Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Is the customer always right?
Might we talk for a minute or two about customer service? In the wake of yet another brick and mortar downtown business closing (after 30 years), I was struck by the difference in care I have consistently received at that particular business versus the treatment at a different venue I ventured into just last week.
While the two businesses are vastly different in what they sell, it seems at the core, regardless of their wares, they should be able to offer an enjoyable experience for those who come to spend money within their doors.
Saying goodbye to Mill Street Clothing Company will be a sad time for many in the community. Women have shopped there for, literally, decades. The faithful customer base is aging, as is the owner. Changes in fashion trends, and shopping acumen have made it increasingly difficult to compete and while profits are not likely the driving force, certainly the trend toward internet shopping did not make the nonstop demands of running and owning a business any easier. I am guessing it stopped being “fun” some time ago.
I cannot pretend to be a frequent buyer at the garment supply, but I loved to wander through the store and would often bring visitors by as part of the regular tour of the historic downtown — in part to say hello to my friend, but also because I have learned I can count on the staff to go above and beyond to make my guests feel welcome, as well as to help them find just the right outfit for a special occasion or work or everyday wear.
The term customer service does not do justice to the attention provided by the staff assembled there. Their interest in those who wandered in went beyond a professional courtesy. Often, friendships were formed. A quick stop to browse could turn into an hour of conversation as stories were shared amid the search for a new blouse or a pair of jeans. Even though I seldom made a purchase, I never once felt like a bother or an intrusion. I felt valued. It was always a pleasure to be in the store. I will miss the team who did so much more than ring up a sale.
The opposite end of the helpful and welcoming spectrum has, sadly, become more the norm. It is not at all uncommon to walk into an establishment and be completely ignored or as with a recent experience, treated as an intrusion.
My husband and I do our best to support the local economy. We are strong believers in the importance of keeping our dollars within this community when possible. So, when the time came to replace a major appliance, we made our way to one of the local suppliers. When we first pulled in front of the store, the empty parking lot had us wondering if they were even open. We walked into the desolate establishment and soon found what we were looking for. We walked up to the counter, ready to make our purchase. I approached and was met with a disinterested attendant. I waited while the clerk continued working on a task without looking up. Eventually I interrupted, asking a few questions, and was met with abrupt and matter of fact answers. There was no negotiation and I am not certain there could have been less interest in this person being of service.
We left the store empty-handed. A few days later, I went online to the same chain store’s website and found the same item for considerably less money. I was able to “live chat” with an extremely helpful customer service representative who answered my questions and helped me with more savings and prompt delivery. Within a few days our item arrived. I did feel a little bit bad about shopping online, but honestly, it was not about the money — the fact is I received more attention buying an item on the internet then I did walking into a local shop.
Remember the adage, the customer is always right? I truly do not believe that is the case any longer. “The customer” has learned to take advantage of shop owners and has abused that privilege many times over. I have heard countless tales from those in the service industry that are simply appalling. So, I do not buy into the idea that a customer can do no wrong. However, the customer can speak with their wallet.
I feel bad for business owners who rely on an increasingly short supply of reliable, dedicated workers to carry out their mission. It seems finding people willing to do more than collect a paycheck is becoming increasingly more difficult. That, coupled with increased minimum wage and decreased interest in working for that wage, it is no wonder entrepreneurs are saying enough is enough and closing their doors.
Our community needs to keep storefronts full, offering products and services that locals desire and that tourists will find enticing. Hopefully, new businesses will take a lesson from those who served at Mill Street Clothing Company — remembering the value of a customer while exhibiting the nearly lost art of customer service. While the customer is not always right, the customer is the backbone of the economy and deserves, at the very least, the basic courtesy of feeling welcome.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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