The Art Of Customer Service

Whatever happened to customer 
service? It seems to have fallen from grace as quickly as the dollar has during the economic crisis. Where did the welcoming you into a store with a warm smile and a upbeat greeting, disappear to?

By Stephanie Rivers

Published: Fri 4 Dec 2009, 10:02 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

Did I not get the memo that said discourteous service is now the in thing? That stopping short of berating your customer or potential customer was the new protocol of record? Unless memory fails me, those who work in a store are actually there to serve the customer. Those working in a store are doing just that — working in the store. To my knowledge they do not own the store; they manage it, and are the brand ambassadors.

A store’s reputation is made or broken based upon its interaction with each and every customer. The adage of “greet them with a smile, treat them with tender loving care and you have a customer for life”, has never been more true.

The customer’s first impression of whether a store is worthy of shopping in or returning to again is based purely on how he or she is treated. A simple greeting of hello, an offer to help, giving the potential customer your name to call upon when they are ready, and politely walking away, are excellent points of contact.

I belie these points because I had two glaring examples of rude behaviour and customer service at its worst thrust upon me in the middle of a hectic week of preparing for a haute couture photoshoot for my company’s luxury magazine.

My first encounter happened in one of my favourite fashion brand stores at the Dubai Mall. I entered the store laden with shopping bags as it was my final stop of the day. The store is an elegantly-appointed shop, dark in colour, requisite centre table, flowers/orchids, low lighting, well-dressed staff and a doorman.

I sat my bags down, retrieved my letter that gives proof that I was approved to pick up items for the shoot, as well as my credentials. Both necessary to present before any transactions can be started. A sales person came to inquire what I needed, I explained and handed him my papers. He looked them over and stated he knew nothing about this and would check with his manager. With that he disappeared into the back. After a few minutes, he returned and said that the manager knew nothing about this.

Slightly bemused and amused, as the email clearly stated that I had been approved to borrow clothing items and accessories from the store and who approved it, I requested to speak directly with the manager. During any tenuous negotiations, it is always better to eliminate the middle man.

The gentleman in the grey suit disappeared into the back again and a few minutes later returned with the same dialogue and I quote, “My manger knows nothing about this, so there can be no lending of any items.” I again asked to see the manager and proceed to try and contact the PR rep to see if she could expedite the process.

Now if the store were basing its rude and snobbish behaviour on the visible worth of a customer, assessed through their designer shopping bags, then my cache should have been very high, as I was carrying Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior couture garment and shopping bags.

I persisted, as I needed to get the last few items for the shoot, by again asking for the manager. Mr Grey Suit refused to go back to try to retrieve the manager who I could hear clearly chatting away in the background. He said I would not be getting any clothes from the store, signalled to the doorman with a nod and with that, the doorman opened the door as though asking me to leave. Humour is always the best defense in these types of situations, so laughed as it was one of those surreal moments and the fact that I was able to get the items I wanted from another store without any of the hassle or attitude.

Hours later after it was all straightened out and I could go back to the store and retrieve items. I did not. After all, it should not matter whether I was loaded with high street bags or haute couture, whether I was dressed appropriately or in street cred cool, a customer is a customer.

The second encounter was funny in a sense but not really. This store had a selection of shoes being launched over a week ago. I had stopped by the store when I saw the sign in the window and a display of some of the shoes. I inquired if they were in stock and was informed that they would launch the following day. I inquired further if I could reserve a pair, preferably the pair in the window so as not to take away from stock inventory. I was told that there were no holds, no prepays. I walked away disappointed but understood the fairness of that policy.

The day of the launch I could not make it, so the following day I stopped back by and saw the pair I wanted was still in the window. How elated was I to discover that they survived the carnage of the opening? Very. I found a sales person and immediately asked if they had any in stock, knowing full well that if it worked like any of the store’s launches in NYC then there would not be. Of course, the answer was no. I asked to purchase the pair in the window, as they are usually always a size seven, my size, and was told and I quote, “Sorry, they are reserved.” Now this would have been funny to me had I not been there two days prior and been told that the policy was no reserve and no prepay.

I asked to see a manager. Yes, I know my mantra and theme for the week. Never stand between a woman and a pair of shoes she wants, it is a dangerous thing. The manager sauntered out, asked what the problem was, etc... I answered that there wasn’t a problem per se, that I just wanted to clarify an issue.

He listened as I explained what I was told and the predicament at hand, that now the shoes were on reserve and I was told otherwise. He shrugged his shoulders and said they were reserved and promised to a customer so that was that. I politely inquired again why I was told one thing, yet another customer was clearly told the opposite. Again he shrugged, repeated that they were on reserve, that was that and with that walked away.

Now, an apology for the inconvenience would have been a better tact, along with perhaps offering a discount on my next purchase. The proper customer service protocol would have been offering to call all of the chain’s other stores to see if by chance there might be a pair somewhere in Dubai left in my size. Yet here I was, a willing customer, handled badlly and rudely. Clearly, this store’s headquarters needs to focus more on training its staff proper protocols.

In the words of Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, “Every customer should be treated as the last customer, treated as though they maybe the only customer to come through the store doors. Each customer is important, with each customer contributing to the bottom line.” At the end of a day, a sale is a sale. So I shall end, as I began, how you treat a customer determines whether the customer will be a repeat customer, whether they will tell friends and contribute to your bottom line. Treat them well and they will willingly return, even on a tight budget. Treat them badly and you have lost a customer for life, who in turn tells their friends, who will tell their friends.

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