One Sunday morning, at work, the manager announced all associates, that is, sales workers, had to write an essay about what we are supposed to do in regards to some tasks involved in their jobs. My first thought was, "Are we back in school? This is ridiculous!" My second thought was, "This would make a great column!"
I have been in retail sales and management for over 30 years, and I have seen and heard every story, good and bad under the sun. I am part sales person, part psychologist and part Dad. Which part I use depends on each circumstance.
Here is my essay about retail sales and the treatment demanded by customers and hoped-for by sales people. Remember this the next time you go shopping. Especially remember this essay when you start to say, "Just looking," with your hand out like an NFL running back, waiting for the quarterback to give him the ball.
Sales people hate customers looking for handouts. We also hate it when customers walk in to the store, while using their cell phone and don't acknowledge us when all we want to do is greet and welcome you. That's plain rude.
The other thing I ask customers to remember is that if a salesperson helps you and you don't buy that day, please ask for that person when you return. That applies only if you were happy with his or her service the first time you visited the store. We make our living that way; many or most sales people work on commission. If you don't buy from us, we don't make any money to pay our bills, feed our families and enjoy vacations.
It kills us when we see you again and you tell us, "Hey, I just placed my order!" We look at you as if you're crazy. When did you do it and with whom did you place the order? Why didn't you do it with me?
That's just pouring salt on the wound because you didn't give me the order! It's as if you put your hand in my wallet and took my money out of it. Thanks a lot.
I am a consumer. I am a retail sales associate. Combine those two roles and you can understand how aware I am of both sides of a sales transaction. I will not only look for the best price I can find. I look for the best service, too.
I try to treat customers the way I want to be treated; that is, with honesty, dignity, integrity and respect. If you miss any of those four things on either side of the sale, most likely it won't happen. At least it won't for me.
In 30 years of retails sales experience, I learned many things from customers and people with whom I work. Much of what I learned was good. Some of it was not so good. I try to forget the bad experiences.
Here's something that just happened to me within the last few days. I purchased a new cell phone for my 14-year old daughter, Michelle. I ordered online, through the Wal-Mart website on Sunday. I asked for shipping to a Wal-Mart store near where I live. On Tuesday, we had the new phone.
FedEx called to let me know it had delivered the phone to the Wal-Mart, in East Meadow, New York. I called Wal-Mart to find out when I could pick up the phone. A polite sales associate at Wal-Mart, Jerome, told me the FedEx delivery had not been checked-in, yet, but he'd call when he found my phone.
Ten minutes later Jerome is on the phone telling me I can pick up the phone when I wish. I packed my daughters into the car and off we drove to Wal-Mart. The young woman, at the "Store to Store" counter had no ideas about my phone, but gladly went in search of it.
A minute or two later, Jerome notices us waiting and asks if he can help. Yes, he remembers our phone conversation, saying he put my phone in a place he could grab it quickly. One minute later, I had the new phone, but the fun was only beginning.
I had to activate the phone, an LG Rumor 2 that works only with Virgin Mobile, which uses the Sprint network. I decided to activate the phone online. This was a huge mistake.
First, I received an error message indicating the network was not available, at this time. I called Virgin Mobile. The call center is somewhere unmentionable, that is, overseas. That was problem number two.
I explained the problem. The person on the other end valiantly tried different ways to activate the phone, but had no luck. He said the serial number, of my phone, was associated with another account. He gave me a case number and said the phone should activate in 24-to-72 hours. You can only imagine how happy Michelle was to hear her phone was up to three days away from working.
I let time pass. II called Virgin Mobile back, on Sunday, as I had not received an email or a phone call, as promised. I was not happy with the service. I'm thinking to myself, that if I treated a customer the way I was treated, I'd be in deep trouble and broke.
At Virgin Mobile, the person I talked with was of absolutely no help, at all. He told me that this phone was associated with another account and there was nothing he could do other than open another case. He also suggested I buy another phone.
Throughout this conversation, my voice kept getting louder and louder and my blood pressure went up, up, up. I was frustrated and if I could have reached through the phone and ripped out his throat, I would. I understood at that moment the frustration of any customer on the phone that felt that they weren't being satisfied.
I asked, no, demanded to speak to a supervisor. I was repeatedly put on hold and told, every minute or three, the supervisor was busy. After ten minutes, I hung up, letting Virgin Mobile win this battle, but not the war.
I called the Wal-Mart web site customer service number. A pleasant woman answered, apologized for the problem and offered to send me a new phone to my home, not the store, at no charge. All I had to do was agree to their on line affidavit and print out a shipping label. I was so stunned that I made her repeat all this.
She didn't ask me for any money. She didn't give me a hard time. She listened to the problem, and fixed it.
To me, that is the essence of customer service. She said that the phone would ship out next day delivery and I should have it by Wednesday or Thursday. It went out Monday and I had it on Tuesday. Michelle was very happy when she came home from school.
I had to go through the activation process again, but choose to do it over the phone this time. I only had to talk to a rep to make sure I got the correct plan. We got it done.
The next thing I did was to purchase a separate accidental warranty plan on the phone. Michelle is not what I call gentle with her things. I bought a two-year accidental damage and handling plan. If the phone breaks, they will either fix it or give me back my purchase price, including tax. A good deal, I thought.
I believe in protection plans and offer them to all my customers as well. The warranty from the manufacturer only covers defects. If a customer damages a product and they don't have a protection plan, they are on their own. If I spend $2000 on a new product and can protect it for 5 years for $200, it's worth it. The customer comes out ahead, with $1800, if replacement or repair is out of the question. It's a win-win situation for the customer, and the company.
I try to relate my own experiences, with protection plans, to customers and sometimes they listen, but sometimes they don't. If you have to call a repair service to come into your house one time, it's going to cost as much, if not more than the protection plan would cost them for 5 years. It's very cost effective if you think about it.
Good service, before, during and after the sale is important. A customer doesn't want to feel that once you have their money, they are not important anymore. They want to feel important, all the time. Unfortunately, some customers are more difficult than are others and call for different ways of handling, but that's another story.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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