Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Customer Services anyone?

Did I miss a news update? Is the recession well and truly over?

I know that house prices have had an upturn and that, as a consequences, housewares are beginning to sell again (and why, oh why, do we call them housewares of all things?) But seriously, do my senses deceive me or does everyone suddenly have money to burn?

The reason I ask is because I was in the dreaded Bluewater last night. It’s not my favourite place to be, but the dort’s birthday is fast approaching and we like to spoil her just a little bit. The place was lit up like a Christmas tree at eight o’clock at night, but was otherwise pretty well deserted.

We parked all of a dozen yards from the entrance, because there couldn’t have been more than a handful of cars in the car park, and we strolled in. 

That’s my kind of shopping.

I like to be attended to. I like to be helped. I like to be able to point and pay.

To help out shop assistants, I always make sure that I dress well and wear make-up. It’s much easier for them to deal with someone they know is a serious shopper, after all. I’m not there to browse, I’m there to spend money. 

I had a list.

In one department store, I approached the dort’s favourite make-up counter. There wasn’t an assistant for miles around. I knew what I wanted, but I couldn’t find it on display. I opened cupboards and still couldn’t find what I wanted. Eventually, someone wandered over from another counter. She told me she could only help me if I knew exactly what I was looking for, because she didn’t know the brand.


I got what I wanted and asked if her brand carried another product. She told me it did, but that her brand was expensive.

Since she clearly didn’t think I could afford what she was selling, I decided that I wouldn’t bother spending my money with her, and I moved on. All she had to do was be pleasant. All she had to do was take an interest. All she had to do was manage not to insult me. Bad move, girly.

It was fine, the shopping centre was empty, and there were plenty of other places that would take my credit card.

Choice, Bluewater where they chose not to serve me
So I chose not to spend my money
I saw something in a window that I thought the dort would like, and the husband and I went into the shop. It was all terribly designer, but once in a while, for a treat, we don’t mind going the extra mile. I walked twice around the shop, but couldn’t find the item in the window. I walked around again, and then realised that none of the young, fashionably dressed, dissolute individuals ‘manning’ the store could be bothered to ask if I needed help. So I mentioned their fail to the husband, loudly enough for the sales assistants to hear, and then we left without buying anything.

It’s one thing being employed because you look good in the clothes, it’s entirely another making yourself useful and earning your sales commission.

Does no one take pride in their job any more?

My first proper job was in retail. I sold shoes on Saturdays, and every single sale was attributed to the member of staff that made it. Those sales were tallied up, so that we all knew where we stood in the pecking order. If I didn’t make more sales than anyone else on a Saturday, as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t doing my job. There was no incentive, no reward... I just expected to work harder and do better than other people. We all did, I think. 

Most of the sales staff I encountered last night seemed to have no more ambition than to waft about fragrantly. 

It was the same in almost every store we went into. In fact, our best experiences were in the shops where we didn’t expect help.

We saw something in another window and went into the shop. The boy in the shirt covered in daisies was lovely. He tried to take the article out of the window, but was stopped by the store manager, who then wasted a chunk of our time looking for one in the back. The boy ended up taking the one out of the window, because it was the last one. The poor  kid had known it all along, and was prevented from doing his job, because his boss didn’t want to have his window display disrupted.

The customer, it turns out, especially if she is me, is the least and last consideration of your average shopkeeper.

I’m a great shopper. I know what I want, I don’t waste time, and I’m endlessly nice, so why can’t I get decent customer service?

The really daft thing is that sales assistants are shoppers too, so why don’t they do as they would be done by?

I haven’t got a clue, but if things don’t change, I’m going to begin to do more of my shopping on the internet, and if people like me start resorting to that sort of nonsense, our High Streets and shopping centres really will start to die out.


  1. what amazes me is how they fail to realise that really simple small things, when combined effectively can make a massive difference to someone's customer service experience. which consequently means there is absolutely no good reason not to put in a little effort to make that difference.

    sometimes I swear people either get it or they don't. if you're not thinking about the customer, what are you thinking about? that you'll never see/have to deal with a particular customer ever again? well maybe with their current approach ...

    heaven forbid you look someone in the eye when you say thank you, or reciprocate when a customer bids you farewell. it's almost like when approached with etiquette they're not sure how to respond other than to ignore your existence or stare at you in a slack-jawed fashion. you wouldn't want to use their name to make them feel like a person instead of a variable plugged into a flow diagram channelling them towards possibly unwanted or unwarranted outcomes. you certainly wouldn't want them to be more informed and advised on anything at all ever.

    sometimes you feel more like a pidgeon that flew in the door and everyone's hoping it'll just figure its own way back out again, than someone who will vitally contribute to their business in such a way as to allow it to continue its operation and promote the collective well-being of those it employees and profits financially, if not the cornerstone of the function of the business itself.

    which makes you wonder then if it's the customer who's not holding the business to task enough, is it apathy for apathy.

    as for me, I would blatantly and flagrantly use whatever powers (or access) I ever had to make sure the customer was satisfied within reason. would you believe that many of the them, how do I say this, gave a shit that I gave them more than they've received in the past by treating them like a person with important needs and better things to do than talk to me. hell, some of them didn't even have better things to do and just wanted to jaw in my ear for half an hour. I'll break the rules there too, because I get it.

    seems many businesses don't, and as yet technology is slowly removing the need for many of them, you'd think they'd be a little more circumspect in their professionalism, or lack thereof ...

  2. My former local High Street had been going to the dogs for a long time before most people started switching to online stores, or going somewhere else entirely, myself included. The stores never had what I was after, and even when they could order it in there was a premium to pay for the service, often three times the cost of a bus ticket to Manchester where I could get a hold of the item the same day, but with a weeks wait. That was before they stopped ordering them in all together.

    But that wasn't what really turned me off the High Street. Store used to assistants really annoyed the hell out of me depending on the store I was in. Some would lock onto you and 'hover' just over your shoulder the entire time, eager to 'make the sale!' that put me off going into those stores again. In other stores the assistants would look bored and distant, with few willing to help when you do have a genuine query.

    No wonder we all went elsewhere.

    Now half the units are empty, coffee shops and fast food restraunts take up a quarter of the total units and the remaining stores are a mix of thrift shops and big name stores that can afford the rents with little competition. Hardly an inspired shopping enviroment.

    Theres no local cinema (closest is 5 miles away), nothing in the way of entertainment appart from a few restraunts and clubs that are nowhere near the high street, a number of pubs (that are slowly being closed down) and precious few reasons to hang around once you'd done your shopping (if you could do it at all). Add a few banks and a local swimming baths, and that was all we had. These days there is even less.

    I was told once there was an art to selling, not to push a product on a customer, but instead to help the customer WANT to buy the product they are looking at. I used to think that was bunk, but a decade and a half later I finally get what I was being told; if you want an item and its in front of you in store, all the assistant has to do is let you convince yourself to buy it (provided you had the money).

    These days, most stores do not make me want to spend the money with them, the sales forces seem largely disinterested and distant in most places and those that do put the effort in barely last longer than a few weeks before moving on to something better (at least, I hope they do). Other stores, the ones that I do want to spend my time and money in, are located well outside the area and often down in the city. In the city I can browse the store that had the items I want, go to the cinema or grab a coffee before going home, to make a day of it when I can. Locally, I get in, grab what I need and get the hell out a fast as humanly possible.

    Shopping local used to be a pleasure, and now that I've moved home to another area entirely, it is again. Sure they don't have everything, but what they do have is enough for me to take my time and browse a little.

    1. Since Bluewater is the biggest, newest dedicated retail centre in the country, you'd think it ought to offer one of the best shopping experiences. It's packed with restaurants and has its own cinema, so there's no shortage of stuff to do. It should be as good as the best city experience, but still couldn't give me what I needed.

      Tragic, isn't it?

    2. It is, and yet it shouldn't be the case.

      Retailing is a skill set all on its own, I've done it myself when I worked in a computer shop and knowing your trade is useful when selling any item to an ill informed customer, no matter what it is your selling. If you walk into a bookshop then you expect the people working there to be, if not well read, then at least competent enough to know what it is they sell when it comes to Genre and Feedback about the books. Same for clothes, food, drink or vehicles, you have to know what it is your selling in order to help the customers who are unsure or require assistance (as an informed customer will generally go ahead and buy what it is they came in for, no fuss).

      I know a few people who work retail and most of them had weeks of training and supervision before being let loose on the customers, but a few have told me of being given one days orientation centred solely around 'not swearing in public and 'here is how you wear your uniform' and that was it, on the shop floor with a handful of tasks to perform. Its hardly ideal if your new to a job.