Yesterday I had a very unpleasant encounter with a sales person and it got me thinking about where we are going wrong in the retail world, and the sales assistants that live in it.

After spending a week at home with a very sick baby and toddler, I had promised my 3-year-old a treat when we went into the pharmacy to pick up his script for a double dose of steroids due to terrible croup. Despite feeling so unwell, he had been so patient throughout the hour wait at the doctor, and the 15-minute consultation.

Sleep deprived and bleary eyed, I walked my 2 boys from the doctor to the pharmacy and handed in the script. While we were waiting, the sales person overheard my son ask me if he could please pick his treat now, and when I said yes, she said to him ‘Lollies? You shouldn’t be having those, you are sick’.

I thought it was odd but didn’t say anything.

Once at the counter I placed the steroids and lollies (sugar free – not that I should have to justify that) on the desk, and the sales person said again ‘Should he even be having those? He’s sick’.

 

she said what?!

 

Now, I don’t know when it became appropriate for sales assistants to give dietary advice to customers, or to discourage customers from buying products, but I am sure you will understand why I was rather taken aback at her ‘sales’ approach. Between questioning a mother's decisions and trying to dissuade me to buy, I’m not exactly sure what her sales angle was.

I was so shocked at her question that I mumbled something about him being good and needing a treat and scuttled out of there. Of course later I thought about all the witty things I should have said, but that’s another story.

So – what exactly is happening with the state of retail affairs when a sales person thinks she can say that to a customer? Everywhere you look, retailers talk of doom and gloom – not enough customers, too many people shopping online, rent too expensive….the list goes on. But then actual paying customers are treated badly.

Why?

I don’t know what the answer is, but it did prompt me to write this article and point out a few things.

It’s called customer service for a reason.

Yes, you are there to serve. This is what you are paid to do. This is the job you applied for, and presumably, the job you said you could do, and were willing to do, when you were interviewed for it. If you don’t want to work in customer service, resign and look elsewhere. There are plenty of people who are ready and willing to take your spot.

Don’t assume or judge.

In a world where first impressions are everything, I can tell you right now that some of my biggest sales have come from people wearing Target trackies, and often it’s the woman carrying the Louis Vuitton that will only shop in the sale section.

One customer I will always remember fondly from my lingerie days, is the girl who could not have been more than 19. She walked in, dressed in old clothes, with a ratty backpack on. She was quite timid and shy and started asking me about the different types of bras. We discussed styles, colours, sizes etc, and she took about 10 sets into the fitting room with her. I fitted her into the correct size and she was beaming.

When she came out of the fitting room I asked her which one she would be taking. She’s responded with ‘I’m taking all of them’. She then proceeded to ask me what other colours they came in, and her purchase piled up on the counter. She spent close to $1500 – which was our stores entire budget for the day.

Of course I was curious so I asked her about her purchase. It turned out she had just had a breast reduction, after struggling with being uncomfortable for years. She had been saving every week since she was 15 for the day she could buy bras that she was happy with.

She then proceeded to tell me that she’d been in to one of our competitors in the half an hour prior, and was treated so badly she came to us instead.

In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman - ’Big mistake…….huge’.

Julia Roberts huge mistake

 

There will always be s*%t customers.

Yep, there will be those customers that are unpleasant to deal with. My favourites were the types who used to rock up at 3am on Christmas Eve, then proceed to rant and rave about why you didn’t have the size they needed available….hey buddy, we’ve all known Christmas was coming for 364 days, prepare a little better next time.

Or, the ones I used to deal with at McDonalds – you really have never lived until you’ve had a cheeseburger thrown in your face.

In these situations, take a deep breath after the unpleasant encounter and shake it off. The next customer will be better.

There is a difference between slavery and service.

Having said all of the above,I should clarify that I am not saying you should let people treat you like a slave, and there is a difference between service and slavery. According to the dictionary….

Slavery: a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them.

Service: assistance or advice given to customers during and after the sale of goods.

So, for example, if a customer is aggressive, threatening, abusive or you feel unsafe – this is definitely not OK.

If a customer expects you to stop talking to a co-worker about your weekend so that you can serve them – this is definitely OK.

 customer service bad

Overall, remember who is paying your wages.

I’ve got news for you – it is not the owner of the company that is paying your wages. Well, technically it is. But do you want to know where that money comes from? When it comes down to it, every single dollar on your pay slip at the end of the week comes from the customer.

Maybe if the sales assistant at the pharmacy realised that the more I buy, the more likely it is she will receive a pay increase in the future, she would not be questioning purchases, but encouraging them instead.

I mean, if I feed my children enough sugar, they could become diabetics, and then we would become customers at the pharmacy for life…..now that’s smart business.