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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Your Questions, Your Money
  • August 7, 2009 04:44 PM UTC by Dagen McDowell

    Customer Service: The Best And The -- Well, I Don't Shop There Anymore

    Earlier this week I saw that J. Crew is going back to basics and focusing on its catalog business and Web site rather than its stores.

    Good thing.

    Based on my own experiences in its stores lately, the chain should keep the customers as far away from some of the staff as possible. The service is bad enough to tarnish the brand…permanently.

    My research is certainly not scientific – merely anecdotal. But it cannot be a coincidence that I’ve encountered terrible service and terribly rude employees in four different stores in two different states at different times of the day and week. First, there was no service. No one says hello or offers to help if you’ve got an armload full of clothes. Indifferent. Dismissive. Disgraceful.

    The attitude: “We don’t care about you.” Fine. And I don’t care to spend money there.

    I digress. The point is: In this economy a store or chain cannot afford to lose a single customer. And if you charge higher prices, the customer service needs to be that much better. I might tolerate snippiness if the t-shirt costs $10 but not if I am paying $45 for one.

    But why put up with attitude at all when chains that deliver good value also provide terrific service?

    Look at Chick-fil-A. The fast-food chain was already pleasant enough: good food, clean stores and smiling employees who say “It’s my pleasure” when thanked.

    The company’s is taking that even further – going “the second mile” as it calls it. Chick-fil-A has an etiquette training program in place for its entire staff. Seriously. As President Dan Cathy joked the last time I interviewed him, “Teaching barbaric heathen young teenagers to say yes ma’am and no ma’am.” He insists the response from the customers and the general good will that it builds is enough to make the good service stick among employees.

    As Cathy said, “This is a day in which a lot of people are discouraged and have a lot bad things going on in their lives. I think that restaurants or any retail service have an opportunity to really give people an affirming [experience] and treat them with honor, dignity and respect. People want that. They need that today as never before.”

    Amen.

I have had bad experiences with Restoration Hardware. Their employees are rude and the software used to run the stores seems archaic. If I'm paying their prices for things, I expect more! Will never go back.

September 9, 2009 at 4:01 am

Dixie Steele

As a consumer,I totally agree that customer service should be excellent whether you are selling burgers or expensive jewelry. It seems the idea of polite customer service has given way to negative work environments. This is mostly true for office environmnents and that is a problem. But I would think a manager of a store that depends on sales, would encourage their best bud to be pleasant and customer-oriented. In my experience, as long as the emplyee keeps face with the manager, they can be as negative about customers and co-workers as they like. It is all about entertainment. This is not reality TV people! Stop trying to be funny and do your job!

August 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Carla, Ballwin,MO

I have a friend who's daughter is helping pay her way through college by working in a clothing store similar to J. Crew. Her daughter has impeccable manners, not all young people are rude. This young woman went to a prestigious all girl's Catholic High School, I know her mother credits that wonderful school for the poise and manners her daughter has today. I think her mom and dad played a great part in raising a respectful and ambitious young woman. Give J. Crew another chance, you may run across a good kid like this!

August 17, 2009 at 6:55 pm

How to do good customer service: When a customer asks a question, answer it. Don't even ask for their name, it's inane banter. If you can't answer it, research it or ask someone who can. If your company can't perform the service, refer them to someone who does. Don't blindly defend your company. Customers who complain offer advice for free that companies pay thousands of dollars to focus groups on. Don't screw your customers over on technicalities they overlooked. Don't DON'T DON'T! discourage your customers from submitting payment. Don't put a BS charge in there that they will take months with you to contest. Even if they don't contest it, they'll remember it and will be more likely to seek a competitor in the future. Penny wise, pound foolish.

August 16, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Delimomma

If I am going to be spending my hard-earned money in your store, I expect to be treated with respect and politness. I work a full time job (in customer service for a major charge card) AND a part time job (in a kennel dealing with clients animals)plus Im a mother to two teenage boys. And of course, with the economy being the way it is, and the constant worry of layoffs, any money that is spent that is not for food or necessities is very hard to come by. I expect to be treated with kindness (especially if I am being polite myself, and to be offered assistance if needed. A "Hello" Is ALWAYS appreciated! I find that I will return to establishments where I am treated fairly and courteously, and there are certain places I will not return to. That's my choice as a consumer.

August 15, 2009 at 3:15 pm

I couldn't agree more with the article. I make a high 6 figure income and buy quite a few clothes. I've walked in and straight out of J.Crew twice. My limit. If horrible service happens once, I think everybody has a bad day. Twice, no excuse. I lay the blame on the company culture and leadership.

August 14, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I'm glad this short article was written. I've gone into stores, where the reps weren't helpful, looked like they were in bad moods, rude and just completely gossiping while I waited to ask a question. My remedy: I put my clothes down in front of them and said: You know what? I'm going to spend my money elsewhere, where it's appreciated! And with the economy the way it is, you should be kissing the customers ass because eventually, people will stop coming here! I walked out heated, but felt better when I went to another store and I was greeted with a smile!

August 14, 2009 at 11:12 am

J. Stinlgey

I must agree that customer service is one of the most important elements of any business. I owned a home repair and painting business and was NEVER in need of work. I made sure that each of my customers were made to feel that their work was #1 on my list. Because of my superier work ethic and dedication to pleasing my customers, they were prepared to wait three to six weeks for me to get to their home. Outstanding customer service and appreciation of the customers needs will always pay off, in any kind of business. I look for this in places is shop and in restruants. If I don't receive what I feel is reasonable service, I ask for management and let them know of my displeaseure. If they attempt to corret the problem is will return, if not, there are too many places to spend my time and money to return.

August 14, 2009 at 10:08 am

Phil Leone

I don't need the 'fluff' of the fake customer-service bravado being offered by many chains. Customer service has nothing to do with forced "Thank You" replies, and policy-driven "My pleasure!" answers. Customer service and customer satisfaction are connected to results. True, the stores that get the business sometimes have this artificial niceness as part of the experience, but that's not the reason for the successful business model. In the end, the businesses with fair prices and TANGIBLE service, such as a quick check out, or a truly knowledgeable staff get, and keep, the business. Chick Fil A is know for a damn fine sandwich and fast service (and a clean experience to boot). In some parts of the world, offering up phony, syrupy customer service is seen as insulting and time-wasting.

August 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Linda Petrarca

My Husband and I own two small businesses currently, have owned number of others in the past-my basic background was business/advertising, his is electrical engineering. Our main business is very technical and nichey, but doing well even in "this economy". We have been averaging over 3 NEW customers a day, 7 days a week for the last 2.5+ years. Being web based, with a modest stick and mortar shop, we have been steadily moving up for about 7 years and are now #2 in the world in our market and nipping at the heels of #1. Why? Because of the 6 people working here, the oldest 69, the youngest, 50, and we all work hard every day to treat each of our phone, email, web or walk-in customers as if they were the most important person we will help today. We have been steadily eroding #1's customers because " he doesn't care enough to help me troubleshoot a problem, or doesn't bother to call me when something is out of stock" or any number of things that show that the customer is last on the importance list. Maybe it is old fashioned, but taking care of the customer is still pretty effective. Wish they were teaching it somewhere in the school system.

August 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Robert Malec

Classic example of poor management, and a good reason not to buy their stock.

August 12, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Problem is, most retail outlets are anything but kind to their own employees, keeping pay low, cutting hours & staff when times are hard, demanding that employees do more to make up for cuts. Add in almost universally poor lower management, then add customers with an attitude -- not necessarily you, but perhaps 5 customers before you got there. While poor service may not be good for the company's bottom line, don't expect the average retail [or other service] worker to care -- they'll seldom if ever share in any benefits, seldom if ever receive fair treatment, & seldom if ever get thanked or appreciated for any extra effort. "I took his phone and closed it while he was in mid-conversation. “It was my girlfriend,” he said, and was plainly embarrassed. " Actually you might have misread... he very well may have been thinking all sorts of [expletive deleted], & depending on how far away your car was parked, attempted minor revenge, like a little milk or egg in the air intake below the wipers etc.

August 11, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Studio TV-15

I'm downright amazed when a store, bank, grocery, restaurant -- you name it -- mistreats a customer. I'm not agitated by it, though. I recently bought a new truck and paid cash. During the sale, I sensed the salesman becoming a bit lofty, behaving as if he was performing a favor by selling me a truck. To deflate his bravado I asked, "How many other dealerships are there nearby?" He wondered why I wanted to know. "I was just curious about how many other buying options I had if I walked out of here." It was a polite "role reminder" that he picked up on instantly. After that, we got along great! Just yesterday I walked out of a gorgeous events facility in north Jersey and saw the lone car valet talking on his cell phone. He knew I was there for my car. I walked over to him jokingly saying, "Yoooo! Who's more important than me right now? That better be your mother or priest!" I took his phone and closed it while he was in mid-conversation. "It was my girlfriend," he said, and was plainly embarrassed. He knew he was being stupid and apologized. My point is that we sometimes have an opportunity to turn a negative impulse into a positive when "consuming". We absolutely shouldn't have to, though. I totally agree with both your and Kimberly's posts. Nevertheless, there's times when I just can't resist taking a shot at saving someone from themselves before losing me as a customer or forfeiting a tip. I'm often surprised at how overly helpful some can be once gently shaken. Try it.

August 9, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Michael W

I've done mystery shopping in the past, so I know what I'm doing. I use to like Applebees, but no more. I went to a couple stores and got miserable service, I wrote them (on their web site) and let them know. They sent a coupon for a free dinner and asked me to try again. I did, same super poor service. Bottom line is they didn't want to hear about poor anything. I wrote (pen and paper) the headquarters, no response. We now go to Chili's and refuse to go to Applebees. Sorry, you don't want me as a customer, I'm happy to oblige.

August 9, 2009 at 8:39 am

DemKiller

The majority of the J. Crew employees are teenagers that don't have a clue when it comes to manners or professional courtesy. This is more than just a case of “kids today”. There is a fundamental breakdown in society today and it begins with the lack of parenting at home. I am surprised that anyone would hire young people today at all. The vast majority are disrespectful, rude, and don’t care about anyone but themselves. I weep for the future.

August 9, 2009 at 8:20 am

Kimberly Nasief-Westergren

I couldn't have said it better myself. My husband has spent nearly two decades in advertising. I own a mystery shopping firm. As he has seen advertising expenditures fall, I have seen a surge in business from those firms wishing to maintain their customer relationships. The cost effective solution is to keep your current customers happy, so that they return and not go elsewhere. Yet, what amazes me time and time again is the chains out there that continually advertise, and yet spend very little time, energy, money, or training on their employees. We as customers are more educated than ever. Many of us have less resources. Yet many of us will still travel out of our way to patronize the business where employees greet us, can answer our questions (without the hard pitch), and seem genuinely happy to be there (or do a good job of faking it). Ask people these days where they prefer to shop: Lowe's over Home Depot; Staples vs. Office Depot; Texas Roadhouse vs. Logan's; Southwest vs. Everyone else. Businesses that are customer-centric create a positive "experience" for the customer and empower their employees to engage their customers. It doesn't take much these days to exceed expectations, because we've all seemed to settle for mediocrity. Thank you for articulating it so well.

August 7, 2009 at 6:28 pm

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