3 Customer Service Lessons

A Saga of Shoe Shopping

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When my daughter visits, we enjoy certain father-daughter activities. One of them is going for walks. Unfortunately, I’ve lately been skipping this, not due to a lack of interest, but because blisters would be the painful result.

When my daughter was in college and on break, we’d often go for walks. Though I enjoyed our father-daughter time, I began to decline her requests. This wasn’t due to a lack of interest but because blisters would result.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

My daughter took the lead in finding a solution. “We’re going to need to get you a new pair of shoes—good walking shoes.”

She was right, but I groaned. I avoid shopping. If I can’t buy it online or talk my wife into picking it up, I often go without.

“Where will we go?” I dreaded the answer.

“The mall.”

That was precisely what I didn’t want to hear. I gathered my courage, and we headed off.

She selected the best entrance, designed to minimize my exposure to the hostile mall environment. Guiding me to the escalator, we descended into the belly of the beast. She led me through a maze of turns and corridors, deftly emerging at the entrance of a large shoe store.

What we encountered were three customer service lessons.

Store 1: Disingenuous Service

Overwhelmed, I took a deep breath and stepped into its bright lights and imposing displays. I had an impulse to flee, but my shopping-savvy daughter guided me to the men’s sneakers section in the back.

The two clerks both attended to other customers; we were on our own. As I tried on pair after pair, one concern permeated my thoughts: how would I know which choice would not cause blisters? I already owned two blister-inducing pairs and had no interest in a third. Eventually a clerk wandered over.

Looking past me, she addressed my daughter. “So, are ya still finding everything all right?” She said this in such a way that any response other than “Yes” would admit ineptitude.

Before I could ask for help in a way that didn’t sound too pathetic, she retreated to the safety of the register counter. From that bastion, she and her coworker resumed what seemed an all-important conversation.

Realizing the likelihood of buying shoes from either of them was low, my daughter suggested we try another store.

Store 2: No Service

A scant twenty seconds later we strode into the next shoe shop for another round of futility. Three staff members huddled around the register as though protecting it from outsiders.

Two uniformed clerks didn’t even pause their animated conversation to acknowledge our arrival. The third, a smartly dressed twenty-something female, looked up, flashed a broad smile, and demanded, “Hi ya! How ya doing?”

I responded as positively as possible, only to realize she wasn’t talking to me but my daughter. Apparently not hearing us, she repeated her greeting, this time, louder. We recoiled at her intensity and veered to the perimeter of the store.

There were only displays—no stock—so without the help of staff, we had no choice but to leave.

Store 3: Great Service

By now, I was more than ready to go home, but with no idea how to leave and find my car, I remained captive to the whims of my shopping buddy. Around the corner was a third shoe store.

It was the smallest of the three and crowded. Even so, the manager greeted us with a genuine smile. For the first time I wasn’t invisible.

Although the clerk made overly assertive recommendations and talked incessantly about all things footwear related, he at least helped us.

As soon as the goal of blister avoidance came up, he zeroed in on the problem. He offered an unexpected, yet convincing, explanation, along with a “guaranteed” solution.

Within minutes, we left with a shoebox in hand and smiles on our faces. The return trek to the car wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. Soon we were home, trying out my purchase.

Retail Reflections

Primarily configured for self-service, the first store offered only passing interaction.

The second one offered no help and barely acknowledged our presence, yet its configuration made self-service impossible.

No help meant no sale. The final shop gave useful input through staff that wanted to help.

The goal at all three companies was to sell shoes. Furthermore, they hired and paid employees to make that happen. And they trained their staff.

What was the difference? Quite simply, implementation.

A Parallel Scenario

I’ve seen these three situations played out many times. For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine three operations that sell widgets over the phone.

I call the first company. An automated system answers. After endlessly pressing options without any result, I hear an option to talk to a real person. I press zero but nothing happens. After more frustration, I hang up.

I call the toll-free number of the second company. An enthusiastic rep abruptly answers, but she can’t hear me. We may have a bad connection. Should I talk louder?

More likely, however, is that the idle conversation of her coworkers is either too noisy or too interesting for her to hear me. Regardless, she repeats her greeting, this time louder. She pauses for a second and hangs up. Then she probably complains to her coworkers about stupid callers.

Discouraged, I call the third company. A person answers. He listens. Once he knows what I want, he offers assurance. “Let me help you find the right widget for your situation.” He does—and I’m glad to place my order.

The goal of companies is to make money. Effective sales are the way to do this, with employees hired and trained for that goal. Don’t let ineffective automation, poor supervision, or negative work environments get in the way, whether retailing shoes, hawking widgets, or selling your own products or services.

Sales Success Tip

Pretend you’re a prospect at your company. Identify and correct the parts of your processes that drive customers away or thwart sales success.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!