Whatever Happened to Customer Service?

Customer service is a big thing with me. If a salesperson points out an item that’s hiding down on a bottom shelf, or tells me when they’ll be getting more and gives me a raincheck, he scores major points. My basic personhood flourishes and I walk down the aisles feeling like more than just another shopping cart.
When I go to Macy’s, I love it when a sales person walks up to me and says, “Would you like me to start you a dressing room?” I unload my armful of sale merchandise – in sizes and colors that I hope both fit and match at least one thing I already own – and think someone really cares.
And when they don’t have it in my size, I expect the girl to at least grovel a bit: “I’m sorry. We seem to be out. Let me check in the back for you.” Frankly, I don’t care if she goes back there and uses the restroom. At least she’s shown some empathy.
Or they might suggest, “Shall I call another store?” Of course it might wind up that the only store carrying the item is 1000 miles away, but it’s the thought that counts.
My kids know I am a stickler when it comes to customer service. I tell the deli guy to put a mask over his beard, and heaven help him if he doesn’t change his gloves between the cheese and the meat.
When a clerk gives me the wrong change, I do not walk off and say, Forget about it. If they made a mistake and owe me money, I’m getting it back. Once I wrote a letter to the local office of a pizza company and another time to the U.S. Post Office to complain of being short-changed. Darned if I don’t get a check in the mail – both times.
As a result, my kids aren’t shy about asking for whatever they need. Once my daughter was billed $37 for a$3.70 order at Taco Bell. The purchase left her bank account overdrawn. In college at the time and busy attending classes, she asked for advice. We came up with a plan: ask the Taco Bell manager to FAX the bank, admitting it was his mistake, and request that her overdraft charges be taken off. The manager was a good guy. He not only took care of the paperwork, he let her eat at his restaurant free, anything off the menu, for one week!
When my husband and I were young marrieds we lived in a college town with a corner market. Home-owned and operated, they used butcher paper for their weekly window ads – BACON $.69/lb. I went in with the baby one day hoping to find some fresh spinach. They appeared to be out. The produce man asked if I could wait ten minutes. When he came back, he had a big bag bursting with spinach—fresh from his garden. No charge.

“Where’s the spinach?” I asked the produce man.

I’ve waited in line at U.S. Post Offices where the employees drag their feet. The sagging, pained expressions on their faces seem to say, “I hope I die soon.” Why don’t they quit? It must be because they have pensions coming, because they certainly don’t enjoy it.
The awareness of how we affect others may relate to our ability to tune into own feelings and needs. If we can’t feel anything ourselves, how can we feel anything for others?
In contrast to the “loser” postal workers, I know some who seem like they wear springs on their feet. At one Colorado Springs post office the clerks act like they’ve just won the lottery. One lively gal, whose head barely clears the counter, goes through every mailing option every single time. And she never misses a chance to ask if the customer has anything liquid, breakable, hazardous or perishable. I used to be in there about every other day and she never forgot. When the line goes out the door during peak hours or during the holidays, a nice person comes out from the back and asks if anyone has package slips or needs a passport. That way you don’t have to wait. Everyone is always pleasant, smiling and talking to customers. I mean, there’s definitely zip in their code.
We all have a choice in how we treat others. What do these people have that the others don’t?
You rarely see sales people on the floor at Wal-Mart stores anymore, but once I actually had a person wait on me while I shopped—the way I used to wait on customers at the department store where I worked in high school selling “daytime dresses, robes and maternity.” We’d take garments back to the dressing room for customers after they picked them off the rack, and when they went in to try them on, we stood by the door, in case they needed another size or color.
I had initially asked the sales girl at Wal-Mart about canning jars because I wanted to make pickles from my bumper crop of cucumbers; but I needed several other items, too. She knew how to communicate and led me to every item on my list. Unfortunately, the next time I visited the store, they said she didn’t work there anymore. Customer service, apparently, costs Wal-Mart too much money.
As a pregnant mom in my final trimester, I had several near melt-downs in grocery stores. I was ready to check out and saw only two registers open, both with long lines. Suddenly I felt faint and could barely stand. Gravity pulled at my uterus. I waddled to customer service and told the clerk, Excuse me, I’m really pregnant and if somebody doesn’t check me out right now, I’m going to have this baby on the floor. They always opened another register.
I’ve been to several grocery chains, including Kroger stores, where a couple of parking spaces are reserved for expectant mothers. They have storks on them and are close to the entrance. Now that’s customer service!
Some years ago, the produce man at my Kroger store knew I’d already bought two watermelons and returned them because they were unripe. The third time, he saw me coming and apologized. He told me to pick another one, and then he took it in back and cut it in two, just to make sure. He came out smiling, with two juicy red melon halves wrapped in plastic and marked “no charge.”
Just last summer a local good-ol’ boy grocery got some competition. In the past, they really couldn’t be bothered with customer service. A new health food store with bend-over-backwards service came to town. It has rock-bottom prices on 100% organic produce that’s so fresh it seems to be still growing. Now store number one is scrambling to to please customers. They’ve remodeled, put in specialty food stations, and improved customer service – but only somewhat. For the first time, a checker recently asked me if I had found everything I needed. They’re a little late to the party, and I’m laughing.
The money that stores save by not hiring enough employees or allocating adequate resources for training programs must be really important to them. Personally, I hate tromping up and down the aisle searching for a single item. I look all over for an employee who might know where it is. Sometimes at Target I find the stockers in a huddle, a couple of teenagers talking over the canned goods. I realize these are big stores, not the friendly corner market from my college days; and the produce man isn’t going to pluck spinach out of his garden for me. If they don’t have it, they’ll just tell me to fill out a customer request card, and then won’t follow up.
I wish they would get the message: money matters, but people matter more. FFG

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