Customer service just ain’t what it used to be, and I’m not even old enough to know anything about how “it used to be”! Despite my young years, though, I was brought up by parents who had grown up involved in retail sales, and my brother jumped in with them, early on, so I was always surrounded by reminders of what customer service ought to be.
Many years ago, my grandfather was the manager of a local paint store, and my mother and my father both worked for him as teenagers. After they went to college and were married, Dad continued to work in retail sales, also in management. Now, many more years later, both Mom and Dad are in retail sales, and my brother is even back in retail, though in the Human Resources realm. All of them continue to remind me of the foibles of human nature, seen all too clearly in the behavior of all too many customers, none of which foibles, however, excuse less than stellar customer service. No, the customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer and must be treated as such, no matter how that customer behaves.
Although it has been determined, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that I am not (and never really was) cut out for retail sales, I did spend a few years giving it a shot, while I was in college (in a paint store, no less). As my grandfather would do with my parents when they were first working for him, one of mentors at the store would spend pretty much all our down time playing “I Am a Customer.” The whole purpose of the “game” was to give us newbies a chance to practice dealing with customers, through role playing with much more experienced colleagues. Only drawback to their having such extensive experience was that they knew some pretty intimidating situations to throw at us. At the same time, all that practice made the real thing a whole lot less terrifying.
I believe that all that role playing made my dealing with customers a whole lot less stressful. Because of the limited stress on my part, I believe that even the tensest moments in customer interactions were less painful for everyone involved than they would have been if I hadn’t been given all that practicing opportunity. After all, tension seems to breed tension, so my being nervous just wouldn’t have helped with any of the situations where customers were any less than perfectly pleased.
My “vast experience” covers a range of only about 3 years; many others have spent a whole lot more time dealing directly with customers, so they would be much better able to make recommendations and suggestions, and they’d probably be in a whole lot better position to do some analysis. They could probably explain exactly what is lacking in the average retail salesman of today, and the good ones could explain what would improve the situation. We need more of those good ones—people who respect the customer and recognize that their livelihood depends on the business their customers bring.