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"How can I help you?" The Lost Art of Customer Service
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By Rick Vandekieft


Can you relate? Walking into a store at White Oaks or Masonville Mall and being pleasantly surprised when you are greeted with, "Good morning, please let us know if we can help you".

Case in point, the Apple store in Masonville. There must be at least 25 sales associates offering, but not pushing, to help you with your questions about Apple products. Even better, they know the answers to your questions!

Wow, what a great shopping experience. The management has obviously set clear guidelines and instilled in every employee why they are there: to make every customer welcome and feel that their business is appreciated.

Why is this something special - isn't this the way it is supposed to be? Instead, we are used to seeing only one employee, head down, staring at his or her phone as she or he deals with earth shattering text messages about what they saw on the latest episode of TMZ. It is a good thing these stores have sensors that chime when a customer enters or else the clerk would never know that someone was in the store, but then again do they really care?

How about the store that has two clerks that are interested only in each other's plans for the weekend. And then, when you finally do get their attention, your see the look of indignace because really, what gives you the right to interfere with their conversation.

A recent fast food restaurant experience was another example of "we really don't care about you" customer service. In a flyer for this restaurant there was an offer for a combo meal for $3.99, no coupon required. I order 3 and the charge was $33 with HST. Wait a minutes, what about the $3.99 special?

The young lady behind the counter said she knew nothing about the special and the price charged was the price I had to pay. I asked for the manager or the supervisor. Keep in mind this is at the peak time of day for the fast food restaurants, but no manager or supervisor was working at that time!

Not to let it go, I emailed corporate which did nothing more than pass it on to the local franchise owner who replied, “Unfortunately the cashier was obviously confused with your order as she/he was just following the correct procedure. I will talk to them and discuss your comments and concerns as they could have brought this to your attention. I apologize this was not explained to you in more depth at the restaurant. Thanks you for your comments. Email signed "Dave T.". He did not offer a refund but really, what could I expect when Dave T. didn't even have the professionalism to give his last name or contact information. Guess what Dave T, I have told many, many people about this experience and your response.

Whose fault is this? Yes, this is the fault of the employees that have such poor work ethics but the ultimate blame lies with the store manager/owner. Why is the service so good at the Apple store and so bad at too many other retailers? It's really quite simple isn’t it? There is a lack of even the very basic customer service policies, training in the fulfillment of these policies, enforcement of the policies and consequences for not adhering to the policies.

Is it too late to get back to basics?


Too many businesses complain about today's decline in customer loyalty but ignore the fact that people don't want to be treated like just another financial transaction. To compete in a marketplace where customer is king, executives need to start thinking of their customers as guests -- and then build their business around treating them that way. If businesses worked harder at providing their customers with exemplary customer experiences that made them feel special, they would build relationships that would last a lifetime. And the sales and revenue would surely follow.

We also need to accept that many retailers DON'T REALLY WANT US IN THEIR STORES! They provide every possible incentive to buy online instead of coming in. They are keeping less and less inventory on the shelves but stock is always available online.

Take Wal-Mart for example. Even the world's largest retailer prefers that you shop online. They have everything that the stores carry as well as many items exclusive to the online shoppers. If your order total is less than $50, the cost of expedited shipping is $4.97 and over $50, shipping is free! You have just saved a lot of time, a lot of aggravation and a lot of money. No searching for that parking spot, then searching for what you came to buy and then standing in line while there person in front of you is waiting for a price check on the box of Cheerio’s that rang in at $11.97.

The numbers are in for 2014, and in Canada just over 20 million people bought something online.

Is in-store customer service dead? No it is not, and we all have examples of retailers and restaurants, dry cleaners and renovators, auto servicers and airlines that do it right. It's not too late if we all take the time to make it clear to the owners/managers why you don’t shop there any more. Maybe take a few minutes too; to thank the Apple's of this world for doing it right.