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Looking for Service With Your Holiday Shopping?

Looking for Service With Your Holiday Shopping? That's a Special Order


by Martha Rosenberg


Click to enlarge

"No service?" ask two irate customers in a New Yorker-style cartoon as they pitch articles of clothing across the bar. "No shirt! No shoes!"

They may have even lit up a cigarette.

It's no secret the US retail sector is hurting as the holidays approach, having just reported its worst quarter since 1992.

But how much is its own fault with its ubiquitous anti-service signs like, No Food, No Drinks, No Strollers, No Change, No Restroom, No Soliciting, No Backpacks, No Refunds, No Exchanges, No Bills Over $20, No Credit Cards, No Special Orders, No Pets, No More Than 3 Students At A Time and No Leaning On The Counter (for the 3 students at a time).

Especially when the "No Strollers" store sells kids' stuff? And the "No Backpacks/No More Than 3 Students At A Time" store sells school supplies?

Twenty years ago it was an ethnic joke that God created WASPs because someone has to pay retail.

Today, the joke might be someone has to buy offline with internet shopping so easy and, sometimes, quicker.

Sure the "career opportunity" of checking customers out at the counter while taking orders on a Bluetooth headset and wearing an advertising badge that says "Preparation H on sale" must be degrading.

It is even more degrading to have that person keep you waiting for 14 minutes only to shake you down for the store's "valued customer rewards" program before ringing you up and register annoyance that you would presume to use cash--CASH--instead of a debit card. Pun intended.

About how about the poor lady born in 1945 who tries to write a check! Security--please come to the front desk.

And when did someone needing to order something not in stock become the imposition known as Having To Special Order?

Of course we didn't reach the point of stores trying to lock in your loyalty as a customer after ignoring you for 14 minutes overnight.

It is the logical outgrowth of service cutting--born when restaurants discovered people would bus, absurdly, their own tables and tip for counter, not table service--and personalization also spawned by restaurants who engineered the little, "Hello My Name is Dwayne and I will be your server this evening. Tonight we offer a glazed, skewered,
marinated, caramelized bisque of …" speech which produced better tips.

(Was this the beginning of videos replacing reading?)

Personalization With No Service is what brings you offers of jewelry and leather goods in your credit card bill as the company slips in a $60 dollar "service charge" because it can.

It's reductions in rental car, hotel and snorkel guide costs in a Golden Traveler Program that are exactly equal to their original markup.

And of course the flip side of Personalization With No Service --a.k.a. We-Love-You-When-It-Costs-No-Money--is Service-With-A-Snare.

Service-With-A-Snare is those employees--just as degraded as the ones wearing Preparation H badges--who are instructed to up sell you when they provide you a legitimate service you have paid for. Especially when the service is malfunctioning and they are the only ones who can fix it. (see: exploitation; soliciting a bribe.)

Service-With-A-Snare employees are instructed to say, "Before we restore your dial tone can we interest you in our new Elite service program that only costs..." under penalty of losing their jobs.

There are fan belt and exhaust system versions of the ruse too as most drivers know.

There was a day when US customer service was the talk of the world. Especially when compared to shop keeper based European nations where your request to see something in the window could be greeted with, "perhaps tomorrow."

A woman in the former Soviet Union was said to be so disconcerted by a local store which had converted to US style service--Hello! We're Glad You're Here; How May We Help You?--she ran out of the store screaming.

But then employees started costing Real Money unlike Internet shopping carts which send you emails thanking you for your purchase--while you're still making your purchase--and proceed to send you day by day reports on your package's itinerary as if it's delicate surgery.

And managers across the nation began asking the same question: How can we make customers feel valued without valuing them?

Their answer was: the same way we make employees feel valued without valuing them and started with the badges.

*************

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