Customer service… When did it get so vapid? 370



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I spent two and a half hours at my local Westfield centre yesterday, trying to fulfil a need for sensible black shoes after breaking my good old favourites and I have to say, I was horrified at the customer service and lack of stock that was offered to me in one of Queensland’s largest centres.

Is retail really in this bad a way in Australia? And it wasn’t just in the occasional store or two. It was a massive, widespread challenge to find anyone who would find me a size for my shoes, or help me after they had thrown a couple of boxes in front of me. Many were out of stock of the mainstream brands, and knew nothing about where I would get help. The reasons were many and varied in each store I entered. And boy was I tired and infuriated by the time I finally succumbed to the only pleasant, moderately knowledgeable saleswoman I found, with stock in the seventh store I visited. I traipsed from end to end, sure eventually I would be able to find a comfortable, reliable pair of Clarks or similar that would suit my needs for practical comfort. And now I just feel like a bitter, whingy cow… But nonetheless I am sure I am not in the wrong in this case.

The first was Mathers, where the girl stood and looked at me, asked me to move so she could serve someone who had arrived after me, then finally, decided to serve me, bringing two pairs of shoes to me in the very sizes that I hadn’t asked for. I asked for a nine… she brought me an 8.5 and a 10. Helpfully she said, “well that’s all I have”. No alternative selections, inspiring ideas or concern about me, the customer. As soon as she was done working out I didn’t like the two on offer, she was gone. I was a “dead” customer to her. Never mind the fact that I was going to buy a pair of shoes come hell or high water yesterday.

Next I went to Athletes Foot. The salesperson grinned at me as she came back from looking for the product I had asked for, bringing out similar but not the same products whose brands I didn’t recognise and saying when I enquired what it was, “Oh, that’s our own brand. It’s really good!  We don’t have anything else in stock!” Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel enormously “sold to” when I go into a store like this, where they promote stocking my favourite brands, then, when I go to try them on conveniently, they are all “out of stock” of my brand, but their home brand is in full stock in all sizes at a very similar price. So, off I trotted.

Next stop: Myer. Wow, was this confronting. In the corner where the shoes were found, on a Saturday afternoon there was no one in cooee (peak time for shopping). Out of nowhere, one staff member lurched past staring at his feet, hoping I wouldn’t notice him. I did. So I grabbed him quickly and asked if he could get me a size please. He looked at me like I had committed a crime. He said swiftly, No, he could not. He looked around, and not seeing anyone else said to me “You’ll have to go find someone somewhere over there”, he said, pointing to the other size of the ground floor, way way way away from the shoe section. “Really?” I said, “But you’re here”. Then all I got was silence from this man! Then “No!” again! He didn’t offer to get someone for me! He didn’t offer to help me! He just turned and bolted for the destination he was headed! What happened to courtesy and customer service?  I finally found my way to a girl on the other side of the floor, waited for her enormous queue before she would talk to me. By this point I was not a very happy customer. She accompanied me over to the shoe section, discussed my needs with me, and off she went to see if she could find the solution to my product challenge. She came back with one pair two sizes larger than I needed and a shrug. “We have nothing in that size, in any line like that”, she said.

David Jones was next.  The woman manning the shoe section whispered gently in my ear when I asked for her help that she was from cosmetics and that she would likely not be much help!  Before I had even started I gave up.  Funnily enough she was the most helpful woman so far.  She didn’t waste my time and skurried off, coming back with three types of shoes, all quite nice, none the size I needed again.  Blessedly, she wasn’t much help… but she was pleasant in her process of not being very helpful.

On and on it went… until finally, seven stores later with sore feet I was at wits end. And I went to a store I have previously vowed never to go back to because of their prior record of poor service in my eyes – I do carry a long memory for these things – Williams. And I must commend the young girl. She convinced me to try a brand I was set against, brought some lovely shoes to me, all of which were the right size, and proceeded to sell me a lovely, comfortable pair of shoes that weren’t the brand I had left home to buy, but were a delight to own.

Who would have thought that I would find my solution in the only store I was set against shopping in? But the thing I really want to talk about is why are our retail outlets so poorly stocked with core brands and why are staff allowed to be rude to customers? Surely the owners of stores and the retail chains need to take more pride in their businesses and set some standards for their staff in the customer service they provide?

I know I might sounds like a whingy, high-expectationed old cow but I remember a time when customer service was terrific in Australia. In fact 15 years ago, when I lived in London we were incredibly proud of the Australian quality of service in comparison to other countries… Now I fear it might not be something we are as proud of.

What do you think? Has customer service slumped in recent times? What have your experiences been like? Tell us below.

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. Sad but true, I have been living in Flagstaff AZ since July and I have found staff in every store that I enter more than helpful! Makes me feel sad to read what I know is true in Oz. Helpful to the point of walking across the department store to exactly where the product you asked for is located and heading you onto the salesperson there. All done with a smile. Thanks Flagstaff!! I am told it is not always the case in the big cities though.

    3 REPLY
    • The level of service in stores in the US is amazing. This is why I travel with two suitcases, one empty, and do all my clothes shopping there when I visit family in the US. I have been to Flagstaff a couple of times, it’s such a lovely city, I always thought I could retire there.

    • Yes it is lovely…. It is snowing at the moment, and very pretty, and cold! I miss Australia and my family though.

  2. Poor service because staff are over loaded. USA service is wonderful.

    1 REPLY
    • The staff in USA aren’t overloaded because they have so many staff in shops and the wages are so poor. Food for thought here but imagine the uproar if wages went down here. There are a lot of staff here who don’t deserve what they are paid.

  3. I have to agree with Rebecca we defiantly have sub standard sales staff these days and as for stock not sure how the ordering is do but leaves a lot to be desired.
    I don’t understand I was in retail for years, your customers are your bread and butter…roll out the red carpet ever morning you open your doors and spoil them. It pays off no wonder my business was so well known from Melbourne to Mildura and back again as the saying went.

  4. Such a sad state of affairs. Sadly the world had become so me oriented that those who are paid to serve have no idea what is required or expected for them to fulfill their duties. Yet if there is a smart phone in their pocket it’s the first thing they respond to when they hear that ping or ring.

  5. It is the same where I am, I have to put cream on my foot to remove a skin cancer and it will be an open wound for awhile, so I am to old to run around barefoot so I went looking for a pair of sandles that would miss the wound when I wore them..well I went from store to store and eventually found a pair in KMART, but the quality is not good and if you don’t search around you will never get anything, these places seem to have no floor staff

  6. It isn’t you, it is everywhere in Australia. The shop assistants are no longer shop ASSISITANTS. Regardless of the sort of store, or what you want, they don’t seem to want to help or they get it all wrong. I had a recent experience where we were told “good luck with that” when looking for a simple item, I have been given the wrong item three times from another store and even a cafe in a famous tourist spot where I live, had a waitress who looked like she’d rather spill the coffee on you, than give it to you. There are few out there who go out of their way to help and if you find them, stick to them. Sometimes you don’t have a choice in smaller places – so sad. Yet coming from a call centre workplace, I must say that a large volume of customers are rude as well. I have been told by customers that of course they won’t spell the fifteen lettered russian name for me because that’s what I get paid to do, all with expletives that wouldn’t come out of a truckies mouth. Customers who you are trying to help who just call to abuse you, so maybe it is not bad service, maybe it is incredibly rude and bad manners. Perhaps we all should take a long hard look at the way we treat others. Oh, last year I went to Sydney and found their assistants helpful, courteous and willing to go above and beyond – all with a smile!!!!

  7. I spent two years at Tafe learning Business Administration, Customer Service was one of the subjects that I studied. I have the diploma to do this work but i am 62. I do work for the dole activities and yes I do have a problem when we run out of stock of an item that we do sell. I said to the manager one day when you are on a good thing you don’t stick to it. You refuse to get in what the customer actually likes.

  8. They want everything to be automated today, so there is little or no staff, I refuse to use those serve yourself checkouts, the more we use them the less staff they will need to hire and the worse our customer service will get

    15 REPLY
    • Glad to see I’m not the only one refusing to use self service check outs for the exact same reason. Some young person needs a part time job.

    • Never use them for the same reasons, I’ll patiently stand in line to keep at least some people in jobs..

    • I don’t use them either, no wonder unemployment is so high we are replacing people with machines

    • Very true, only use them if I absolutely have too. The girls at my local Supermarket are a great bunch and I certainly don’t want to see any of them out of a job.

    • I agree, I will not use the automated checkouts, where else do our young people get any first experience in the workplace if all these jobs are automated? I would rather stand a bit longer in the queue and speak to a pleasant human being than ‘do the work’ for the company to buy their products- “service” I think it was called some time ago!

    • And can we expect a discount for using the self service as they are saving on wages? I think not!

    • I have always refused to use self serve I would rather stand in a queue than see a worker loose their job because of them

    • I will not use automatic checkouts – staff are already undertrained and hard to find, and in any case, where will the unemployed ever get any experience if the shops all become automated?

    • I won’t use them either. My boys worked in retail when they were studying and so do most of these young people.

    • I found it funny when I didn’t notice it was self serve (I don’t shop very often) and my grand daughter said to me “No Nan we are not going to be one of those people” Clever kid knows she PAYS to be served.

    • The day they cut out manned checkouts completely is the day I start to do my grocery shopping on-line – and they’ll miss out because I usually end up buying one or two items that weren’t on my list while wandering round the aisles!

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