Customer service is dead

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you will likely fall into one of two categories; you do it because you truly love helping people, or, you’re doing it as a side thing, need the cash and don’t realllly want to talk to anyone, unless you absolutely have to. Sadly, a recent weekend of shopping has made me come to the conclusion that most retail/customer facing staff now fall into the latter camp.
 At least these beeyatches made eye contact with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman...

At least these beeyatches made eye contact with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman...

Firstly, let me focus on my gym – not exactly a retail environment, but absolutely the kind of place where you’d expect some degree of attention to be paid to the whole ‘customer experience’, if not simply to ensure that members are using the equipment safely. I recently moved to The Gym, in East Croydon, as it’s half the price of my former Virgin Active membership, and we’ve been trying to cut down on all of our monthly expenses. What I like about The Gym, is that, despite it being ‘no frills’ it’s got a pretty solid amount of equipment, whether you’re a cardio queen or prefer weights. No pool or sauna, but hey. Another bonus of this gym is that it’s open 24 hours a day, which is a Godsend if you work for yourself and are never quite sure when your working day is going to be over. But this weekend, the whole notion of it being ‘no frills’ suddenly struck me as being code for, ‘negligible staff sightings and when they are there don’t expect them to actually TALK to you.’
Don’t get me wrong, as someone who’s been going to the gym for too many years, I don’t go there in need of advice on how to squat or how to use an elliptical machine, but week after week I see numerous newbies looking scared, confused and lonely, often in the sight range of one of those rare staff members, but they receive no help. There’s no encouraging smile, no offer of assistance; instead they are left to their own devices, and I am sure some of them inevitably decide that they won’t come back – it’s just too intimidating. This weekend, I think I saw two staff members, and of course, they didn’t say hi or anything - although one did appear to be talking to himself... Anyway, when myself and my partner were working out, as well as a few other people, in the general-jumping-around area, we were surprised to see one of the mute staff members walk through ‘our’ area and proceed to put up signs saying the area was closed for a class. There was no tannoy warning 10 or 15 minutes before this, as with other gyms; indeed, the staff member himself didn’t utter one single word to any of us. Instead he kept his head down while he busied himself with his precious signs. How difficult would it have been for him to say, ‘hi guys, in about 10 minutes we’re going to need this area for a class, feel free to join!’, or words to that effect? I had to laugh when, five minutes later, this staff member, a PT no less, started instructing the class – he DID have a voice, hurrah!

Later on that day, I decided to show my mum (who has been visiting this past week) the delights of Westfield Shopping Centre, Shepherd’s Bush. Coming from a small town (Coventry) I knew that Westfield would have a great array of options for my mum to spend her Christmas gift vouchers on. It wasn’t until we’d walked into Reiss that we realised we had experienced zero staff interaction in the first hour we’d spent in the massive shopping centre. We’d first gone into M&S and spent a good 15 minutes feeling the fabric of numerous items of workout wear, plus a few undies (it’s M&S so it has to be done), all with no staff member in sight. Then we walked into Debenhams, again for underwear, and again, no customer service to speak of. I’m not even talking about a ‘hello’ – even a glance in our direction might have been nice. We headed up to men’s suiting in the ‘luxury’ area, and nope, no-one wanted to know. So then we headed into Reiss, where I basically fell in love with a real fur gilet, reduced to around £700 (!), but alas, no amount of fondling of said fur resulted in either of the two or three customer service advisors even looking in our direction – they were just SO into organising those hangers I guess. At this point I seriously started to wonder, ‘maybe I look like a homeless person?’ I looked down at my feet. Well, I was wearing Converse, but they weren’t tattered and grey. I was also wearing a parka – but it was clean and scented with Narciso Rodriguez! My hair, while a little out of control (anyone growing out curls will know) was still in some sort of shape, and I had a full face of makeup on, with a hint of delicate contouring, and I had earrings in. The brief question of race popped up – was I too brown? (Actually I’m more of a yellow tone, but for some that’s scary enough.) But then I looked at my mum (who’s white, and thought, ‘nah, not today.’). Plus, she looked okay too, bless. So why didn’t anyone in Reiss speak to us? After that we headed down one of the centre’s thoroughfares and browsed the lolaandgrace jewellery stand. The two attending females made a point of carrying on their conversation – even though they could obviously see us – for what must have been around three minutes, with not another customer in sight. I started picking up multiple pairs of earrings, in the hope that they might think I was a thief and perhaps apprehend me, but again, nada. They honestly didn’t give a crap.

But why? Do you have to be the owner of the business to actually believe there is any value in spending time with a customer these days? Or is it the fact that, because we shop so much online, that in-store staff feel they’re unnecessary? If this is the case, why don’t we just get rid of them altogether? And this isn’t coming from someone who thinks retail staff are there to carry my bags and do my bidding; I’ve worked in retail on many occasions myself, and have always cared about the (nice) customers who need my help. Honestly, I don’t know what the solution is, but Reiss, Debenhams et al, I’m watching you!

Have you had any negative shopping experiences lately? Or better still, have you had any good ones so I can shop where you shop?! Let me know in the comments box.