Retail and the Lost Art of Customer Service

HeyGuys.jpg
Beware: beneath these clothing racks, a sales person is lurking.
This past weekend, I decided to take a trip back to my old stamping grounds, the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. Working there off and on from 1996 to 2013, I spent a lot of time wandering the building's hallowed shopping-mall halls (when you work retail, you do a lot of on-the-clock ambling and hiding behind racks of clothes to avoid authority figures). After quitting my job at Shirt Folding Store, I had only been back to the mall a handful of times, but I recently fell into some money and needed to stock up on my freelance writer essentials of stretch pants, Uggs and a new laptop case.

Upon entering the first store of my mall return, I set off what would be the beginning of many retail greeting booby traps. If you've shopped in a big-box store or mall-only chain store in the last ten years, then you should be familiar with this phenomenon, too: Once you cross the threshold into a retail outlet, someone hidden deep on the sales floor shouts "HEY, GUYS!" at the top of his or her lungs. You try to spot the source of the scream, but are tricked by well-dressed mannequins and racks of shiny things. They scream again. "GUYS, be sure to check out our awesome T-shirt promo going on alllllll weekend!" This is the state of customer service in retail in 2014.

See also: Is that condescension in my voice, or am I just happy to see you?

I can't knock this approach: I would sometimes have to apply the retail scream to my own customer greetings if a manager was watching while I was stationed at my various posts around Shirt Folding Store.

But working in retail for the segment of time that I did allowed me to see the many highs and lows. Things were grand at Shirt Folding Store in 2006: Money was flowing for this global clothing company, and the store where I worked had a "living room" for customers that was stocked daily with fresh copies of the Wall Street Journal. We handed out bottled water to shoppers. We spent time with customers (sometimes hours) finding exactly what jeans they were looking for, even if it meant calling Canada and ordering them. We were non-commissioned but happily committed.

We worked like a happy hive of shirt-folders, staffing a few thousand feet of retail space with dozens of cheerful employees. We even had cable TV in our break room, Internet access and an employees-only balcony for breaks from our hard work folding shirts. Every hour or so, a new shift of salespeople would be "on-boarded" (retail stores have their own specific jargon), and we would be given a daily tour of the store and its current stock, like the place was a fuckin' museum.

Then, in 2008, the recession hit. No more bottled water. Couches in the store were replaced with giant sale racks. The deals, coupons and BOGOs (that's short for buy-one-get-one) rotated every single day, irritating customers to no end. Prices were slashed so dramatically and so often that nothing sold at full price because shoppers knew to wait for the next sale. The staff was whittled down to bare bones; there was no greeter at the door to scream "HEY, GUYS!" We were lucky to be scheduled eight hours a week. Also, customer service went out the window.

While sales seem to be much better than they once were, the whole model of customer service has changed forever. I set off many a "HEY, GUYS!" greeting this weekend while I shopped, but the way salespeople interacted with me was bizarre. Maybe it's because I have been out of the game for so long, but there was a casualness to the whole experience that left me feeling creeped out.

First, I went to a boutique store in Cherry Creek North to look at getting some new glasses. The salesperson was a bubbly millennial. I point out this generational characteristic because when she picked out a pair of glasses for me to try on and I said they made me look like a babysitter from an '80s movie, she replied, "I wasn't even born in the '80s, so I don't really know what you mean." She then proceeded to tow me around the store, having me try on ugly pair after ugly pair of glasses, her in-your-face, buddy-buddy honesty about what styles she liked best driving me right out the door with no glasses. I felt exhausted, and all I was trying to do was buy something.

Back inside the mall, I visited another prescription-glasses outlet. This time, I was helped by another too-chummy salesperson, but this guy was the talker-over kind; he would ask me a question about what I was looking for in frames, and then talk over me when I tried to answer. Again, it was like this weird casualness that I was not looking for in a clerk. I wasn't looking for a friend or a bro; I was looking for a decent pair of glasses.



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60 comments
Jaci Davis
Jaci Davis

Oh. Em ge. Have to put your cell Down to ring up a customer. .... whhhhhyyyuyyyyu

Megan Haenny
Megan Haenny

This is why you should support direct sales businesses. Locally owned, great service and we actually care about our relationships with our customers.

Chris Heller
Chris Heller

I worked retail mostly in the early 80s. Some of what the writer talks about was happening then too but not to such a great extent. People had better fac-to-face skills then and society was a couple of shades more polite. Yelling 'hey guys!" at customers back then would have been looked upon is weird and crude.

Jonah Menzies
Jonah Menzies

The Lost "Art" of Journalism. I present to you Exhibit A: Bree Davies.

Dan Rutherford
Dan Rutherford

Today, I experienced polar opposite experiences... From fantastic customer service at nordstrom to a borderline brain dead girl named Jisaley who couldn't figure out how to get her credit card reader to read my card and I told me to pay another way. 1. Her parents obviously hate her with a name like that and she doomed to a life as a cam girl. 2. I ended up running the card myself on her machine without problem... just like the folks at nordstrom did. She should have paid me the $.08 she made while I did her job for her. End angry, entitled white guy rant.

Roger Boyce
Roger Boyce

"Will that be everything today?" No, I figured I'd wait til' I check out to ask, "Hey, where do I find the tarter sauce?" Smh....

Daniel Shalik
Daniel Shalik

JC PENNYS sales clerks are helpful and nice.

Patty Leidy
Patty Leidy

I had that exact employee in the eye glass place..I swear..I used to work in that mall too.. retail sure isn't what it used to be for sure....I will say Nordstroms has the best employees and depending on the department..Macys...customers sure have gotten nastier for sure..

Joslyn Larned
Joslyn Larned

It's gone in Colorado. All the big chains are putting small businesses out. The coirporate chains don't care about quality IE Wal-Mart, they only care about your money. Same with auto part stores and resturaunts.

Chris Brown
Chris Brown

I heard a story on NPR this afternoon that indicates that the problem is one of population density, and is predictable across all city scapes.

Tom Aigeldinger
Tom Aigeldinger

That's one of the only things I don't love about living here.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

You're getting old, Bree, and if you're searching for some superficial emotional validation from minimum-wage store clerks, it'll only get worse for you.

Stephanie Ann Hast-Clow
Stephanie Ann Hast-Clow

Doesn't matter what kind of service.....why can't people count change back? Drives me crazy.

GuestWho
GuestWho topcommenter

"We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature."

Voltaire

Justin Jordan
Justin Jordan

I think "the customer is always right" saying has given consumers some sort of entitled attitude that they can't treat the employees however they choose because they are paying their bills. I don't work in retail but I do work in customer service and if your going to talk at me like a bitch then expect me to talk right back to you that way.

Kc McKeon
Kc McKeon

Not at A Line Boutique at the Landmark! Best Customer Service I've ever seen! Ten times better than Nordys!

Meghan Dawkins Garza
Meghan Dawkins Garza

When the customers start treating the workers with respect, that is when Customer Service will come back

Jessica Fenske
Jessica Fenske

Its sometimes a reflection of how they're treated by customers

Chad Nelan
Chad Nelan

Working in retail I can say that people only treat others as they are treated. 9 times out of 10 the customer treats us like crap. Not to mention unless you are management you get paid like crap. Between those two things where is the incentive to give good customer service?

Michael Frost
Michael Frost

Uh oh we got a jonah here...and he brought his hash tags...

sballardo672
sballardo672

I was mildly interested in reading this until I saw who wrote it, at which point I figured it was just another bitch-fest (bitch, as in complaining, NOT the manner that tends to outrage all feminists).  Without having read the entire article, I will say that CS has gone down due in large part to the apathy younger generations carry towards life.  I don't blame them.  I blame their parents that catered to their every whim and ill-prepared them for life.


Kathryn Rua
Kathryn Rua

Well retail stores only hire high schoolers and college kids because they are the only ones who are willing to work for minimum wage and 15 hrs a week. And customers have this self entitlement to this Devine customer services and when not getting the answer they like...they call managers to complain..in turn , sales associate doing their job gets yelled at and no longer takes pride in their job because when they are doing what they are told, they get in trouble. Customers are the problem.

Jaci Davis
Jaci Davis

Jenny Tucker... your generation is lazy period. Nobody knows HOW to actually treat people spending money with your establishment so anymore. Not entitled... ADULTS acting like ADULTS AT THEIR Jobs. .. get on face book later

Michael Frost
Michael Frost

Oh...AND IF YOU'RE THE TYPE OF ASSHOLE THAT WALKS INTO A STORE 5 MINUTES BEFORE IT CLOSES ALL TO SAY "I'M JUST LOOKING." YOU DON'T NEED GOOD SERVICE. YOU NEED BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS AND A BLACK EYE...

Michael Frost
Michael Frost

I agree only to the degrees that customer service in retail is never seen as a career path to be taken seriously. That and consumers have taken advantage of retailers with notions like "the customer is always right." So many consumers have taken advantage of that concept and it has forced retailers to instill policies that make it that much more difficult to meet people half way...

Max Padilla
Max Padilla

When employers don't give a shit about their employees and pay them crap. service is the first thing that suffers. Why care about your job if your job doesn't care about you? Taking pride in your work only go's so far when the company or person you work for cares only about making money for itself or themselves and not giving some of it back to the people that make it for them.

Beth Reed
Beth Reed

Most definitely! Too inconvenient.

Victoria Dyksterhuis Folkerts
Victoria Dyksterhuis Folkerts

Depends on where you shop! Try the Old Navy at Colorado Mills or most Christopher & Banks stores. I always got excellent customer service at Coldwater Creek in Aspen Grove. Customers should also be respectful to the store employees you are often treated as you treat others.

Brian Jensen
Brian Jensen

There are two parts to this problem....first this guy thinks retail associates are there to kiss their ass....no they they sell you a product....second corporations have take away from retail employees from providing customer service. You may have a bad experience, but you are pointing the blame in the wrong place

c.burnett
c.burnett

Customer service, like our economy, has really diminished over the years.  People are generally more unhappy now than ever before and that applies to both customers and sales reps.  However, I usually find that if you are respectful to people they are usually respectful back but not always. Waitstaff and retail sales people nowadays though have to deal with so many assholes treating them like dogs for no reason. No way I could do any of those jobs now. People just really suck and it's sad.

Chris Heller
Chris Heller

Some of what the writer described was happening 30 to 35 years ago. I know because that's when I worked retail. At that time people I think were a little more used to face-to-face contact and at least surface politness was considered necessary. Yelling 'Hey guys!' at customers back then would have been considered weird and crude.

Stephanie Sarad
Stephanie Sarad

People are rude. On both sides. A lot of miserable people out there. Happy people don't act like assholes. Sorta sad if you think about it.

Roger Boyce
Roger Boyce

At check out they ask, "did you find everything ok?" No. I just figured I'd wait til' I check out and THEN ask, "where's the tarter sauce?"

Dave Childers
Dave Childers

Yes and no, If you (the customer) yell at the employee and expect anything other than the finger the you get what you deserve. No matter how much the rep makes. No one is going to be nice to you if you act disgruntled. On the flip side if the rep is disgruntled or not striving to do his job then they should be fired and be able to fired.

Christopher J. Martinez
Christopher J. Martinez

I support Local - so generally the Customer Service is excellent - Don't go to Mall's really - I can say historicley when I have been to a mall and or corporate store - CS sucks - It's as though they all hate their job or try really hard to fake like they are happy - Whole Foods - TJ's _ Natural Grocers - Sprouts always have happy and real people working for them - I'm friends with the Wash Park Hood WF"s - Major retailers should take note - Also Costco people are cool -

Virginia Lee
Virginia Lee

Defintely not in my business. I value integrity but not afraid to kick out rif raf..

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