The Theft of Customer Service

by Barry Moltz on June 10, 2011

Today’s guest post is from Zanna Joyce, Chief Duck Wrangler:

“Maybe I’m a bit shifty-eyed.  Maybe I hover a little too often.  I don’t know, but I am finding loss-control measures at small boutique stores to be a bit much!

You know the type I mean.  Maybe they’re owned by people who use the store to have around themselves all the things they like.  And I mean all the things.  The store is crowded to the rafters.  There are lots of nice things to look at, but the staff, not able to get a good view of the store and its visitors, are on edge about how many of those pretty, interesting things might go missing.

I am a browser.  I may go into a shop with an idea of what I want, such as “something for dinner”, or “a small gift for Mary”, but I most definitely want to look around, see what is there, find out what interesting products they may have that are different than other places.  I walk in and the staff person pops out from wherever they are squeezing in even more stock to say “can I help you?”

Now, staffers have a few things going on.  They are aware of the pile of stock they have left in the middle of an aisle.  They are aware that if they don’t make the target sales for the month, their job may be on the line.  And they are aware that there are lots of people who will take advantage of an opportunity to steal should it present itself.

So they say “can I help you” and I say “I am looking for some bison for dinner – do you have sausages” and they say no, which hangs in the air.  I want to say, well, then I will just look around, because I really do have a commitment to leaving money in small independent stores whenever I can.  But I hesitate, because too often this means that the staff person flutters around, making it impossible to just look at things.  I might make a half hearted attempt – “Oh, these are nice tomatoes, maybe I will get some of them”, but what I really want to do is to figure out what they do have that I can make dinner from because I just want to do my shopping and I really don’t care if it’s bison sausage or fish or even tofu.  I am there and I want to get my task over with, in a place that I value the very existence of, taking the opportunity to re-familiarize myself with it at the same time so that I know what I can come back for and how best to recommend it.

What usually happens?  I walk out with one or two things.  I have no idea of what else the store might carry that would be useful for future needs, and I feel frustrated at having had to do this little dance with the staffer.  Is my experience completely unique?  I have discussed it with others who are not as easily profiled as me and have heard similar stories.

Less crowded stores, where products are chosen with intent and which leave lots of space for visual observation of shoppers would really help.  As well, a frank and straightforward assessment of security risks, with sufficient mirrors or cameras so that the staff know who is in the store and what they are doing would enable staff to feel safer, and more able to focus on really delivering great customer service, rather than hovering as if everyone is a potential thief.”

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