Is Customer Service a Lost Art?


Or has chatting and texting replaced helping the customer?

Most people have had a vague deja vu feeling a some point in their life but have you ever had the exact experience actually happen to you exactly 3 years apart? I did, it occurred in the form of a  “customer service black hole”.  Several years ago I was in Southern California where I received awful customer service at the “core surf shops” and great customer service at the “mall chain store”.  Two years later I returned to the exact same Surf shop where I was ignored to see if anything had improved. Ironically this time I was looking for the exact same item as last visit, a wetsuit for my now 11 year old.  I was again really impressed by the floor space, variety of brands and selection.  This shop had everything! Well, everything except “customer service” as again I wandered through the wetsuit section looking for kids wetsuits, styles and sizes while being thoroughly ignored by the 3 or 4 staff in that section (there could have been 15 staff in the whole store) . My treatment caused me to engage in what I will call “CUSTOMER SOUL SEARCHING” (where you wonder if you are the problem)

I asked myself:

flag shorts

Am I being shunned because of my Official Proud Canadian Tourist Outfit™ consisting of Canadian Flag patterned short shorts, Disneyland t-shirt, black socks and sandals?

No, that couldn’t be the reason this time, I wore that outfit last time and learned my lesson.

Sadly I decided it came down to a core question that no aging boarder wants to face “Have I become SO UNCOOL that I am now invisible to the average board shop staff?”

I took a few deep breath and thought to myself “I don’t need help I can find a size and style in a wetsuit” and searched till I found 3 or 4 options.   Now we headed to the change rooms, passing the same staff, but now with an armful of wetsuits.  Still invisible, we stood in front of the change room, and stood, and stood, and stood.  Seriously we were about 10 feet from the nearest staff who was apparently extremely busy hanging up new product.  I was thinking I may need to send a smoke signal by lighting one of these wetsuits on fire, but the gigantic product-warning label found on everything (and I mean everything) in California suggested that this would cause cancer. So instead I walked over and asked for a change room.  The hyper-aware staff quickly clued in that someone holding 3 wetsuits with a similarly sized kid in tow may want a change room.  We were ushered to a change room and then ……… promptly ignored again (what were your expecting?).  To get someone’s attention I was tempted to get my kid to put the wetsuit on backwards, come out of the change room and loudly complain that “these damn American wetsuits fit like crap!!”. However the courteous Canadian part of me just couldn’t do it.

So we worked our way through the wetsuits returning (by myself) to the racks several times to get different styles or sizes.  We did find one in the end and purchased it (just so we could get on with our holiday). This experience really bothered me the rest of the day (as I have been both a shop owner and a brand manager in the Action Sport Industry).  I know that owning and running a Board Shop has become more difficult with online competition, mall stores and sales managers opening every retailer possible.  However, often it is easier to blame external factors while ignoring the internal ones like customer service.  So is you customer service lacking?


If so, here is short term plan to improve (for any business):

1) Is customer service important to your company? Before you answer “of course!” what is the evidence?  I am positive that the store in my experience would have said customer service is important.  Any real goal need more than just a vague feeling to both motivate and be measured.  Once and for all decide that customer service is important and write up some short-term measurable goals.  For example “we will greet 90% of customers that enter the store”.

2) Once you have set some goals meet with staff and share the goals and how they will be measured. Elicit feedback from the staff; they might even have better ideas or stricter goals.  Then finalize the goals and measures integrating the staff feedback.

3) Then measure and reward.  Have a contest to see if a whole day can pass without a customer leaving that wasn’t at least greeted. If a goal or goals are met then there should be a reward like a party, product or (bonus)pay.

Measure and reward should be used until a culture of customer service excellence is established.  So if the initial goals are too difficult or too easy change them up and work toward building success.

Long term:

1) Bring in someone who can coach the staff how to effectively engaging the customer.  This shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach; instead teach your staff how to engage while remaining themselves.  Having a line other than “can I help you?” is great but not if the shops new opening line is still the same for everyone.  I really don’t want to be asked, “If I got my season pass yet?” 8 times in one shop visit.

2) Hire staff members that have customer service skills. Sounds logical but I know many shops where it is the cool kids who get hired not the ones with the best people skills. Some staff have the ability to connect and relate to everyone that enters your shop.  This type of personality is extremely valuable to add to your store and often end up being an amazing sales person (that’s you Josh W.)  Don’t be lazy, find these personalities, nurture their skills and keep them on staff.

Love to hear what you think.  Is customer service a lost art?  Or maybe I have become to legalistic and “casual and laid back” is the new norm.  Don’t let me get started on having to listen to the “you wouldn’t believe what we did last night” conversations between two staff that they so reluctantly stop so they can point (rather the take) you to where the item you asked for is located.

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