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Departments: First Word

 

  

The Christmas Crush

Customer service from both sides of the counter

by Dirk Dusharme



I
love holiday shopping. I really do like going into a crowded mall and spending a few hours being the ball in a human pinball machine. The smells, the glee, the big-eyed children (and the screaming ones), the humanity! It's great.

It takes a certain mindset to enjoy the post-Thanksgiving stampede. I go in knowing that the crowds will be heavy, the lines long and that I will encounter more than my fair share of grumpy people who really should have done their shopping in March. Those are the ones who complain loudly and obnoxiously when the 17-year-old store help (just hired for the season) isn't moving quickly enough, or shout over the top of the heads of the 10 people in front of them for the cashier to "hurry it up." It's as if they expect the same service when there are 50 people at a register as when there are five. That would be nice, but get real. This is kind of like turning the speed on the conveyor belt up from three to 11 and expecting the assembly line to run just as efficiently.

As with anything, there are two sides to this issue. On the one hand, the holidays are often the only time that many high school students can earn a bit of extra cash. That coincides quite nicely with the time when retailers need the most help--a synergy made in heaven (minimum wage and no benefits--sweet). Unfortunately, many retailers have been slow to learn that it's also the time when the need for fast, courteous customer service is at its peak. Customers, laden with big bags full of smaller bags, don't have much patience, especially if they're also holding a child by the hand and pushing a stroller. And launching poorly trained, inexperienced help into the crowd's waiting maw like so much cannon fodder isn't really fair to the help or the customers.

Shoppers, on the other hand, have to use their brains. Look around. If your mall looks like a zoo at feeding time, that's because it is. Have some pity for the front-line sales and floor personnel who have to deal with the pushing, shoving and often rude mass of humanity. If you don't like crowds, or tend to be a person who gets antsy when you have to wait more than 30 milliseconds for help, then go shopping early in the morning before the crowds get too big. If you must shop at peak hours, allow yourself plenty of time and recognize that you're going to have to wait. Breathe in, breathe out, and keep the following in mind: If you ask a floor person a question and they don't know the answer, rolling your eyes doesn't help. Ask them to find someone who does know the answer. If you find yourself standing in a long, slow line, exclaiming in a loud voice how "crappy" the service is will not endear you to your fellow line-standers. It also won't get you to the front any faster.

Customer service is a two-way street. Retailers have a responsibility to ensure customer needs are met quickly and pleasantly. Customers have an obligation to open their eyes to the reality that, most of the time, retailers are doing their best to serve them.

Try this: On your way to the mall, grab a Krispy Kreme and a Starbucks triple latté to get a little buzz going. Park your car on the very outskirts of the parking lot, nearest an exit. In the middle of shopping, go to a quiet place like Borders or Barnes & Noble to take a break, read a bit, and stoke up on some more caffeine and sugar. Whenever you encounter a shell-shocked cashier, try to say something nice. It will make both of you feel better.

Have a great holiday season.