Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 12, 2009

Adventures in Customer Service: What Were They Thinking?

Yesterday I was waiting in a cashier’s line at a discount department store, and after two or three minutes it became obvious that there was some kind of problem going on at the register.

I leaned over to look past the folks ahead of me, and could see that the cashier was having a heated discussion with a customer. After a few minutes of arguing, she picked up her intercom phone and summoned help from, apparently, the manager.

Some minutes went by as I surveyed the next cash register (which had an equally long line) and contemplated switching over there; at least that line was moving. Meanwhile, everyone around me was making under-the-breath comments about the wait and nonchalance of the cashier, when the manager finally showed up to help with whatever the problem was.

After getting an update from the frustrated cashier, the manager pulled out what appeared to be a copy of the day’s newspaper advertising insert, opened it on the counter, and the three of them took their time reviewing the sale items….where apparently the answer to the customer’s problem could be found.

Now keep in mind that nobody had thought to glance at those of us waiting in line, let alone make any apologies.

Getting a bit impatient, I looked over at the only other operating register in the store, and saw that a woman, who had entered her line several minutes after I’d joined mine, was now half way to her car in the parking lot.

But we still waited.

The lady ahead of me began to pace and examine various display items near the register and the man behind me mumbled something about what was taking so long.

Now, lo and behold another store employee joins the original trio (cashier, manager, and customer) to participate in the discussion, and then I knew I couldn’t take it any longer.

So I took a deep breath, moved my half-filled cart out of the way, commented to my fellow customers that I had given up, and left the store to buy my items somewhere else. As I got to my car, I looked back toward the store where I saw my “buddies” from the line heading into the parking lot as well, filled with obvious frustration.

What makes this situation so upsetting (to me anyway) is that it happens all the time. In discount stores, beauty salons, doctors’ offices, home & garden centers, theatres, insurance agencies, restaurants, etc., the idea of customer “service” has become archaic. And what is really disturbing, is that we are getting so used to complacency and rudeness, we accept it as the norm.

Although there are certainly solutions for correcting the state of service (After all, the best companies have maintained excellent service for years), I have to wonder if most people even care. The customers don’t seem to, or we would have marched en masse upon the service providers long before now… demanding better service. The employees certainly don’t care — well about 90% of them (according to my personal observations). As long as they are getting a paycheck, what incentive is there to be helpful, or even courteous?

OK… enough whining for now… but I feel better. And I promise to do more advising and observing, and less complaining. But I’d love to hear your opinions too.

Let’s address these “issues of excellence” together.

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