I have to admit that I am a bargain shopper at my core. I love nothing more than thinking “I only paid that for this!” So, it’s not surprising that I make occasional visits to the 99-cent store and even the Dollar Tree on those days when I want to splurge and spend that extra penny. After all, mustard is mustard, wherever you bought it!
This past weekend, I was in a Dollar Tree store and witnessed a customer service disaster. At 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, there was only one cash register open with a beleaguered teenager doing his best to move the line along, which had grown twenty people deep. A well-dressed woman who had some place to go other than the Dollar Tree that afternoon was getting anxious; after years of diffusing customer service emergencies, I’m an expert at reading a customer’s nonverbal communication! Suddenly, the woman yells out, “There is only one person working here on a Saturday afternoon? This is ridiculous. Get someone else out here right now so we can all get out of here!” And then my greatest fear in that situation came in to play: the teenage boy behind the register said, without any censoring at all, “I guess she is on her break; I haven’t seen her in a while.” Seconds later, all hell broke loose!
The woman that had initially screamed out was now wailing. “What did you just say? That is not my problem that you are understaffed. Get someone out here now!” And then, I heard a voice behind me in line yell, “Look, lady, this guy is doing as good as he can. If you don’t want to wait in line, go someplace where things cost more than a dollar. What did you expect when you walked in, Bloomingdale’s?” The well-dressed woman was now infuriated: she got very quiet, got out of line and walked right toward the man who had defended the clerk. She dropped her basket of party items at his feet and said, “Good idea. Since I can afford to pay more than a dollar, unlike you, I think I am leaving.” She headed to the door, leaving the man with a basket of streamers at his feet, yelling phrases that I thought were only used at truck stops. Within seconds of the woman leaving, the woman who had been on her “break” returned and opened another register…though some people in the line left dumbstruck by what they had just witnessed.
For me, this experience plagued me for the rest of the afternoon. It highlights a classic customer service debate: should customers spending less expect less service? That is certainly what the bold guy behind me in line thought: if you want good service, go someplace more expensive. That is absolutely not my philosophy! In my world, good service is good service and could and should come in the most unexpected places. I will never forget the associate I met at a Kmart in Big Bear Lake who literally cut off the top of one of the display Christmas trees to make sure I got the tree topper I wanted one Christmas Eve. As kindness and empathy are at the heart of great service, all customers, whether they spend $1 or $10,000, should be treated well at all times. They should be treated as precious commodities since, for every customer service professional at any level of service knows, customers are ultimately signing your paycheck. And, let’s not forget, merely shopping at Bloomingdale’s or the like does not ensure better or even acceptable service.
My question is this: should service get better as you spend more? Is there a baseline that someplace like the Dollar Store must meet while luxury retailers have completely different rules? I’d love to hear your opinions about this topic in the days to come! Let me know what you think now…