Why is Customer Service so hard?

I recently took my daughter to a large retail chain that specialises in fabric and craft items. Now, this store is a discount store, so I wasn’t expecting red carpet treatment, however I was expecting to be treated politely. Sadly this didn’t happen. Now, just for the record: it’s probably my fault. I have been to this store before and experienced the same poor customer service before, so I had no right to walk in there expecting they would have improved, and yet I did – my bad.

That out the way, here’s what happened. After wandering aimlessly for a while, with staff walking past making every effort possible to avoid eye contact and giving every indication of being on a vital mission that couldn’t be disturbed, we eventually stumbled upon the right section. My daughter picked out some ribbon she wanted that came on a long role and would need cutting.

We approached the cutting desk where a female employee was standing cutting material. No other customer was present. We stood there for a bit until I ventured an “excuse me?” Without looking up, she replied “I’m serving someone”.

Now, I understand there is more than one customer in the shop and that staff may be already occupied but where were this woman’s manners? Simple eye contact, a greeting and then an explanation would have been sufficient. “Hello, I’m just cutting this material for another customer and then I’ll be able to assist you”.

Would that really have been so hard? Apparently yes! So we stood there waiting, and then without looking up again she says “go and stand on the other side of the counter”. Seriously? She still hasn’t even indicated if she is going to serve us at any point in the future and now we’re simply in the way. My daughter looked at me with big warning eyes that clearly said “stay cool Mum, don’t make a scene, just move to the other side”. So we did, with me feeling quietly proud of my self-restraint at this point, limiting my reaction to a simple “seriously” and a shake of the head, instead of the lecture this woman clearly deserved. Oh and just for the record, this was a middle aged lady, a woman with experience but clearly without manners.

Things didn’t get better: a younger male employee then also came up to the counter. Did he acknowledge our presence? No; he didn’t even glace in our direction. At this point I was wondering if we had become invisible. He started talking to the rude woman, about nothing important, just commenting on what a previous customer had asked for.

Reaching breaking point I engaged sarcastic mode and said “Gee, looks like we’re invisible!” At which point the rude woman points to us and says “you need to serve them”. No apology, no actual engagement with us; just pointing and a reference to us in the third person. The oblivious younger man then turns to us and finally says “can I help you?” Both look genuinely surprised when I reply “Hallelujah”, but even my daughter looks relieved.

So who is at fault here? The manager of this store that’s who! This store clearly has a culture that’s uncaring of its customers. Anyone observing their team’s performance would have quickly identified several issues here. The fact that the team members behaved in this manner leads me to believe that they simply have never been told how to treat their customers. It may sound like basic stuff to you and me, basic manners we use every day without thinking, but for many people, it’s not second nature and they need to be told, and they need to be told more than once. The basics of customer service aren’t rocket science, but they do have a huge impact on your customer retention, and let me tell you, I’m not going back there again.

If your team ever deal with customers, on the phone, online or face to face, they need to be told how to do it. If they aren’t told and they treat a customer like I was treated above, it’s not their fault, it’s yours and you shouldn’t expect them to ever shop with you again.

– Kirrily