Customer service-whatever happened to it?

16 May

Whatever happened to customer service?  Remember when you went into stores, and they had clerks who knew things-like where certain items were, what worked for problem a, where they suggested things to buy?  Now, you are doing well if they put your purchases in a bag for you, and forget anything else.

I’ve hit a number of stores lately, as I’ve been shopping for something important to me–that blasted bicycle!  The scene has not been a pretty one.

Walmart-clerks?  on the floor? There aren’t any, at least in the area around the bicycles.  You find them in other parts of the stores, with complete pallets blocking the aisle, as they work to move items from pallet to shelf.  Apparently they are not hired to help customers, but rather to restock shelves so we can buy items without bothering anyone.  Besides, they have to have several people at the door checking our receipts-I might not have paid for one of those items in my two bags!  (Wouldn’t shoplifting be reduced if you had pro-active & attentive clerks on the store floor?)

Sport Authority-Elmwood-Here was the ONLY store where a store employee came and spoke with us.  WOW!  He even had some knowledge about bicycles (even bigger WOW).  Unfortunately, this store had a very limited selection of models, despite being well laid out to examine the bicycles, sit on the various models, and generally feel comfortable about the process.

Sports Authority-Veteran’s Blvd.-NOBODY approached us on the floor.  We had to ask the clerk at the check out counter (the only one we saw) if they had cycling gear.  At least she knew they did at the Elmwood store.

Eastbank Cyclery-Apparently we obviously were not going to spend $1000+ on a bike.  Staff was much too busy to deal with the likes of us.  This store was not very impressive, and the attitude of the staff was intimidating enough that I won’t go back.  I would rather mail order and wait two weeks.  We left after briefly examining the models on display and some of the accessories, and obviously none of the staff were interested in us.  I guess overweight middle aged people don’t represent much of their customer base.

Academy Sports-Not one staff member approached us during our visit to the store, nor was anyone available to help wrestle bikes from rack to floor.  Prices are cheap–I guess they figure that they can’t afford to offer customer service at that price.

Seriously, I’d be much more inclined to shop in a store when there is good customer service.  I’m even willing to pay a bit more when I get knowledgeable help from the staff in a store.  Granted, I’m not shopping for a truly expensive bike, but for me, this is still a “major” purchase.  It’s important to me, what I get for this initial bike, and I know that as my expertise increases with the cycling, I’m going to be inclined to buy more gear AND a better bike.  If I have a less-than-pleasant experience on this initial bike, I’m less likely to buy gear OR a better bike.  Sometimes good customer service now may not result in a sale per-se…but it represents seeding a situation for customer loyalty for later purchases.

Example here is the cycle shop.  A classic example here, they had a Trek bike I REALLY liked.  However, it is out of my price range right now.  But…I WANT that bike.  I’m very likely to be looking to buy a Trek in a year or so, even though I’m looking at low-end bicycles at this time.  I would have been very interested in a used Trek, but I don’t know if that bike shop even deals in used bikes at all–I didn’t stick around long enough after the cold-shoulder routine from the staff.  (A used one, in the right size, would have been in my price range.)  Now, even when I’m ready to move up to a better model of bike, I won’t go back to that bike shop.  I may not choose to use a local bike shop at all–all because of their behavior on my initial visit.)   So, in fifteen minutes, they managed to accomplish a lot-I am more likely to buy a bike via mail order/internet, I’m very unlikely to return to purchase accessories, & I won’t consider their shop if I need repairs on my first (or subsequent) bicycles.

I went to the cycle shop in search of information, to find out what kinds of bikes & accessories were available locally, and to see what price ranges they had bicycles available in.  I got a lot more than I had planned on-I got a strong aversion to returning!

Customer service is critical for a business.  Without it, customers are less likely to have any loyalty towards a business.  They are less likely to buy a more expensive item than what they were originally looking for, and they are less likely to be happy with their purchase in the long term.  Unfortunately, it seems that with the poor economy, that is the area that many retail stores are cutting back on.  For me, its meant that the purchase of the bike is increasingly less likely to occur from a local retail store and increasingly LIKELY that it will end up being an internet purchase.  After all, if I can’t get customer service locally, there is no difference except in delivery, between the traditional retail store and mail order.  In many cases, home delivery may even be an asset–as in a bicycle purchase.  If I didn’t have a car large enough to transport a bicycle, home delivery might be VERY attractive, especially combined with lower price, no sales tax, and reasonable shipping & handling.

I hear a lot of complaining about customers such as me electing to make the purchase via the internet, but really, what are retail stores doing to encourage local purchases?  With ignorant & rude staff, non-existent staff, or simply apathetic staff…I’m not really enthusiastic about the retail experiences I have had so far locally.  Complicate that equation even further with the clique-ish sort of attitude I observed at Eastbank Cyclery, and its even more apparent why the retail experience is so intimidating and depressing that people resort to shopping at home on their computer.  In my brief visit to the cycle shop, I realized that if I was 30 years younger…or a lean male looking at racing models…I’d have had a very different experience in that shop.

Maybe next time I’m going cycle shopping, I should get my 20-something daughter to accompany me–with a low cut blouse?

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