Saturday, November 14, 2009

Customer service: response

My friend Rachel recently blogged about a horrifying experience she had at a Fashion Bug store in Alton Mo. Here's the link, go read what happened to her. I'll wait, and we can continue afterwards.

That's disgusting, and I'm so sorry that Rachel got sick. What I cannot believe is that no one apologized to her. I've been working in customer service my entire life and the first thing you always do when there is an incident is apologize, no matter what happened. If you messed up, you apologize. If it was someone else's mistake, you apologize. If it was an act of God, you apologize. EVEN IF THE CUSTOMER IS AT FAULT you apologize. Common decency, people.

I am appalled that no one has called or contacted her after her letter. Those who know me, know that I am a great believer in writing letters to companies, both when I've had great service and when it's been crap. I like to think that taking the time to actually put something on paper, something people can see I took time to write makes an impression; and I usually get a response, even if it is a token form letter, but perhaps those days are over.

My sister has worked in clothing retail for the past six years and recently posted on her blog about the failings of customer service in retail stores of late. We both think that the corporate downsizing many of these companies have been doing to reduce their payroll has resulted in crappy service. When retail companies downsize the highest paid managers, those who train other employees, the business starts to show it.

I do a fair amount of hiring and training at my job, and one of the things I tell employees is to always say "I'm sorry." Even if it's not your fault, you apologize to the customer. Then you try to fix the problem, or find someone else who can, or even ask the customer, "Please tell me how I can make this a more positive experience for you."

The other thing that pisses me off about what happened to Rachel is that the clerk made a comment to the tune of "Well, I don't know how we are supposed to clean that!" This attitude falls into the category of "It's not my job, blame someone else." I HATE THIS ATTITUDE. It's my opinion that if you are working, if you are on the clock being paid, and something needs to be done, THEN IT IS YOUR JOB. Too many people refuse to take responsibility when something like this happens. Too many people want to do the minimum amount of work possible. I know that when you are making a crappy hourly wage, getting no benefits and having to deal with public in general, motivation is tough. But when a business offers great customer service, word gets around. I drive out of my way to the Old Navy by South County Mall because the sales associates in that store are friendly and helpful and always go above and beyond to find stuff for me.

I know how poorly paid retail positions can be, and I know that the hours are long and the job is often thankless, but I'm sick of managers (and district managers and so on up the corporate ladder) not giving a damn about how customers are treated in their stores. This is one of the major flaws of big businesses.

I don't want to get up on my soapbox about buying from small, independent locally-owned businesses, (because like Rachel said, she just wanted a long-sleeved t-shirt, and those are easiest to find at chain stores) but I've found that one of the many things that the little businesses are doing right is focusing on customer service. I'd just like to tell the HR departments of these chain stores that maybe taking the time to focus on customer service training really is worth it. I browse for books on, mostly because they have an amazing database, but I order and buy the books I want from Left Bank Books here in St. Louis. They get me what I want swiftly, and usually can recommend something in the same vein for next time. That (and Spike the pettable cat) is what keeps me coming back.

Okay. Enough. I might have to go write a letter to Fashion Bug. I'm sure it'll go into the circular file with no response.


Blogger Rachel said...

I love you. This completely made my day.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

The store I'm working at this week has a sign in it's back room that reads "If we don't take care of our customers SOMEONE ELSE WILL!!!"

I've been in customer service a while as well, and agree with your attitude of apologizing to the customer when things don't go as planned. However, I get annoyed when people apologize to me when I have to wait in line. Instead, I'd much rather hear people say, "Hi, thanks for waiting! How can I help you?" Granted, if there's a problem that causes delay an apology is necessary. I'd rather be thanked for my patience though, but that's just me...

3:42 PM  
Blogger sarahkate said...

Scott, you're right. Thanking the customers for their patience is the best way. Even if someone has had to wait a short while (which is the only acceptable while to wait) a simple "thanks for waiting" or "thank you for your patience" can change everything. Also, "you're welcome" is the proper response to "thank you" NOT "no problem." This is something I've had to work on recently.

5:29 PM  

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