Restoring the Lost Art of Customer Service

June 12, 2015 Updated: April 24, 2016

I was preparing to write a scathing article about the lack of customer service in today’s retail stores, until my wife and I wandered into our local Pier 1 store near the Burlington Mall in Burlington, Ont.

We were on our way out when a polite young lady asked if she could be of assistance. I said: “Actually, yes, we’re looking for a small table to go by our front door.”

I had looked one up in their catalogue, and the saleslady, Kendra, suggested that we could order one in a new colour, which was exactly what we were looking for.

She asked further questions, and my wife said she was looking to adding more colour to our décor.

A customer is the most important person in our business—in person, on the telephone, or by email.

With Kendra’s help, we walked out with several candles, a pretty vase, and some decorative “stones” to put in the candleholders. She was outstanding, knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. She really worked toward getting a clear picture of our vision and helping us create it for ourselves. What a find!

This is in contrast to most of our experience trying to make purchases in stores where help is rarely available. And when it is, the people who ask “Can I help you?” usually can’t.

Core Principles

This takes me back to the core principles of customer service that we’ve taught at Dale Carnegie for years. Here are just a few:

  • A customer is the most important person in our business—in person, on the telephone, or by email. They are not an interruption of our work; they are the purpose of it.
  • A customer is not dependent on us; we are dependent on them.
  • We are not doing customers a favour by serving them; they are doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so.
  • A customer is not someone to argue with or match wits with. Nobody ever really wins an argument with a customer.
  • A dissatisfied customer is one who comes to us with a problem or vision and whom we fail to help in their search for merchandise in our store or on our website that best serves their needs.

Think Like a Customer

Think of the times you experienced the opposite of these core principles.

For example, have you noticed in many restaurants the music seems to be designed for the staff rather than the customer? How about waiting in line watching staff chatting about their social lives while they ignore the customers and the lines getting longer?

In contrast, Stew Leonard’s dairy store in Norwalk, Conn., hires people to dress up in animal costumes to entertain customers as they wait in line. Leonard has a large rock situated at the entrance to every store with this message: “Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1.”

His store, just voted the best grocery story in America by the Business Insider news site based on criteria such as customer service and product quality, has Disney-like animatronic displays to entertain the children as they shop with their parents.

Leonard’s rationale is simple: He told me that grocery shopping is a drudge for most people, so he wanted to make the experience more fun.

How much fun do you have shopping for groceries? The Farm Boy chain is one of the few (if any) that carry on this tradition here in Canada. Farm Boy customers love shopping at the store.

It is possible to think like a customer and attract people to stores by providing knowledgeable, friendly staff and well-displayed merchandise at competitive prices while making the shopping experience fun. Let’s support retailers who consciously do this.