…because I’m the customer…

I was inspired recently by someone I met, via his great post at TRecs to talk about customer service, again. For those of you who know me, it is something I go on about and one of my passions.

I have always failed to understand why one of the most basic abilities as people; human interaction, is so difficult for some people. I am fully aware that we’re all different, some are extrovert, some are introverts, some are wild nutters like me – and some are very shy and retiring. I get that. It is what makes the world such an entertaining and interesting place. But a little tip for the retailers and service providers of the world; don’t hire the ones who are introverted and shy, regardless of their skill set.

You see most humans, like me (although some would argue I am not quite like most!) like to walk into a shop and be recognised. Or go anywhere and be recognised. I actually don’t care if it is a raised eyebrow, a grin, smirk or a wink. Just do something. Acknowledge that your door has been opened or someone walked past you on the retail floor. Yesterday I had some time to kill on the way to an appointment so I cruised around a few shops. Sales are on, things are cheaper. Doesn’t that mean that more people can afford to buy things? Ergo – more people go shopping? I know consumers buy more things in the sales, but things aren’t always about the money. No I don’t have loads of it, but I have strong principals and I also want an experience when I shop.

Most of the stores I walked into yesterday afternoon didn’t quite see it my way.

You know, I get that it is the end of the day; it’s dark cold and miserable outside (but usually not inside, so what the…?), and it is close to the end of the week or the start of another week and or whatever other thousand reasons you want to create. But when I walk into your shop – you know the one you created to make money? I expect a little recognition. Obviously I also realise that the owner mostly doesn’t sit behind the counter. Maybe that is the problem!

I do know that of the three shops I walked into yesterday, two of the owners were there. I know I have to resign myself to the fact that I will never get understand the why of this. It is probably like reading fantasy science fiction, or playing golf or wrestling or changing your name when you get married – I don’t get those things either!

The most amazing thing to me about customer service is that is free! Yep, that’s right, one of the very few things that you get for free in this world. There aren’t too many! One of my favourite quotes is “there are no traffic jams in the extra mile” (the customer service guru Zig Ziglar). It is one of the truisms of my life. It costs me no more to smile or nod or ask someone if they need help. And I don’t work on the high street!

It is true, and as most of my readers will know, I am Australian. By definition that makes us think we can talk to and smile at anyone on the street. I am also aware that it has the uncanny and unpleasant affect of making me seem simple. That is OK too. Yes, I am the nutter who smiles at people and makes eye contact on the road. Why? Because I get a massive intrinsic kick out of the feeling that that little smile or nod or wink could have just made someone feel special. I know, it could also make them think that I am a stalker…your choice!

My HR training and people management experiences has taught me that the best person for the job is not always the one with the most qualifications, nor the one who can put that book on the shelf in eight different ways or make the gold sequined dress go really well with those pink tights. Recruiting people for jobs where they are responsible for the promotion of your business needs to be based on personality, the ability to interact, a feeling for intuition and a strong sense of understanding customers – empathy.

You wouldn’t read about it, but, customers also have bad days, hate the weather and have just lost their jobs broken up with their partner or had a bad haircut. We all have stuff going on, deal with it and get on with your job. It’s right up there with one of the things I wish I could change in the world, along with the correct distribution of food between the obese and the starving, the ignorance about climate change and the economy, and the treatment of less fortunate souls in our world, but don’t get me started. I do truly believe that one little action or reaction from a shop assistant might just change the way a person’s day goes. I just don’t get why it is so hard. I also don’t get why a good feeling is so undersold.

As Mervyn says – do we have the guts to find out what our customers really think and want? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be treated like a long lost friend; I don’t even expect to be remembered (my ego isn’t that big!) but I do expect to be treated with respect and a bit of happiness.  I am the customer; the one who is buying something to attribute to the success of the store and the money you earn. This is a very simple equation. Be grateful, let your face know if you’re happy about it – better still, let other people know. It’s quite contagious.

Funny isn’t it, that films like Falling Down is seen as one man losing his mind, rather than an understandable build up of the kind of frustrations we get in everyday life. Yes, there are different ways to provide feedback. One of them is to vote with your feet and never return. But in a city like London, do retailers and service providers really care? I am one of a potential twelve million people (at least) who will come into the store. Move aside love, there are more people trying to get in!

For the record, the real service providers are not the ones who talk to clients on social media and say “we’re sorry to hear about your experience, here try this number”. They are the ones who resolve your issues for you. Who make an effort. I know there are millions of stories of people who do go that extra mile and they are to be rewarded.

I know the use of social media as a communications tool is now de rigueur in business now. But let’s not make it like the media and report only the bad stuff. We can start to make an effort by reporting great customer service, not moaning in the hope that someone listens (guilty I know!). Business who have a significant edge over their competitors are the ones who go back to the source of the original bad customer experience and resolve the issue; not merely tweet about it.

Is this awful customer service experience also the reason we shop online? So I don’t have to put up with the whining from the shop assistants about their date last night, or the unfairness of having a job where they make you work or wear a uniform or talk to customers heaven forbid (or is that just Top Shop?). Be grateful for a few things:

  • You have the ABILITY to work
  • You have a job
  • You have the ABILITY to smile and improve someone’s day
  • You will live longer (there’s research on this!)

Any retail experience is not just about what things cost. I am saddened that in a world of over consumerism more people don’t vote with their feet. That we mostly still search for the bargain of a lifetime and then moan about the service we get whilst doing it. Are those two things related? Maybe. Or maybe it is just putting out there what we want to get back, either way we have a long way to go!

15 thoughts on “…because I’m the customer…

  1. Sharon, I love your ideas here and have a story to share:
    The first two weeks of the year my husband and I get away from dreary, rainy Bay Area California to holiday in the 89 degree sun of Mexico.
    This year we went to Puerto Vallarta where we stayed at the marina area . . . and ate many of our meals at The Most Popular Restaurant on the marina.
    It’s called Victor’s.
    And do you know why it is so popular?
    It’s because of Victor.
    Victor visits Every Table and chats and often drinks a shot of tequilla with patrons!
    I don’t know how he does it, but every time we came, he was there “doing it” — and wasn’t even drunk.
    [Maybe his tequilla shots are colored water?]
    Whatever, it was Always Fun eating at Victor’s . . . and, oh yes, the food was wonderful and the prices were not unreasonable!


    1. Hi Shari – what a great experience, thanks for sharing! Bless Victor, has probably got a liver of steel! I agree though – if it is the business owner, they certainly know and do the business! Thanks again – I closed my eyes and was there in the sun for a minute there!!


  2. This posting is way too long.
    Here’s a short version.

    When I walk into your shop I expect the staff to smile, nod or ask if I need help. Is that too much to ask?

    Listen, retailers, the shy and introverted do not mix well with other people — so, don’t hire them to work in a store. Is that too hard to understand?

    And if you want the customer to forgive you for a bad experience , don’t say you’re sorry, solve the problem.


  3. I Tweet about customer experiences that stand out… the good, the bad and the ugly. I don’t get paid to Tweet about them. I do so because I care. I care for the business owners who try harder, and I want to get the word out so they will stay in business. I care about the businesses that don’t try so hard because maybe they can learn from their mistakes. Ultimately, it’s my way of “voting” for those businesses and the behaviors I enjoy. Because as a human being I like to be around positive people. It’s that simple! Positive people are more likley to offer positive experiences. And, when I spend my hard-earned money I want to get the most value and the best experience I can get. So, I’ll keep Tweeting about them all. And, in this way I’ll keep voting!

    Thanks for the great article!


    1. Hello Liz,
      Thanks so much for your considered response, I love your approach of being around positive people, it certainly is contagious. Going straight to follow you on twttier & share in that positive experience, thank you.
      Good luck on your quest to understand social media, let me know if I can help at all!
      Kind regards


  4. Wonderful article! so true.
    And a smile, nod, do you need help – no – okay: can truly make your day and a scowl can make you feel like Michael Douglas!

    Well written Sharon and beautifully said!



    1. Pats
      You demon you! Thanks for the comments, how very true it is – and you know there has to be something in it when this resonates with EVERYONE!!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, much appreciated & valued!


  5. Hi Sharon
    We met at Social Media Monday. You smiled at me. We even chatted 🙂

    Recently I’ve tweeted to the world my frustration at service (lack of) from Co-op Bank and BT, and on both occasions I’ve had tweets back from people at the customer service departments who obviously have active searches going on. On both occasions I tweeted back politely thanking them for contacting me.

    Was there any follow up, did they try to solve my problem, did they ask me to contact them directly, did they ask me to contact them directly? No. The “conversation” ended at them “apologising for my bad experience”.

    What was the point of that then? Are these corporate social media stalkers just told to apologise then disengage? Is there some research that suggests that X% of people will be happy they got an apology from a sympathetic employee, but further engagement (ie solving problems) isn’t cost effective?

    NB I have left both Co-op Bank and BT. No, let me re-phrase that, Co-op Bank and BT lost me.

    Stu 😉

    ps Just to end on a positive note. How friendly are First Direct staff?! I have to make excuses to get off the phone from them. I’m as cynical as the next man, but these people seem to actually *enjoy* helping customers…


    1. Hi Stu,
      Thanks for the great comments! I remember you from SMUK! What great points you make and I am in 100% agreement. What is the point? Don’t pretend to resolve bad customer experiences, that is worse!!

      Actually I’m not sure if that is worse than advertising how brilliant they are – both of those companies you mention have been wonderful at that! Along with AmEx – my current favourite!

      You are right, they lost you – and if their staff were measured on that rather than on how much money they made, I wonder what the equation would be!
      Thanks again for taking the time to comment, excellent examples & hopefully, they might go one better than just listening nex time (but we doubt it…..!)


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