Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thoughts on: Customer Service

I'm not really sure that Australians understand what "good service" really entails. As a customer I am delighted to receive good service - and I am of the opinion that the best way for me to be proactive about getting good service is to remember that, first and foremost, the person I am dealing with IS A PERSON. I am not suggesting that it be mandatory that you ask them how they are, but I make a point of starting off with "How are you today?" or "How's your day been so far?"

What makes me really sad is the number of times the salesperson I have asked that of reacts with an expression of sheer surprise - like they can't believe I actually just enquired about THEM. I can absolutely understand if you're in a hurry, or you're shy/socially anxious and don't have the ability to make small talk at that moment in time. But surely that should leave at least 6/10 people who can take a few seconds to just... Be polite to someone whose job is to take care of you?

As a salesperson whose company prides itself on high customer service standards, 'small talk' is considered just as important as the sales spiel. The more you talk to a customer the better you can help them. Again, I understand that often people are in a hurry or don't feel comfortable talking to people whom they don't know well. But i don't think that excuses this habit a lot of people have gotten into of almost ignoring staff. Before you accuse me of being whiny or oversensitive, let me give you a couple of examples of exchanges that happen daily where I work (and am now leaving).

Salesperson: Hi, how are you today?
Customer: One of [product].

Salesperson: What was the last name on your account?
Customer: [last name]
Salesperson: And what is your post code?
Customer: [first name]
Salesperson: your postal address?
Customer: [postcode]

Customer: I don't know what [product] I want.
Salesperson: I can make a recommendation for you, if you like. How do you usually have your coffee?
Customer: Normal.
Salesperson: .... Would that be with or without milk?
Customer: [answer]
Salesperson: Would you say you like it strong, medium or mild?
Customer: Normal.

[note: it is one of our very busy periods and there is a line of people waiting to be served.]
Salesperson: Next customer, please!
[customer arrives at sales counter]
Salesperson: Good afternoon sir, how can I help you today?
Customer: Why are you smiling when people are waiting?! [note: said without sarcasm]

Good service is a two-way street. Of course there will be times when a customer just gets a rude or ignorant salesperson, and an inevitable part of working in customer service means you will have to deal with people who are snide, demanding, and just not interested in even answering basic questions or letting you do your job. It's times like these I wish that a bit of retail or hospitality work was a compulsory part of high school education - just so more people actually understand what it's like to be behind the counter.

If you are a customer and receive exceptional service, letting management know can be just as beneficial, if not even more so, than reporting poor customer service. Companies are far more likely to get complaints than praise, and I'm sure I don't need to tell you which is better for staff morale. I am not saying don't report bad service, though - sometimes it is a genuine issue with store policy or a particular staff member that NEEDS raising, and I'm sure companies would prefer to know about an issue so they can fix it before they start to lose customers over it!


  1. Oh believe me, I know what you mean. I find whats even harder than bad customers (because every business gets those, lets be fair) is when management isn't prepared to back you up or let you stand up for yourself. Which is why I left Myer ultimately, compounded by an incident where an irate italian grandma threw a 1kg wooden shoe at my head and my manager apologised profusely to HER and gave her a discount. Unbelievable.

  2. You are so so very right. Having a customer who wants to have a bit of fun with me, is receptive to the overtures I make to make them more comfortable (jokes, compliments, depending on the situation) really brightens my day. And if I get a stream of people like this, it's like I pass that happy on to the next person. Then the second you get a person who thinks you are an automaton you plummet to the ground, and I'll admit, I have been guilty of not giving the customer after one of these less than 100% of my Barbie routine. Great post, Jade.