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Bill Maxwell

A good sales clerk is hard to find

Good customer service, especially in retail stores, is becoming rarer by the day. Shoppers and clients are angry and frustrated, and many businesses and entire industries are watching their bottom line take a hit and their stock value plummet as a result.

I don't know of any average person who doesn't have a few horror stories about shabby treatment related either to a product or to a service.

A few evenings ago, I went shopping for trousers at a national chain store in Tyrone Square Mall. I won't identify the store by name, but let me say that the company is more than a century old, and my childhood pals and I used to take its colorful mail-order catalog to the outhouse and daydream.

While browsing, I noticed a great sale on dress shirts. Not remembering my sleeve length, I searched for a salesperson for a measurement. After about six minutes, I spotted an employee approaching. He carried an armload of shirts and began placing them on a shelf. I asked if he could measure my sleeve length. He said he didn't do measurements. I asked why not, since he worked in this department.

"We don't have a measuring tape," he said, his tone dismissive.

"Can you get one?"

"We don't have a measuring tape. I can't measure you."

He returned to stacking shirts. Needless to say, I was angry. The young man's expressionless face, his empty voice, his sloppy attire and his obvious disdain for customers, angered me even more. I watched him with two other customers: the same behavior. I left the store vowing never to return.

This encounter reminded me of another one a few months ago. I went to a home and building supply chain store on 22nd Avenue N and ordered a screen door to be installed by one of the company's contractors. The contractor installed the door, but he improperly put the resistance arm over the knob of the permanent door.

I telephoned the store and told the woman on the other end about my problem. She promised to call back. She did that afternoon, saying the contractor, now in a northern part of the county, insisted he had installed my door properly, but that he would check on my problem three days later, when he returned to my area.

He never telephoned. He never showed up. Fuming, I fixed the door, a service for which I had paid a lot of money.

I'm not just kvetching, folks. BusinessWeek.com and an MSN Money-Zogby poll reported that hundreds of thousands of people each day experience dead ends on automated phone lines, wander around stores searching for a sales clerk or squander half of their day waiting for the cable guy who never shows up.

Using numbers from pollster Zogby International, MSN Money compiles an annual Customer Service Hall of Shame. Following are the 2008 offenders, ranked by percentage of more than 7,000 respondents nationwide who rated a company's service as being "poor": AOL, 47 percent; Comcast, 42 percent; Sprint, 39 percent; Abercrombie & Fitch, 38 percent; Qwest, 34 percent; Capital One, 32 percent; Bank of America, 31; Time Warner Cable, 31 percent; HSBC Finance, 30 percent; and Cox Communications, 29 percent.

The question, of course, is what's causing the apparent lack of caring, the rudeness and the incompetence in customer service? Ethan Roberts, who writes a weekly online finance article, states that poor customer service may stem from several factors, including "minimum employee training, job dissatisfaction, corporations taking desperate measures to save money, a lack of loyalty and morale between management and employees, a declining education system and even poor parenting."

I predict that as older, more experienced workers continue to be laid off, customer service will worsen, especially in retail stores, where I do most of my shopping.

What, then, is the future of customer service? Ken Gronbach, an advertising executive and a consultant on consumer issues, writes that "shoppers need to readjust their expectations of services. Consumers will have to budget more time to shop than ever before, and they will no longer find shopping a pleasant experience. The real price you pay for any product in a retail environment is the sum of your time, your effort, and the dollar amount of the product."

Increasingly, I'm abandoning retail stores for cyberbuying, where I can sit in front of my computer and not have to deal with a young, ignorant, rude sales clerk.

A good sales clerk is hard to find 07/30/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 5:35pm]
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