsThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 11:53am PDT

    When I lived in Germany, the word “Kundendienst” (Customer Service) was considered by us ex-pats as relatively nonexistent, although on subsequent trips back, things have generally improved … some. Flying back and forth between Germany and North America, I had to get used to the switch back and forth, especially with widely varying levels of customer service.

  6. Mom604Thursday, June 5th, 2008 — 12:09pm PDT

    I have discovered in my travels abroad that unless you have specific business and know exactly what you want to buy in a shop, they do not encourage ‘just browsing’ in their stores. I know it used to be like that, but it may have changed somewhat now.

  7. suck cityThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 12:42pm PDT

    Minimum work. for minimum wage.

  8. Keira-AnneThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 3:51pm PDT

    I totally forgot about our experience at that particular store! I was pretty appalled actually. Had the owner/manager been around, that would’ve never happened. I’d like to see a nice balance between customer service. While I don’t mind being greeted and it’s nice to have someone around when I’m ready to try something on or make a purchase, the other end of the scale is less than favourable. I can’t stand it when the employees jump down your throat or simply won’t leave you alone.

    When I was a teenager, my friends and I would play “The Gap Game.” Basically, whoever got to the back of the Gap, touched the wall and made it out again without being accosted by one of their employees was the winner. We all lost, all the time.

  9. JodiThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 4:03pm PDT

    Customer Service is why Nordstrom’s has such loyalty. That and great shoes.

    I would LOVE to see a breakdown of good breakfast places on the lower mainland.

  10. LucThursday, June 5th, 2008 — 4:58pm PDT

    Maybe you could start a series about your favorite places for breakfast and brunch? Share the secrets, please 🙂

  11. MonicaFriday, June 6th, 2008 — 8:46pm PDT

    I agree with everyone about a breakfast/brunch series! De Dutch totally has to be on the list!!

    I think of customer service as “hit or miss”.

  12. AndrewSaturday, June 7th, 2008 — 9:19pm PDT

    Great customer service and wonderful healthy breakfasts and food all day The Dish on Davie
    Give it a try!!!

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