There are four beautifully constructed new chairs around my kitchen table. They’re sculpted dark brown wood with chrome legs. Very contemporary, streamlined.
I own these chairs right now – not an inexpensive purchase by any means – because of a good salesman. Not the cliché, used car kind of salesman, but the kind that knows his products and listens. Got that? Listens. With his ears. To what I’m saying.
It is one thing to talk about the importance of customer service in general terms, but it is quite another to cite examples that bring it to life. This holiday season, perhaps because I have nearly mastered the art of a stress-free December, I have noticed the wide contrast.
I was in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on a hunt for some chairs when I walked into a well-known, reputable store. I saw a handful of possibilities and was heartened by my choices, so I began testing each one, sitting down and picturing my friends in those same chairs, glass of wine in hand.
As I went from chair to chair and made my way through the store, I searched in vain for a salesperson to assist me. There were a few on the floor, but they seemed intent on not catching my eye. Finally, I went to a counter and cheerily asked for help. “Someone will be right with you,” I was told. So I sat in a few more chairs, happily humming along to holiday music, trying to stay alert for the salesperson that would be sent over to assist me. This went on for 30 minutes until finally I left with a catalog, intending to go home and order what I wanted online.
But unfortunately for that store, I wandered into another. Let’s call it Jensen-Lewis, a fabulous gathering place for gorgeous contemporary furniture. I perused the showroom for a few minutes before I was approached -- not stalked -- by a salesman asking if I needed assistance.
“Yes!” I said, so happy for the ear after my last experience. “Here’s my situation. I have an oak pedestal table. I want chairs to go with it, perhaps darker than the table. The art hanging on the wall above it is a reddish brown framed photo of an open window. The tones are pretty dark. But the challenge in the scenario is my black and white floor.”
Without hesitation, he walked me over to a floor model of dark brown sculpted wood chairs with chrome legs. I loved them and they seemed like just what the room needed. The plan was to buy two chairs before the holidays and two after, but my salesman talked me into taking on all four in one shot and paying the shipping only once. Let me emphasize this was suggested, not pushed. Those chairs were delivered last weekend and they look terrific in my kitchen.
Maybe it should be at least an annual practice in this space, the praising of superior customer service. When I experience it, it’s so pleasant and gratifying that sometimes it takes me aback. And it sure beats railing against the unpleasant moments, doesn’t it?
On another day, while visiting Borders in Penn Station, I was impressed beyond measure when two people tried to assist me in finding The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. Oprah Winfrey had listed this book filled with daily meditative readings as one of her ‘favorite things’ and I was hunting all over the store after looking it up on the computer there. At a loss when it wasn’t in the spot listed, I approached a salesperson, who enlisted another. Minutes later, a saleswoman tracked me down because she had found what she believed was the last copy in the store. I think she was nearly as delighted as I was. Now that’s service.
At this time when unemployment is scary high and so many workers are disgruntled, how very refreshing to see genuine excitement on someone’s face because they have helped a customer. I have witnessed this again and again during the holiday crunch in New York. The saleswoman in Macy’s gave me a refund for a pair of tights I’d already opened, no questions asked, and I nearly hugged her. She was clearly amused at my appreciation. The cashier in TJ Maxx carefully constructed a special handle out of plastic bags so I could carry a shelf out of there onto the bustling Manhattan streets.
It has been a long time since I worked in retail, but I recall what a grind it was to do so at this time of year because people can be unreasonable and impatient to the point of nasty. I recall having to adjust my attitude lots of times, but also finding it highly satisfying when a customer found that great gift or realized the item she wanted was on sale.
Now, as a customer, I try to take the laid-back approach and I mostly succeed. It’s a two-way street. Most often, I believe, like attracts like. A tired and overworked cashier can feel your energy when you step up to the register to buy those pajamas for your mother. You can either complain about the long line you just endured or smile and say hello as he rings you up. You know, honey vs. vinegar.
Hmmmmm. So maybe my one not-so-hot experience was a fluke because I was meant to see the contrast? Or perhaps I was meant to have the chairs that are currently in my kitchen.
Either way, works for me.