Thursday, July 23, 2009

Help, Wanted? Guest Blogger George Garner

Today's guest George Garner shares some simple ways we as customers can help those in the service industry to help us more effectively. ("Help me help you help me..." anyone?) Garner has worked in the retail industry for seven years and bought stuff from it for over thirty.

Help, Wanted?

By George Garner

I’ve been in the working world for about sixteen years so far, and roughly seven of them were spent in the glorious world of retail. During those seven long years I’ve learned one very important thing: I cannot read minds. No really, it’s true. Yet, in my store on any given day, streams of people walk in and out expecting me to instinctively know what they need and when they need it.

I’ve spent a lot of time behind the counter offering help, but, like every service employee, I’m often on the other side of the counter seeking help. And those of us who spend time behind the counter have a unique perspective on how to the find help we’re used to giving. So to you, dear reader, I offer these tips on what you can do to help your service employee read your mind better:

Service people are people too. I spent a day greeting about a dozen different people, and about half of them never said a word or returned my gaze. So, consider your body language and how rude you’re being when you enter the store or ask for help. Are you saying “please” and “thank you?” Are you looking at a person’s eyes instead of some random product? It’s pretty unfair to ask a service person to be kind to you if you won’t do the same to them.

Let us help you.
We’re there to work, and our work is helping you. Don’t forget, just as you’re evaluated in your job, we’re evaluated by how we help you. While you’re “just looking,” our bosses are standing around wondering why you’re aimlessly wandering around while we’re just standing there watching you look. We have a job to do, and that job is to help you. So let us. You’re happier when you find what you’re looking for, and we’re happier when the boss isn’t breathing down our neck.
Remember, it’s okay if you really are “just looking,” just say it differently. Training manuals have pages on dealing with the “just looking” customer, so if you say, “I’m just looking,” the staff will snap into action to turn you into a buying customer. Just say the truth: “I have time to kill before my lunch hour is over,” or, “My wife/husband is next door and I thought I’d poke around,” or, “The bus isn’t here yet.” Whatever it is, just say it. Chances are the staff person will learn you really are just looking and leave you alone.

No one has learned to read minds. Tell your staff person exactly what you need with as many details as you can provide. If you’re looking for a particular product, tell the staff person when and where you saw it. This helps us narrow down the hundreds of products sold and hone in on the one product that you’re looking for.

It’s a business, not a playground. If work is your second home, then the store is a second home for those who earn a paycheck there. Treat it nicely, please. There’s no need to go around messing it all up, letting your kids run around unsupervised, or leaving a pile of unpurchased merchandise in a different part of the store. If you don’t know where something belongs, ask us. We’ll help you. Are your kids getting a bit out of hand? Ask us. We’ll help you. Don’t know what to do with that pile of tried-on clothes? Ask us. We’ll… you get the idea. Just let us.

We’re not trying to take your money.
One day I saw a customer looking at a product that I bought years ago and have enjoyed ever since. It cost about $12.50. I walk over and share my experience with him. He looks angry, and his wife says, “It’s okay, he’s just doing his job.” I felt awful. I really have used it, and I really did enjoy it, and really, I’m just doing my job – helping you. At the end of the day you’re the consumer – you have all the power. Our job is to tell you about our product and determine if it fits your needs. Most service people realize this and want to do well by you. We tell the truth. Sure, we want to make sales and, occasionally, we do work on commission. But for the overwhelming majority of service people one sale will not make or break our numbers or even earn them any commission, so we’re not lying to you just to make a sale. Instead, we’re trying to help you trust us and listen to us.

We don’t run the company – we just work there.
I cannot tell you how many people choose to vent their frustrations about company policies to me. I get it, I really do. But please, vent to me as a fellow consumer – not the head of the company. I don’t make the policy and I don’t make the product. Talk to me as a person, not as the CEO. I promise I’ll do the best I can to help.

Stores cannot carry everything all the time.
I cannot control the fact that you, as a size 3 petite or 24 long, cannot find clothes anywhere. I’m sorry that the Whizz-Bang gadget is out of stock. Yes, it sucks, but there really aren’t enough of you to make it profitable for a company to carry all products all the time. I can sympathize, and really, I do, but I cannot change it.

Hold us accountable for how we do by you. At the end of the day, if you’re kind, considerate, your needs are reasonable and you communicate them well, then it’s my job to make you happy. If I don’t, tell me. There are many, many service people out there who hate their jobs and/or don’t do them well. Sure, customers bear some responsibility to help us to help you, but some of us just stink. Tell us, or tell someone that your experience was poor. At worst, it’s a learning opportunity for us. Oh, and if we do well by you, tell us or tell someone. Reward the good of us, point out the bad, and you’ll be helping hundreds of customers find help happier, speedier, and easier.

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