Good Customer Service Not Dead – But It’s On Life Support

By Jason Menard

Everyone has their shopping war stories, but lately, stepping out to pour some money into the local economy has involved navigating an ever-growing minefield of surly staff, undertrained employees, and indifference that edges towards hostility.

And it’s not even Christmas yet? I’m starting to think that October has become the Exhibition Season for holiday rudeness. These employees are just honing their craft so that when the holiday rush comes they’ll have their surly game faces on!

During a recent shopping excursion I had to check where I was, because I suddenly felt like I had stumbled across a particular ring of the underworld that Dante missed – a retail purgatory of sorts. In a five-hour window I met the following individuals:

  • Grocery cashier who continues a conversation with a co-worker and never acknowledges my presence, not even to relay the total.
  • Department store employee (or at least the back of her head) who greets a politely posed question with a grunt and never looks up.
  • Toy store employee who, in explaining why a week-long sale is out of merchandise the morning after it starts, explains ‘it says while supplies last, what do you want me to do?’

And that’s just a few examples, the list goes on. Perhaps you’ve met them. And lest you think I’m the typical obnoxious customer, know that I’ve worked in retail during my youth. I understand what they’re going through, so I make it my mission to go out of my way to be pleasant with these employees.

But now I wonder if the effort’s worth it.

If I could take one positive out of all this negative, it would be that all the encounters I had were with older employees. I have always been bothered by the fact that teens and casually employed youth are often unfairly fingered for poor attitudes, while their older – and often crustier – co-workers are given a free pass. This retail rudeness is reaching epidemic proportions! No one is safe!

The problem is that too many of us take this rudeness and poor customer service sitting down. So, I got on the phone. I called supervisors, I called managers, I called head offices – and I got results! The toy store tracked down the items I needed from another location out of town. The managers said they would address the issues with their employees. Heck, even my cable company credited me for poor service.

The squeaky wheel truly does get the grease in our society. But why do we have to squeak at all? Why can’t the wheels of business roll smoothly? Why do we have to put up with these retail potholes? The simple answer is that we’ve let it happen to ourselves. Most of us desperately want to avoid confrontation, so we skulk off, muttering under our breaths about how offended and unappreciated we feel, yet doing nothing to address the issue.

It’s a lose-lose situation. We, the consumer feel worse about the store – but, more importantly, feel worse about ourselves. We then take that negativity and transfer it on to those who may not deserve it – kind of a reverse ‘Pay it Forward’ ideal.

The retailers? They lose at least one customer, without even knowing it. We may think we’re proving a point by saying, ‘Well, I’ll never shop there again.’ We may experience a cathartic release as we recount our shopping horrors to our friends and family, hoping to convince them to join us in our silent boycott of these stores. But the problem doesn’t get any better. Since the retailer doesn’t know a problem exists, how can they be expected to fix it?

We need to take an active role as consumers in ensuring that we receive the service we deserve! And I chose that word carefully. Many of us demand a level of service that we don’t deserve. Shopping is a two-way transaction, and we have a responsibility to conduct our business in a pleasant manner. Just as employees don’t have the right to ignore the consumer, nor does the consumer have the right to treat the employee as a servant, there to do one’s bidding.

So the next time you walk into a store, do so with a smile. Engage someone in conversation, share a joke, have a little patience, and just be pleasant! And if you don’t get the service you deserve, then make your voice heard. Talk to the manager, call the head office, do anything but settle for the status quo.

Because, if we turn a blind eye to the situation, then we really will get the service we deserve.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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