I also have rather high standards for myself when it comes to helping others and providing personal service; in another life I am sure I was a very good butler. What truly saddens me though,is how often I am disappointed with the lack of basic customer service skills displayed by so many sales people.
When approached by a customer, deliberately or not, too many project the the distinct attitude of being rudely interrupted – even if they were just staring at a wall. Deep down they do not want to actually help you; they want you to leave them alone. This is a major character flaw in too many sales people who really should be working as far away from other people as possible.
Often this rings true for high-end stores as well. The difference here is that these rarefied staffers simply feel they are better than many of their customers. The have embodied the luxury brand for which they work to such a degree that, in their minds, you – the mere customer – are of a lesser class. It’s a variation of the Helsinki Syndrome, but instead of kidnapping terrorists, the person is identifying with, say, a luxury French harness maker.
Of course, many people who work in retail are wonderful individuals who have a natural desire to help others; to simply be of service. Mary Louise Starkey, founder of the exclusive household staffing agency Starkey International, calls it “service heart.” If you have it, you have it; and if you don’t, it’s very hard to develop from the outside in. When I run across people who embody such natural service personalities I take note; and yesterday it happened twice.
What makes this interesting is that it happened at opposite ends of the retail economic spectrum: Ralph Lauren and Wal Mart. At Wal Mart I was assisted by a young lady who went out of her way to track down the key to a locked display. At one point I thought she had abandoned me; actually she had gone to locate a manager at the other end of the store and then worked her way back to me through the crowds.
She was professional and patient though clearly frustrated that I was being inconvenienced since the employee who should have been helping me was nowhere to be found. Once I had what I needed she took me to a side register and rang me up herself.
While that was a wonderful example of attention, patience, and follow-through; my Ralph Lauren experience is one of detail. When I walked into the large flagship store in swanky Chevy Chase, I was immediately met by a small cluster of sales people bunched together chatting about store issues. They were not rude, mind you, just otherwise engaged. Over his shoulder, one young man said hello and went back to his discussion. I felt like I was walking into some one’s house unannounced and interrupting a family gathering.
I then strolled into into the rear section of the store and was quickly greeted by another young gentleman. He had been folding some clothes but stopped when I came in. Noticing I had two heavy looking bags he immediately asked if I would like him to store them securely while I walked around. I said, “yes, thank you,” and set about looking for a present for my wife.
What struck me most was that his actions were natural. He instinctively looked for a way to make my visit more comfortable and (of course) to put me in a purchasing mood. When I eventually picked up my bags, he was equally gracious even though another sales person had actually helped me with a purchase.
When I return to that Ralph Lauren store, I will make a point to look for him because he made a point of looking after me when he did not necessarily have to. That is innate customer service.