Service with a smile

It’s no secret that many brick-and-mortar stores are losing business to the Internet. Today some people even buy groceries online. To some extent, I believe it’s a generational thing. I know my daughters do quite a bit of their shopping online, while I still prefer to buy in the store whenever possible.

I say whenever possible because some items I used to buy at the store, such as music CDs, are increasingly difficult to find anywhere besides the Internet.

Often the brick-and-mortar stores say they provide one thing shoppers can’t find on the Internet, great personal service. For the most part, that’s true. I would much rather buy an item I can see and touch from a salesperson who can answer my questions. And should there be something wrong with the item after I get it home, I can quickly return it to the store instead of going through the hassle of packing it up and mailing it somewhere for repair or replacement.

Most companies do a great job when it comes to customer service. However, at least in my experience, a few national retail chains don’t seem to care much about it. Apparently they don’t mind if customers shop online instead of in their store.

I’m no retail expert, but I do know that when a customer leaves one of your stores thinking, “I will NEVER go back there again!” you have a problem. There are at least two national chains I no longer patronize after leaving their establishments with that very thought in my head one too many times.

Occasionally I read articles about these national companies and how they aren’t doing as well as they once did. What I find amusing are the reasons they cite for their poor performance.

They blame the economy, their competitors, changing consumer tastes, etc. Just once I would like to read an article in which an executive of one of these chains said, “Our sales are down because too many customers find shopping at one of our stores to be a soul-sucking experience.”

I have stopped eating at a fast-food chain that was once one of my favorite lunch spots. The last time I went I found myself wishing the company CEO was there with me. Perhaps he might see the real reasons his sales figures are dropping.

I was the only customer at the counter when I ordered from the sullen young woman who appeared to be angry at me for some reason, perhaps because I was interrupting her conversation with her co-workers in the back.

Then I waited several minutes for my burger and fries. Did I mention I was the only one ordering? I spent my wait becoming increasingly angry as I watched an employee in the back slowly assemble my sandwich in between breaks to laugh it up with her manager.

When I finally got my food, I went to the condiment/drink area, where I found both the iced tea and ketchup dispensers empty. When I bit into my burger, it was cold.

No Mr. CEO, you don’t have a menu problem. You have a people problem.

We used to buy groceries and a lot of other stuff at one of the big-box chains that’s frequently in the news for poorer-than-desired financial performance. Again, management blames the competition, the economy, etc. We shopped there because the prices were lower than at other stores in town.

My wife is a sweet lady. But the day she was ready to throttle the cashier, we knew it was time to change stores. We decided any financial savings weren’t nearly enough to compensate for the consistently miserable shopping experience … or my sweet wife doing jail time.

No, Mr. CEO, it wasn’t the economy that turned my gentle wife into the Hulk, it was the fact that your store manager felt that two open checkout lanes, out of roughly 30 in the store, were sufficient to handle a Saturday morning crowd. That and the fact the cashier had clearly not been trained.

Now we shop at a store where we might pay a little more, but we never have to wait to check out, we can find everything we want, and the employees are friendly. We leave the store looking forward to our next visit.

If these corporate executives really want to see what’s shrinking their bottom lines, perhaps they should get out of their boardrooms and shop at their stores or eat at their restaurants.