If the Customer is Always Right, Why do so Many Salespeople Act Like They are Doing You a Favor?

These glorious shoes were my birthday present to myself. I saw them on display at the Dr. Marten's shop on Haight Street. I needed a half size up from my usual size, which they didn't have on hand, but the salesclerk promised to call me in a few days when they got in a new shipment. Two days passed, and the clerk called me with bad news: they didn't get in any more of the mary janes, and it looked like they wouldn't be getting any more of them period.

"OK, thanks, what a bummer," I said, about to hang up.

"Wait!" said the clerk. "You should check Zappo's for them. I'm pretty sure they should have them."

And you know what? They DID have them. And now I have a fond place in my heart for the Dr. Marten's store and that awesome salesclerk. She took what would have been a customer disappointment and turned it into an example of going above and beyond.

I've been on a bit of a roll lately, with a few truly outstanding customer experiences coming my way. Like the salesclerk at Cost Plus World Market in Daly City who looked through the depths of their backroom to see if the chair I wanted had gotten in any of its out of stock powder blue versions (it had.) And the Apple Genius Bar team member who, after my iMac was brought back less than 24 hours after they'd had it for a week and a half to fix a problem it had also been brought in for 6 weeks previously (for which they'd had it about 2 weeks) got my computer replaced.

But this small flurry doesn't make up for the many customer service misses that I've had this year.

  • I've walked out of Macy's Union Square due to an inability to get any assistance with obtaining assistance in the dressing room with obtaining alternate sizes of clothing.
  • Also at Macy's, I had a saleswoman so self-involved with her colleague and when her lunchbreak was going to be that she sent me home with a garment that had its security tag still left on, another garment that needed dry cleaning before being worn (without an offer to knock anything off its price), and folded everything so poorly and shoved it into a bag that it was all wrinkled by the time I got home.
  • I'm done with pre-ordering anything from Office Depot, after having two back-to-back experiences where I show up to find that my order has not been filled, and that the store manager, of all people, can't find it in the system, and doesn't know what to make of my request that they just pull the item off the shelf then. I seriously watched a clerk walk around with my ID in his hand for 10 minutes, wandering around, as though it might somehow lead him to my items…At least they weren't rude to me and didn't try to send me hoe with someone else's much smaller order, like the folks at the Beverages and More on Geary when they did the same thing. So I will still shop with them, just not online.
  • At Andronico's, a local gourmet supermarket chain, the checker was in such a hurry that she started ringing up the guy behind me before my groceries were bagged or I'd had a chance to put away my wallet. Prompting the impatient customer behind me to tell me to hurry up and get out of the way. All while the checker pretended I was invisible, not the customer who'd just bought a shopping cart full of food from her less than 15 seconds earlier. This customer also drove around the parking lot to flip me off, incensed by my reply of "Actually, my groceries aren't even bagged yet, so I don't have anywhere to go."

But these were small potatoes compared to my worst recent customer service experience, which was at Nordstrom of all places. For our anniversary, I wanted to buy my significant other something practical that I knew he wouldn't splurge on for himself: a nice pair of shoes he could wear to work that wouldn't bother his feet. Wanting a good selection, and to have a salesperson take some time with us, we went to Nordstrom. The clerk who'd been helping us was moderately patronizing to my boyfriend, which should have been a warning sign, but I thought I was possibly being oversensitive. So I ignored the annoying comments here and there, we picked a great pair of shoes, and took them up to the counter to be rang up.

"I'm paying for these," I said, as the clerk told my boyfriend the total.

"Oh, of course you are," he replied.

Huh? I gave him a look that I thought conveyed, "what's that supposed to mean?" but apparently it did not. He continued, "Are you his sister? His sister, or his mother?"


Please note: I am a few years older than my boyfriend. I am not, however, old enough to have given birth to a 20-something, nor do I look as though I am 50-years-old and actually old enough to be his mother.

I was mortified. Embarrassed in front of a crowded counter full of people in a busy shopping center.

"I'm buying them as an anniversary gift," I replied. "He's my boyfriend."

I am pretty sure he had something else to say about that. But I was so upset by this point that, frankly, I couldn't hear anything.

I cut short our shopping trip, no longer in the mood to shop.

I was upset about this interaction for a few days, and thought about complaining. But to whom? And about what? "Dear Nordstrom Director of Customer Service– I was embarrassed by your clerk calling me either a cradle robber or an old bag at your store this weekend…" Instead, I just haven't been back.

Can physical stores afford to lose customers to bad service in this economy? If I can just as easily go buy my items from your website, or from Amazon's (which has some of the best customer service I've encountered, not that I've needed it much despite my many purchases.)

The smart stores try hard to make sure your experience is a good one — even if it's correcting their error after the fact. Take Macy's for example. I'm guessing that they are proponents of the Client Promoter Score methodology. After that bad experience with the security tag etc., I got a customer survey request from them in my email inbox. They knew who I was because I'd used my same credit card for online purchases previously. I filled out the survey, and gave some specific feedback on the issues I'd had with my visit, and hit submit.

Less than 6 hours later, at the phone number and at the time I'd noted I would be available should someone wish to follow up on my survey, one of the assistant manager's called me to apologize for my experience, and to offer to do what they could to make it right. It took a little while and some email back-and-forth with her to ID my transaction, but in the end, she refunded me for a nice percentage of my entire purchases — not just for the ones that had issues. I felt done right by. No, I won't shop with that sales associate ever again, but I will go back, because once they knew there was a problem, they handled it with me.

Here's hoping more companies stop and think about empowering their customers to give them feedback about the good — and the bad– experiences they have with them. Of course, we can always just blog and tweet about the bad experiences regardless of if the company joins the conversation. But if they're smart, they'll *want* to hear what their customers are saying about them, and will understand what an unprecedented opportunity that is to improve their client experience, and win us over as raving fans for life.

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