Ghosts of Holiday Past

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Another holiday season is behind us, but the memory of the less-than-stellar store-level service we encountered from young associates still lingers.

We have all had these experiences—interactions with sales associates who are not prepared to serve inquiring shoppers. Many can’t answer questions. Some seem annoyed or bored. Others simply ignore your requests.

I can’t shake an experience my husband Jack had while picking up an order from the Best Buy store in our town. When a very uninformed Gen Y “blue shirt,” or sales associate, couldn’t find his order, she called her supervisor and said, “Some guy is here to pick up a camera he ordered.”

He stopped her and said, “Some guy? Is that how you talk to a customer?” Jack’s experience prompted me to take note of experiences during a critical shopping period: Thanksgiving weekend.

The inventory-management system revealed that three stores had it in stock, but the associate was dubious. He leisurely strolled to the phone, called the closest store, and said, “I know you don’t have one, but here’s the model the customer wants.” When the store proved him right, he went on his merry way.

“What about the other stores?” she called after him. His reply: “They have them in Riverhead and Setauket [Long Island, N.Y.].” Since it was already 8:30 p.m., and the sale was ending, she asked if she could pay for it there and pick it up at the other store the next day. He said no—end of conversation.

Five minutes later, I found her stocking a clip display. I asked her if she had found it, she said no. I left the store.

“Do you work here?” I asked her.

“We both do,” was the reply from a young gal standing between us.

I asked if the pants were available in petite, and they both replied, “I have no idea. There is new stock in the back, but we haven’t opened the boxes yet.”

They didn’t offer a solution, or see if they were available online or at another store. After staring at them in disbelief, I walked away.

It is not uncommon for retailers to rely on teens and twentysomethings at store level. Yet, their sub-par communication skills are starting to take a toll on customer service.

Most have cell phones and iPods hanging off their wrist, and texting is their native tongue. Maybe it’s time retailers leverage these tools to ensure associates know how to address the customer, and impart product knowledge, including what merchandise is being sold, and how to solve problems.

Let’s save store-level customer service by creating a standard of training that speaks their language.

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