The town I am in is growing very quickly. We recently got a new University, the college is expanding, and lots of new retail chains are coming to our little town. I am not entirely anti-big-box stores, they have their place, but like most people, I have concerns of them running the little businesses that really make our community thrive out of town.
I also have some concerns about how absolutely ridiculously bad the customer service is. As someone who has worked in retail, as someone who operates a business, and as someone who shops, I think I have some level of expertise in the matter. I apologize in advance because this is a bit of a rant...
I've come up with a few tips on how business can provide utterly horrible customer service.
1. Pay your employees as little as legally possible. Not only will they be stressed about making ends meet with every pay cheque, they will feel belittled and undervalued! A great way to put an employee in a positive mindset.
2. Provide little to no customer service training. I had kind of an unusual experience at a check out at a big box craft store recently. I walked up to the cashier, who scanned my two items, then stared blankly at me for a few moments until she blurted, "How are you paying?". I was a little surprised because she never told me how much it was so I asked, "Aren't you supposed to tell me how much the total comes to?" to which she replied in a rather unpleasant "You can clearly read it for yourself on the screen." Cashing out is such a simple thing but it it leaves you with your final memory of that experience, and in this case it was just a bizarre one...
3. Provide no product training or store operations training. It is almost useless to ask an employee at a department store for advice as to which coffee maker is the best for your money, or to ask an employee at a clothing store if they will be getting any more of a certain blouse. They don't know. They aren't usually even given that information. There is a fabric store here in town that exemplifies this... I have worked for this chain in the stores and in their design department so I am somewhat familiar with how it runs. I was in there recently looking for a specific item that I knew was a re-orderable item. I brought up a different colourway of the item and asked if they had more in the back in the colour I wanted, or if they knew if they would be receiving a shipment soon. The answer I got, "We don't have any. We just get it when we get it." Uh... THANKS! Totally unhelpful, and totally wrong. I searched and found more on another shelf, and I knew it was a re-stockable item. It was frustrated because either a) the employee just didn't care to check or b) she wasn't given the information about what items they can get more of and what items they can't.
4. Make your employees work long hours and holidays. I used to work at very popular clothing store in a large mall in Toronto. This mall was open every day except for Christmas day. That meant you pretty much had a good chance of working nearly every stat day. I figured working in retail I'd work some crappy hours, but missing out on family events all the time to stock shelves and peddle cheap clothing can really get to you. Sure you get time and a half, but when you're making minimum wage it doesn't really account for much. Today is family day, which is a statutory holiday on Ontario, and yet so many stores are open. Why does Walmart need to be open on a day that is supposed to be spent with your family?
5. Outsource everything! Remember that problem I had with Canada Post? Well, it's resolved and they refunded me my money! Happy ending! However, it was really, really difficult to get to the right person who could give me information about my packages. I eventually found out that I dropped off the missing packages at a "franchised" post office location, which caused problems because the call center cannot communicate directly with the franchise locations. UGH! It makes is nearly impossible for anyone to help you. So, unless you are a total pain in the butt customer like me and do all the leg work yourself, it is really hard to get things resolved!
6. Have 12 Cash Registers, but only have 2 operating. This is a grocery store pet peeve. I hate grocery shopping to begin with. It angers me to no end when I see 12 lanes, but only 2 cashiers working, with line ups a mile-long at each. That's 10 more people who could be working, and I could get half an hour of my life back.
I can't just blame employees for bad customer service, I know that it is a hard job that rarely gets any thanks. I absolutely believe much of the bad customer service that is out there today trickles down from the top. You pay your employee crap, you don't train them properly, you're going to provide a crap experience. Everyone wants to do the best job they can do, but it is hard when you are not given the tools to do so. It seems so basic to me!
All of that aside, I have experienced some really great customer service lately too! The one that really sticks out in my mind is when I went with Dan to buy work boots. We went into this little work-wear store downtown that sells coveralls and steel toe boots and stuff that construction workers wear. It was small and packed and I wondered what the big deal about this store was, until the guy who was working there asked us if we needed any help. Dan said he needed boots that had good grip for working on oil surfaces, were waterproof, steel toe and comfortable. This guy knew everything, absolutely everything about boots! I wanted a pair of steel toed boots by the time he was done. He was pleasant, friendly, knowledgeable .. he actually cared about what he was doing!!! He was excited about boots!!! Any time Dan needs anything for work, that is the place I'd go.
There are a few other shops downtown that I just love to be in. The people are friendly, they care about what they do, they have pride in their shops and their job, and you can clearly see that by the service they provide.
I am not a perfect person or a perfect business owner, but I always take the approach that I should treat people the way I'd like to be treated as a customer. We all have our moments where our patience runs thin, our tone isn't as nice as it should be, or we forget to say 'Thank you' but as a whole, I feel like the service we receive is really sub-standard, and it's frustrating! There are actually some places that I shop at that I dread going to because I feel lie I am wrecking the employees day by shopping there!
Have you received any horrible or amazingly awesome customer service lately? Do you think there is any going back to the days of good customer service?