Monday, March 1, 2010

the customer's occasionally right

I know Americans are spoiled. We only pay $1 at the dollar store, we get friendly and attentive service at restaurants, and there's always free refills. Oh, and we're always right.

Everybody knows it: the customer is always right. And, frankly, not only are the customers right, they're also well worth bending over backwards to be nice to. Otherwise they might sue.

Obviously I know this isn't always the case. I know some store employees are bad, or unhelpful, or downright mean, but by and large, even the high school kid working at Meijer over the summer is going to turn pretty friendly pretty fast if you ask him for help finding funnels. And if he doesn't, there's a manager around. And a comment card. And a hotline. And poof! goes the weasel.

It's similar in Italy: you walk down a street are immediately told seven different times that you're the most beautiful woman in the world, and invited in to sample some jewelry, ceramics or dinner. Overkill, maybe, but you can't say it's not flattering. And who wouldn't rather buy from someone who compliments instead of scowls at them?

Now don't get me wrong: Australians are friendly. I generally like them a lot. But they do have their moments, and, in my experience, these moments often coincide precisely with occasions when the Australian in question should be most inclined to help. These moments never cease to amaze, and trouble, me.

You rather expect to run into the rude bus driver, but the nasty librarian? I've met her. She was ready to pack up at two minutes' to closing (note the Australian work ethic) when I ran in, needing a book. She assisted me in wordlessly, yet sneered just loud enough to be heard to a friend waiting for her about the gall of patrons who come just before closing and how very sorry she was but it seemed, seeing as she'd been detained, that she could not make her ferry and would be late to her next engagement, due to the thoughtlessness of certain individuals. She handed me back my book with an icy stare and I departed quickly, feeling hurt and guilty, not even consoled by my beautiful harbor.

Just the other day I wandered into Payless, looking for some cheap (ha!) shoes. No one said hello. No one offered to help. This was okay; I found what I needed on my own just fine. (Payless isn't exactly the sort of store you get lost in.) In fact, I was successful enough to find two somethings I was interested in. I poked around until I found a salesclerk at the cash register. She was busy doing Important Sales Clerk Things, but pulled herself away to glance up at me.

"Hi, I was just wondering if you have a buy-one-get-one-half-off deal on?" I asked.

"No," she said, and promptly looked down again.

"Er, okay, do you know when you might have it on again?" I asked, figuring I could wait a bit for my shoes if need be.

Clearly this was the wrong question to have asked. She eyed me as if I'd casually walked up and asked for Coca-Cola's secret recipe and bin Laden's current whereabouts.

"No," she said, with a look that suggested I'd better either buy something or get out, because I was clearly wasting her time.

Cowed, I put the shoes back and rushed across the street to the friendly cupcake factory, where the staff was not entirely fluent, but friendly.

In fact, I have been treated outright rudely, overly abruptly or entirely ignored by not only bus drivers, a librarian and a shoes salesgirl, but also optometrists, convenience store workers, a real estate agent, waiters, a cafe worker, a taxi line operator, a purse saleswoman, Max Brenner staff, a pharmacy salesclerk, the Australian equivalent of the IRS, Target salespeople and even, in a great twist of fate, a Starbucks barista. All, in short, people who should be helping me.

"Don't you realize I'm your customer!?" I want to lecture. "You're supposed to treat me well! I have the buying power! You're going to lose my business! And furthermore, I have a blog!! You're going to be blacklisted!! It's not just me, my mother won't shop at your store anymore either!!" Occasionally when I am feeling particularly confident and brassy I do manage to mention that I am taking my business elsewhere, but generally ruin the effect by dissolving in a sea of tears just outside the shop. At least four rude salesfolk have managed to reduce me to tears since I've come -- two years ago.

Which leads me to conclude that Australians really do have thicker skin than Americans. They're not so into beating around the bush and keeping things sickly sweet just to make everyone smile. They're a bit more used to hearing "no." And they are not, contrary to popular opinion, always right.


Regina said...

Jess was recently at a sales training during which it was explained to him that not only is the customer always right, not matter what your line of business or your place in said business, the customer is YOUR BOSS! This makes sense entirely as the customer is the one that not only decides the reputation of your business but also, PAYS YOUR SALARY!
I would love to see you in a sales job in Australia Kim, I don't think they would know what to do with you.
God bless America!

Mom said...

I was thinking about this posting and wondering what they say about this in your business classes? Do they ever touch on this idea?