Saturday, December 2, 2006

Barnes & Ignoble

Nanette and I went to see Bobby tonight. Great film. Marred only the slightest bit by an ending that expected the audience to process Bobby's stirring speech in parallel with the near-chaos of on-screen responses and reactions to his assasination. It was a little like having the dialogue in a film drowned out by the underscore. Nonetheless, a remarkable film. As the credits roll at the end, images of Bobby, his childhood, his and Ethel's kids, and his very warm and personal campaigning fill the screen. No one leaves the theater. No one. It's as though we're all transfixed, in part, because we're stunned by the contrast between Bobby Kennedy and the persons we experience today in politics. It was almost painful to watch.

After the film, we headed over to the bookstore to pick up a few things. I rarely come out of a bookstore with fewer than 5 items. This time, we must have purchased ten books between us, and as we arrived at the checkout, the experience was - sadly - something we've come to expect in customer service situations. I have the receipt. We spent just under $300 total. It would have been more, but I have a "preferred customer" card. That usually means that the person who has it is somewhat important to the business. As I fished in my pocket, I discovered another receipt from last month for something north of $500.

How were we treated by the person ringing up the sale? Like a leaking bag of dog excrement. Perhaps that's too strong. Or not. Really, this person cared not a bit about us or our purchases. She just wanted desperately to be doing something else with her time. Anything but wait on customers. Why do retail businesses in America so often present this face to their valuable customers? Why is good customer service an oxymoron, so ridiculously challenging to businesses that they seem to have given up on it altogether? And Barnes & Noble is not alone in this. Sadly, it's so pervasive that good service, when it happens, is an extraordinary experience. I suspect some of this is about training. Some of it is probably about a general decline in what was once a common sense of appropriate or polite behavior. And some of it is about a sense of entitlement - i.e., "I'm worth so much more than this menial clerking/service role I'm having to play right now; this is just SOOO wrong."

Whatever the justification, I'm not buying it. And I'd like to stop buying from companies that do so little to make the experience something pleasant - even for their very best customers. And that helps explain Amazon's appeal. Let's see, buy a book at the same price or less and get it delivered to my door with great reliability, or drive to a quasi suburban setting and be treated rudely by someone working the cash register. Hmmm. No wonder online sales are up 42%!


Emily said...

Seems you still equvaliate purchase price for quality of service. Or are you simply making the obvious statement that no matter what give, what you recieve is all in how you precieve? Patience is the key. Our issues with quality of service are not truely with the faces of the corporations, but with the policies. SO I agree with you then?

Angelinvestor said...

Still absorbing your first comment.
I would say that I've seen the same decline in service, but in varying degrees depending on the store. The worst that I see with great frequency is Walmart. The workers there have no interest in helping anyone -- their goal is to look as busy as possible so that they don't have to deal with you.
In contrast, I've been to Target recently and see a concerted effort to provide as much assistance as possible (in some cases being overly helpful -- if you can imagine).
Maybe there is some hope? LOL.
Happy Holidays Tom.

Benton said...

Surprisingly the best customer help I have recieved is from wal-mart. Their revised plan of catering to upper middle class has brought new products and a new bar of service for their employees.