Monday, September 5, 2011

Macy's: Part 2

Subtitle: Cross-Dressing is Not Good Customer Service

I truly hope you got the impression from yesterday's post that I have an enduring love to Macy's as a brand and even as a store.  What follows, then, is no quarrel with Macy's, but rather a horrendous failure in what used to be a very great store.

As I mentioned, Macy's is my "go-to." When I told my husband I was going shoe shopping, he said, "Where, Macy's?"  It's just a given.  I need a pretty dress, I need stockings, I need a new purse, I need shoes.  Okay, I probably don't really need those things, but all's relative and I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that ladies wear stockings with their pumps.  In any case, I go to Macy's for all those needs.

Over the last two days, I bought a new dress and a shirt, a new purse, and a slammin' new pair of shoes.

I did not buy any of these things in Macy's, however, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

An unfortunate trend I've been observing (and trying to deny) for the last year and a half is the slow but certain deterioration of everything (except the organ) that I detailed in the last post.  In fact, when I was in the shoe department yesterday, the only male I saw was wearing a faded tee-shirt and jeans and I did not realize he was an employee until I saw him tidying up the catastrophic disaster of the sale racks.  On a side note, maybe I'm the only person whose mama taught her to put things back when she was finished with them, because I witnessed a few women trying on the shoes on the sale rack and then kicking them off and leaving them on the floor!

Anyway, back to Macy's.  Yesterday, I went there, full of hope that I would find a pair (or two!) of fabulous shoes, because that is usually how it happens.  I had already had a little wind knocked out of my shopping sails by a less than favorable adventure buying the dress and shirt, but I was determined to find a pair or two of shoes and a purse.  Truth be told, I found 4 pairs of adorable, classy, non-leather shoes and would have loved to try them on...except that in the 40 minutes I was in the shoe department of Macy's, not one single employee offered assistance.  When I realized I had spent about 10 minutes surveying the shoes and finding the ones I wanted to try on and 30 minutes spinning in circles looking for someone to help me, I left.  Before I left, though, I made a last ditch effort to find a purse.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to convince a person like me to drop over $100 on a purse when there is no one around to tell me why this purse is so awesome?

Now, the awesome part of the story is that by not shopping at Macy's I purchased my shoes, purse, dress, and shirt for less than $100 together.  So it worked out just fine for me, not so much for Macy's.  I thought they might like to know how much money their useless employees cost them yesterday, so after coming home and grabbing a tiny snack (Sabra Roasted Garlic Hummus on a slice of multi-grain bread...mmmm...), I wrote them the following email:
I want to preface this by letting you know that I have been a faithful devotee of Macy's for a long time.  My wedding shoes?  Macy's. Special occasion dresses?  Macy's.  Jewelry, cookware, my yearly shoe shopping?  You guessed, Macy's.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be able to do that anymore.

This is obviously a recent thing because to me, Macy's has been representative of the last bastion of old-fashioned customer service, but your employees are just awful these days.  I wish I could confine it to just one department, but I have had appalling experiences with employees in your shoe, lingerie, and women's clothing departments over the last year, and that they are only getting worse does not give me hope to continue shopping there.

I wanted desperately to buy shoes today.  I was in the shoe dept for 40 minutes and in that time fell in and out of love with four pairs of shoes.  I did not buy any of them, however, because in all of those 40 minutes, not a single employee offered assistance, even when I was standing in the center of the dept, obviously looking for help.  I did, however, hear multiple employees telling other people who asked for help that they had to deal with the same person that had helped them before.  I realize this is probably related to a commission pay structure, but it results in abhorrent service.  Another time I was trying to buy shoes, at least 2 employees were "indisposed" because they were busy laughing at a 3rd employee (nametag and all), prancing around in sparkling womens pumps - the employee was male.

This report I am making to you grieves me because over the years I have had astonishingly good customer service, even as recently as a year and a half ago.  I have not had that experience since that time.  Since that time, I have heard employees in the lingerie department talking to each other at the cash registers about how drunk they were going to get tonight/this weekend.  In the dressing rooms of the women's clothing department, I have overheard employees gossiping about baby daddies and who is sleeping with who.

These experiences are completely unacceptable for two reasons.  First, whenever the employees are gossiping or trying on shoes or telling customers they must wait for the person they had been working with, they are NOT HELPING CUSTOMERS.  If you expect a person to spend $100+ on shoes or a purse or a dress, you need to have employees who create an atmosphere in which that price sounds like a deal.  That leads to a second point - as a customer, not their friend or family or therapist, I do not want to hear about their sexual exploits or how much they're going to drink in 45 minutes when the store closes.  

I want to love Macy's as I have in the past. I want Macy's to continue to be the place I know I can go and come out with the dress, clothes, shoes, and purse I went in there to buy today.  I left with nothing but a bitter feeling about the direction in which your store is going and I hope you can rectify this.
We'll see what they have to say...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Macy's: The Good

Do you have a boutique or department store upon with you primarily depend?  Is there a "go-to" store where you know you can find what you're looking for and where you can count on helpful sales people and charming displays?  I think it's safe to say that most women - and probably even most men - have one "favorite" spot for shopping, one place they "know" they can pop in and out of and leave with the item(s) for which they came.

For me, for years, that place has been Macy's.  I don't know if that makes me a metropolitan New York type or a suburban grandmom, but for almost my entire adult life, I have depended upon Macy's to make me look great for weddings (including my own), bridal showers (including my own, again), graduations, holidays, new jobs, interviews, baby showers (none of my own, thank you!) and pretty much any other life event that "required" a new dress, shoes, purse, and/or accessories.

There are many reasons I've pledged my devotion to this department store above all others.  One reason is that in truth, I hate department stores.  For some reason, Macy's has always felt more manageable to me - possibly more like a collection of boutiques that all happen to be under one roof without much dividing them.  I've spent considerable time (and of course, money) in a few Macy's, but since I've been in the city and especially, since I've been without a car, I've gotten used to visiting the Center City Macy's.

Here are some other "favorite things" of my past decade of experiences with Macy's:

  • in the most stunning display of old-fashioned customer care, when the transaction is complete - merchandise is paid for and carefully wrapped before placed into its bag - the salesperson does not hand it across the counter.  S/He walks around the counter to hand it to you personally, so to speak.  To me, this is the equivalent of opening doors and saying "my pleasure" instead of "you're welcome."
  • The receipt has a place for the salesperson to write his/her name and they explain to you as they hand you the receipt that they would really appreciate if you would take the time to go to Macy's website and tell the store about your experience with them.  Good or bad.  That kind of transparency and accountability is missing from too many places today.
  • The men in the shoe department wear suits - full suits with a jacket and shiny shoes - and speak to you quietly and discreetly and are ever so eager to find you the shoes of your dreams.
  • A well-dressed woman with her hair in a French Twist, floating throughout the housewares effortlessly in high heels not only knew what I meant when I asked about a pastry blender, she knew exactly where to find them and helped me to decide between a wiry little fella and a sturdier (but deadly looking) Martha Stewart brand, chatting pleasantly with me all the while about how refreshing it was to know that "young people" (like myself) still baked from scratch.
Now, let me give you some background (and beautiful pictures) about the Macy's Center City Philadelphia store, specifically.

It resides in the historic Wanamaker building, which was a Pennsylvania Railroad station until John Wanamaker purchased it in 1876 and made it into the first department store in Philadelphia.  It has persisted in one form or another as a department store since that time, though the building changed hands more than a few times.  In the time I've been alive, it was Wanamaker's, the home of many childhood memories (more in a minute), then Strawbridge & Clothier for a short time.  My adult attendance began when Lord & Taylor took over and in 2006, it became the Macy's to whom I have faithfully given my money since.

Macy's CC Philadelphia, all decked out for the Flower Show

It may seem foolish, but one of the things that has kept me coming back all these years is tradition.  When I was a child in the far-flung suburbs of Philadelphia, my little family of four would get on the train one magical day each December and take the hour-long ride into Philadelphia.  Once we were there, my father would expertly (and at times dangerously) lead us through the underground bits of the train station so we would pop up on the side walk just a couple of perilous blocks from the store.  Hey, the city's a scary place when you're 4' tall and weigh well under 100lbs.  In any case, once we were safely inside the store, it was an amazing place - brightly lit and sparkling with elegant Christmas decorations (it was still ok to say Merry Christmas back then), lux crimson carpeting down the length of creamy marble floors.  There were grand, curving staircases (now closed to the public) and, best of all, a monorail that circled one floor's ceiling (giving all the good children a great view of the toy section and giving parents everywhere a heart attack as they tried to surreptitiously purchase presents for those very children).  That monorail is now in a museum...

Anyway, after all the oohing, aahing, and ogling from the monorail (which my sister and I rode over and over and over until our parents told us it was time to eat or leave or see the lights), we would gather in the main lobby, which opens up to a total height of 6 stories, and watch the annual Christmas Lights Show with all the other families.

The light show is narrated by the one and only Julie Andrews and tells all the classic Christmas tales: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Nutcracker.  Meanwhile, on a massive display against the East wall of the building, figures light up and "move" for her stories.  There is a three-story-tall Christmas tree that lights up and changes colors, and when I was a child, there was also a display of fountains.  They spewed their steams of water at varied heights and with a rhythm that matched whatever was going on, and there were floodlights set up behind them so that the water appeared to be colored as well.  It was really an incredible thing for young eyes to behold.

Truth be told?  It's a wondrous thing for all eyes to behold.  That's why every December, my father and I meet up on his lunch break (he works about 7 blocks east of Macy's) and head over to see the light show together, even in our advanced ages :)

my view from the main floor of the show just starting
The other neat thing about the light show is that the organ accompaniment is live and played on the largest operational organ in the world.  That's right, Europe's got nothing on Center City Macy's.

That is the front of the organ - the only part, beside the console, which is actually visible.  It takes up the second and third stories of the east wall.  The 28,543 pipes are hidden within the other three walls, although they are mainly in the south wall, which is opposite the console.  The organ itself was built in 1904, coincidentally the same year as my piano.  The organ, however, was built for the St. Louis World's Fair and then laid in storage, essentially, until John Wanamaker purchased it for his mega-store in 1909.  Since 1909, the organ has been played primarily by only 4 organists.  The current organist has been playing 2 concerts a day, plus the hourly Christmas light shows that go on for the entire month of December, since 1989.  The second organist, Mary Vogt, played the organ for nearly 50 years (1917-1966).

The history of the organ is truly astonishing - I urge you to read the entire article (it's not that long) in Wikipedia.  It has some incredible stats on the organ.  It is just a magnificent instrument.

So, you see, I have a long-enduring and great love for not only Macy's but also the space it inhabits.  That is enough for now.  This is, however, only part one of a two-part series, so please check back tomorrow for the second post.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Two Ways About It

Like I mentioned in the inaugural post here on PWUW, there seem to always be two sides to the coin - sometimes you just have to flip something over yourself to see the other side.

As far as "big name" grocers go, Philadelphia is home to two competing "giants," Whole Foods and more recently, Trader Joe's.  I remember the first time I went to either establishment quite vividly, as both of them were experiences unlike I'd ever had before in the world of grocery shopping.  Coincidentally, neither event occurred in Center City.

The first time I went to Whole Foods, it was still known as Fresh Fields.  My husband and I went there for lunch when we first started dating - he's always taken me to the classiest joints.  Anyway, we went to the prepared food area, which I'd never seen before in my Acme or indie grocers, and we luncheoned on free-range chicken breast and organic salad while sipping special/weird sodas at a green plastic table in the sunshine of a "comfortable" Main Line town in between his workplace and mine.

The first time I went to Trader Joe's was in Reno, Nevada, with a friend of mine who lived out there.  The store was fascinating - brightly lit and full of fascinating and bizarre things that at that time only existed on the West Coast.  The most spectacular part of our trip, though, was checking out.  We loaded the groceries onto the belt, the cashier scanned and bagged them, and after we paid, we left the store sans grocery bags.  I thought this was a little odd and voiced my opinion and was promptly shushed by my pals.  We walked into the parking lot and I'll tell you - I don't know how I missed this before, but there was a conveyor belt from the store, which was on the second floor of the building, to the garage below and here came our groceries!

So, fantastic novelties aside, let's talk about the two in Philadelphia.  For the last 6-7 years, I have faithfully gone to the Whole Foods on South Street once a week and purchased all the produce and other things I needed to be high-quality or organic, and carted them all home.  In the 5-6 years that the Trader Joe's has taken up residence in a far western corner of Center City, I have been in there about four times. This is entirely because it's so far from where I live, because I am very impressed with what I've seen the few times I've been there.

Between a slightly less than stellar product and customer service experience I've had at Whole Foods lately and the realization of how much money I save when I shop at Trader Joe's, I've resolved to abandon Whole Foods for the month of August to see exactly how worthwhile it might be for me to trek clear across town once a week just to buy groceries.  This is basically a convenience vs. financial savings contest, but some interesting customer service experiences lately have tossed some spice into the mix.  First up, Whole Foods.

I'd like to start by saying that I have, for the most part, been quite happy with my shopping adventures at Whole Foods.  Unfortunately, and this seems to be a recent change, the customer service is just not what it used to be.  I've been smiled at broadly and offered perfectly juicy local strawberries by the girl who was stocking them.  I've had a young man demonstrate the difference in taste between a Bartlett and D'Anjou pear by slicing a piece off of each for me to try.  I recently asked a young man who was stocking peppers if he could direct me to organic peppers.  He did better - he went in the back room and pull out a big crate for me to pick from, since they were not yet on the shelves.

More recently, though, I've been made to feel in the way while shopping because it's important to restock this exact area right now.  I've cringed at a loud (and somewhat uncouth) conversation between two employees taking place over top of the tomatoes I'm trying to pick out.   Here, though, is what made me say "Maybe the convenience isn't worth these excessively high prices - for conventionally grown food, I'll point out - if the employees don't give a damn."

My husband and I love hummus.  Imagine my delight upon finding that the big tubs of Asmar's hummus were on sale!  I scooped one up and took it home with me, but before Mister and I could dig in a couple of days later, we noticed something that made us a little less excited to do so - the tub was expanding.  The top was popping.  There appeared to be layers of air forming like little stratus clouds between layers of hummus.  We thought this was probably not supposed to happen, so four days after purchasing the hummus, I took it back to Whole Foods.

There were two women in the Customer Service booth.  One did not want to deal with me, so I explained to the other that my hummus was trying to explode and put the popping container on the counter.  She asked if I had a receipt.  I said I did not keep it because I did not expect the hummus to explode.  At this point, the other woman asked me if I wanted to exchange it.  My first thought was, "if this hummus is bad, why would the others be okay?" But I really like hummus, so I was willing to take my chances.  They told me to go get a new hummus and they would put a paid sticker on it.  The transaction took place as described, but I was getting a whole lot more attitude from the one girl than I thought was necessary, considering that Whole Foods is the only place in CC that I've seen that brand of hummus.

That encounter may not sound like a big deal, and in the grand scheme of things, it's really not.  But it is enough to make me reconsider my desire to pay $4.50 for a conventionally grown red pepper.

Enter Trader Joe's.  Shortly before this incident occurred, I needed an ingredient that could only be sourced at TJ's, so I decided that as long as I was there, I'd grab some of the other things on my list and see if I could save some money.  If I had to guess, over the past four trips to TJ's, I'd say I've saved enough over what I would have paid for the same groceries at Whole Foods that I got at least one shopping trip "for free."  How's that for value?

The very first time I went, though, I got three tomatoes.  They key in all the produce codes manually, so shame on me for not paying closer attention and saving myself a trip back later in the day, but the cashier punched in my tomatoes as something called "Blue Danish," which cost something like $8.99/lb.  So, my three 79-cent tomatoes ended up costing me over $25.  When I returned to the store (receipt in hand!) to see how this error could be corrected, the smiling woman at the Customer Service desk did not ask for any proof that I had not actually purchased $25-worth of Blue Danishes, and simply refunded my money, telling me not to worry about the tomatoes either.  Well, thank you, Ms. Customer Service, for showing me why I do want to spend $25 in your store.

I'm not trying to steer anyone to or away from either place as they both have their good points and bad points, but I'm hoping that Whole Foods will come upon this post and understand how important it is to have not just good but stellar customer service when you are asking me to pay 50% more for the same bag of groceries I can get elsewhere (with more organic stuff, too, I'd add).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dazzle Me, Dah-ling

When I was a child, I remember my mother and grandmothers buying their make-up from department stores - notably, Merle Norman and Clinique, normally purchased at Strawbridge & Clothier, if memory serves.  So, when I was a teenager (or darn close) and decided - with a best friend's help - that it was high time I start wearing make-up, neither of us knew any better than to go to a department store and find the Clinique counter.

We left the store $21 poorer (which is kind of a lot when you're 13 or 14 and don't have a job), each of us quite proud of our silver tubes of lipstick and mascara.  Unfortunately, after a few months of sneaking our make-up on, the parents caught us and turned things around.  When I finally was allowed to start wearing make-up, I discovered that other people go to places we called "drug stores" and bought much cheaper versions of our fancy old-women make-up.  Wet 'n' Wild, anyone?  There's nothing quite like the quality of $1 eyeliner.  I still remember a seasoned eyeliner-wearing friend showing me a trick where you run the tip through the flame of a lighter to make it easier to apply.  Yup, that's quality.

Believe it or not, this is actually going to develop into a post about not only World Class Customer Service, but also about Stellar Sales Skills.  Why don't we get started?

In the years since my early adventures with make-up, I found MAC.  Professional quality at consumer pricing?  Sign me up.  While it is definitely higher pricing than what you'd find in your local "drug store," you're paying for quality and you get it.  In my younger, crazier years, there were at least a few [dozen] times I found myself spending the night at a friend's house because it would be stupid to drive home at that hour/level of sobriety.  My friends were always amazed that my make-up didn't "melt" throughout our exploits or even as I slept.  It would still look fabulous in the morning, as long as I didn't swipe my hand across my face in my sleep.

Nevertheless, I just love cosmetics, so when a friend introduced me to the wonder of Sephora, I didn't mind signing up for a Beauty Insider card and spending some of my hard-earned bucks there, too.  If you are unacquainted with Sephora, just imagine a really big room with about 20-30 high-quality cosmetic brands spread throughout, as well as brilliantly placed trial sizes and upsells all along the serpentine route to the registers, for which there is always a line.  With my Beauty Insider card, I earn points toward little gifts - for example, when my sister and I stopped into a store in San Francisco to get her some bronzer, my card earned me a free, trial-sized Miracle eye cream.

Ironically, on my way home from San Francisco, Delta helped me break up what was left of the MAC Tenderling blush I'd been using, so today I set out to replace it.  However, I had already decided I wanted to replace it with something a tiny tad bit more colorful - Tenderling did a great job of merely highlighting that there was a change in the structure of my face and it helped ease a I-Love-Being-Pale gal from no-blush to some-color, but I was ready for graduation.  I figured I'd stop into Sephora first, since obviously, there would be a bigger selection.  Thus begins the tale of how too many choices is not always the best choice.

I wandered aimlessly around Sephora looking for my favored brand, Urban Decay, without much luck.  Eventually, a nice lady asked me if I needed help and I told her what I was looking for - she pointed me in the right direction, but I couldn't help but feel it might have been better to walk a little way with me.  Not finding what I wanted with the 6 blushes they offered, I wandered around the store a bit and was greeted with row after row of lovely blushes...with glitter.  Shimmer, I guess, is the cosmetic world term but the point is it was sparkly.  After nearly giving up, I made eye contact with an unoccupied employee who offered her assistance.  I told her I was looking for blush but I didn't want glitter - "too much sparkle in my hair to have sparkle on my face" - which earned me a "this lady's a little loco" look.  She showed me a couple of blushes with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for boiled vegetables and again, pointed in the direction of more make-up.  Humoring her, I looked at the other kiosk before showing myself the door and heading to my faithful stand-by, MAC.

By the time I left the store, that bag carried nearly $100-worth of make-up.  Let me tell you why.

First of all, I'll grant that one advantage MAC had in this particular encounter is that it only sells its own make-up.  So, if I was hanging out at the blush table, I probably wanted blush.  Nevertheless, I was standing in front of the blush display only long enough to recognize that I was standing in front of blush before a smiling lady (looked to be about my age) asked me if I needed anything specific.  If I could take a brief aside, that is another terrific quality about MAC stores - because they are actually designed for make-up artists and staffed by make-up artists, most of the time I go in there, when someone asks me that I can give them my "order" like I'm at a make-up deli and be in and out in about 3 minutes.  Today was not one of those days, though.  Today I explained [again] that I was looking for a blush to replace what I was currently wearing and then told her I was wearing Tenderling.  She immediately found the right blush for me (all of them were matte, so I didn't have to worry about "shimmer.") and put it on my face.

Is that the end of the happy story?  Hell, no!

As she led me to the chair, she verbally assumed I was a make-up artist, based on the way I had my eyes painted up (also with MAC colors - Passionate, Carbon, and Crystal Avalanche).  I told her I was not; I just like to paint my face.  She looked me dead in the eyes and said, "You are a make-up artist."  I laughed and a little awkwardly pointed out that I had no credentials, to which she replied, with the same conviction and certainty, "You have credentials."

That made me feel really good.

So there you have it - World Class Service - because that's what it's about: making the consumer of your possibly over-priced goods feel like a really awesome person.  She made me feel beautiful and confident and competent.  She could have left off the Blushbaby blush she was flawlessly applying to my cheeks during this conversation because I was glowing.  Fortunately, she did apply it, and when I saw myself in the mirror she handed me, I said, "yes, this is it; I'll take it."  Now we'll start the story on what a stellar sales person she is.

A brief background story: I am presently a corporate trainer for the sales department of a national weight loss company.  Recently, my boss and I read through a book on what is virtually a no-fail sales model called Silver Bullet Selling.  One of the points the authors make is that you should always continue to ask if there are any other concerns/needs before "closing" the sale.  Because this young lady was so good at asking, "Do you need anything else?" I went in there solely to replace my blush and left with:

  • blush
  • 2 eyeshadows
  • lipstick
  • lip liner
  • a lighter wallet
  • a big smile

Also, as she was ringing me up she threw in a free sample of their mascara: 

That's what I call great customer service, which is why I've already spent hundreds, possible over $1K in there over the years and why I will continue to bring them my business.  Hopefully, you will bring them yours as well.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starpower of Starbucks

Starbucks has sparked a lot of controversy for being just a coffee company.  Most people have a definite opinion on the barista-centered brewer - kind of a "love 'em or hate 'em" kind of thing.  Here's a quick run-down.

Reasons people love Starbucks:

  • made-to-order drinks of all shapes and sizes: you want no caffeine? half-caf? 4 shots of espresso in a cup of ready-brew?  You've got it.  How 'bout some flavoring? In addition to standards like hazelnut and vanilla, you can get special syrups by the season - coconut? Don't mind if I do! A friend waits all year for Pumpkin Spice, and I'm pretty pumped for Gingerbread's return.  You can also get any "level" of milk your little heart desires - no fat, full fat, or soy
  • they deal in Fair Trade coffees, helping the world out a little, if Coffee can be a Superhero.
  • they support local, non-commercial dairy farms, sourcing their milk from the area around their stores (no matter where their stores may be)
  • In fact, they have an entire section of their website devoted to the actions they are taking in 5 areas to make the world a better place: 
    • Community - getting involved locally, which includes youth programs and AIDS fundraising, among other things.
    • Environmental stewardship - recycling, reusing, "greening," and other ways Starbucks is trying to reduce their environmental impact, which is important since most of their business relies on agriculture.
    • Ethical Sourcing - this is where the local suppliers thing comes in, as well as Fair Trade.
    • Wellness - they eliminated all trans fats and HFCS from their pastries and offer lower calorie options, as well as the new Bistro Boxes with complete and nutritious meals inside.
    • Diversity - actively seeking out women- and minority-owned suppliers is one way Starbucks is trying to "level the playing field."
  • If you register that Starbucks giftcard your distant aunt sent you for your birthday, you can get free drink enhancements like free non-seasonal syrups, free upgrade to soymilk, and once you buy enough stuff using your reloadable, registered card, you can earn free drinks, which is the perfect opportunity to try out that TripleVentiCoconutMochaWithSoymilkHoldTheWhippedCream without paying $7 for it.
I'm sure there are many other reasons people love Starbucks - the convenience of them being pretty much everywhere, the consistent nature of the drink preparation, etc - but I want to give the Haters a fair shake as well, so here we go.

Reasons people don't love Starbucks (hate is such a strong word...):
  • The perceived, and probably in some places very real threat Starbucks poses against independent coffee shops.  I consider this competition, which is good for the consumer, but I can see how it might rain on some small business owner's dream parade.
  • A lot of people complain that the coffee they keep in the urns tastes "burnt."  Although I think that is sometimes the case, I appreciate the darkness of the roast and think most people are too used to Maxwell House to tolerate the bitterness.  (That being said, there is a reason I almost always order a made-just-for-me espresso beverage.)
  • In this economy, you have a lot of nerve asking someone to pay $2 for brewed coffee...that tastes burnt...and pours from a large silver urn with the wrong label on it.
  • The On-The-Go nature of most urban Starbucks anyway usually results in a lot of disposable stuff. AKA Trash.  In a recent graph I saw and can't find now (of course, why would I need it now??), after fast food giants McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's, the most litter found across the country bears the Starbucks insignia.  Sure, you can bring your travel mug or you can actually sit and enjoy your coffee and ask for a real mug, but I'd say most Starbucks drinks find their way out the door in a paper cup (or 2).
Again, I'm sure there are many more reasons people would rather not spend their hard-earned cash at Starbucks, but there's no need to dwell on the negative, right? 

In case you can't tell, I'm a [registered] card-carrying, travel mug-bringing (most of the time), faithful Starbucks consumer.  I completely understand people's reasons for "hating," but for me, the experiences have only been good.  After all, this is a blog about superior customer service, not social and environmental responsibility.  Here are a few of my experiences that have sold me on Starbucks:
  • When I did want to just buy a $2 cup of brewed coffee and they did not have any readily available, they made me my favorite drink - an Americano - for free.
  • When they have a line, there is sometimes a person who goes along the line getting orders started so that by the time you get to the register to pay, your TallDoubleRaspberryMochaSoyNoWhip is already ready to go with you wherever you're going.
  • If my drink is not perfectly how I want it, they will remake it, no questions asked.
  • Their staff is [almost] always polite (the one exception, ironically, is the Starbucks at Market East train station in Philadelphia, where there are two girls who are too busy talking about their personal drama to correctly and efficiently prepare your drink and by the time you have it and it sucks, you'll miss your train if you ask them to remake it).
  • When my boss gave me a Starbucks card for Christmas, the girl at the register told me the benefits of registering it.  Although I recognize this is an effort to increase sales, it is also refreshing to have a knowledgeable employee share exactly why I should spend more money there.
  • If I run out of money on my card, the cashier takes the initiative to ask if I'd like to reload.  Again, I realize this is a clever upsell, but it sure beats the trouble out of trying to remember my login info for the website and do it myself at home some time when I happen to remember.
By now, you're thinking [hoping?] that surely there was some impetus for this post, some reminder to me of why I love Starbucks enough to spend way more money than I should there and then spend an hour writing a post singing its praise, right?  Rest assured, dear reader - there is.

When I was in California recently, I was packing up to leave for my 1pm flight home to Philadelphia when I got an automated call letting me know that my flight had been cancelled and I had been rebooked on a flight that left 10 hours later.  This was not exactly what I wanted to hear and since I had intended to get breakfast on the way to the airport, as well as coffee, I was not in the right frame of mind to process this information and take next steps.

I finished putting on my make-up and packing up my things since I had to check out of the hotel regardless of my changed flight time, then headed down the street to a Starbucks (they're everywhere, folks!) to have some coffee and food and figure out what to do for the rest of the day.  A friendly girl took my order and handed off my Tall Hazelnut Americano to the barista while she pulled out my slice of pumpkin bread with nice sanitary tongs and placed it into the waiting bag without making a smidge of human contact with it.  She rang me up, discovered my card had run low, courteously informed me and asked if I'd like to reload, which I did, and then we were finished.  I headed to the counter where the finished drinks are placed to wait for mine.

And wait.  And then start looking around, since miraculously I was the only person waiting for a drink (this is a miracle because every other Starbucks I saw while in San Francisco had been packed, with a line from the door to the counter).  And wait some more.  Suddenly, the barista saw me standing there and had this amazing-to-behold, Simpsons-like "d'oh" moment when he realized he completely dropped the ball on making my drink.  The girl who had taken my order noticed this and immediately and with a smile walked over to me and handed me a card.  This is what the card read:
We apologize if your Starbucks experience was anything but wonderful.  We want to know how we can make things better and always invite you to share your thoughts with us. The next time we see you, please enjoy a beverage, on us. We hope your next visit is better.
On the back, it gives the phone number for Client Relations, so if I wanted to, I could have given them an earful about the young man who forgot to make my drink.  I won't, though, because mistakes happen and when they do, Starbucks appears to be completely willing to take responsibility and make it right.

In my book, that is World Class Customer Service.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

how it all began

Most people are familiar with that iconic scene in the movie "Pretty Woman" in which Vivian tries to go shopping on Rodeo drive for a "conservative" cocktail dress, only to be turned away by a few salesgirls who are too big for their designer britches.  Oh, that rhymes with something apropos!

Talk about bad customer service!  By way of a short aside, I work for a company with an emphasis on both sales and customer service.  You might imagine most companies in today's financial climate would focus on the latter to drive the former.  However, a problem we occasionally run into with our sales reps is what we call profiling, which is exactly what happens to Vivian in this little snippet.  Judging by superficial but immediately obvious characteristics, a person in a sales role might blow a terrific opportunity because they "put 2+2 together" and figured the person wasn't going to buy/couldn't afford it.  As Vivian later comes by to show, these salesgirls made that mistake and it cost them a big bonus to their paychecks.

For as pitiful and/or anger-inspiring as that scene might be, the next scene is nothing short of inspiring:

She returns to the Regent Beverly Wilshire, still looking very much like a hooker, and is stopped on the way back to her room by the hotel manager, Barnard Thompson (played by Hector Elizondo).  He escorts her into his office to discuss how unwelcome she is at the hotel but that since she is with a very wealthy man whose business he wants to maintain, she will be allowed to remain until he checks out.  When Barnard tries to dismiss her, Vivian tells him her shopping tale of woe and becomes visibly upset. He picks up the phone and calls a "friend" who works at a women's boutique.  She helps Vivian find the perfect LBD (little black dress, for any men in the audience) and everyone is happy.

This example further illustrates the point I alluded to in last night's post: whenever one person turns you away or provides very poor customer service, there is usually someone waiting just around the corner to win your very valuable business.  My hope for this blog is that you will look around until you find that person.

This past weekend, my husband and I, along with 13 friends, visited North Bowl in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia.  We made merry, aside from missing out on some of the eating and drinking that would have been going on if our waitress was even remotely interested in serving us.  Apparently, she was far more interested in having a conversation with other employees to notice us waving our menus in the air and staring at her after we'd been seated for about 30 minutes.  When we finally convinced her to take our order, she was extremely patronizing and couldn't even be bothered to check back on us after a runner delivered our food.  If she had come to visit us a time or two, she very easily could have doubled or tripled her tip.  Like I said, there were 15 of us and we spent 5 hours there, eating (kind of), drinking (when we wanted to walk over to the bar for more), and catching up on lost time.

Despite her complete neglect of our tables while we were there and hungry, she somehow managed to find the time to bring us our check and check back to see if we were ready twice within about 15-20 minutes.  Impressive!  If only she had been that bored earlier....

Because I was the one who recommended the joint, I was embarrassed that my friends had another reason to think all service in Philly is horrendous when I specifically chose North Bowl to demonstrate the opposite.  Her "service" was unacceptable and as soon as we got home, I wrote a very long and detailed email to North Bowl, letting them know how dissatisfied we were and how unlikely we were to patronize their establishment in the future.

I'll tell you something, though.  If you're looking for the link to North Bowl in the Last Place Losers tab, you'll be poking around for a while.  Why don't you save yourself some time and head over to the World Class Winners tab if you'd like to get their contact info, check out the menu, and plan your next trip there.

Why the change in heart?  Not even 12 hours after I wrote that email, I received not one but two replies from Leemor, one of the managers.  He was horrified by my account of the service we had received and wanted to make it right.  He watched the video tape of the time we were in his establishment in order to identify and correct the wayward waitress.  He apologized profusely and sincerely for her behavior and assured me that it would be addressed and we would not have that experience again.  He closed by making the smart move of any manager (which we all know, but it still works) - he invited me and three of my friends to come back for a round of bowling and drinks on the house.

I am thrilled with his prompt and professional response to my complaint and he has ensured that North Bowl has returned to my good graces.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Tale of Two Jewelers

It's always a little difficult, I think, getting started on a new project.  This is my second blog - about two years ago I started a cooking/foodie blog to follow me through my adventures in the kitchen.  If you'd like to check it out, I'm sure you can find at least one amusing post.

In a sense, it was that blog that spurred the creation of this one.  I work in a customer service oriented industry, but more importantly, I care about people.  I tend toward seeing the value in people, until they give me a good reason to think otherwise.  I start out from a baseline of respect, rather than making someone "earn" their way into being treated like a human being.  What others choose to do is their prerogative.

Until it relates to me, that is.

The word "service" is lost upon a lot of people these days.  When you serve someone, you put yourself in a place of humility.  You make yourself a little bit lower so that you can elevate the other.  There are many people who serve: there is the obvious, such as waitstaff, and the maybe not-so-obvious, like ministers.  It seems to me that the "higher" a position you hold, the more willing you should be to demonstrate service as you may have more eyes to influence.

I am the person who writes letters to management to tell them about the phenomenal service provided to me by this representative of their company.  I think we are generally far quicker to let management know when we are dissatisfied than when we are satisfied, so I try to tip the scales a little.  That being said, if someone provides appalling "service," I have no problem providing the management with a detailed report on where their employee failed to represent their company in the way they surely would want it represented.  It seems there is a 50/50 split between managers who couldn't possibly care less if I was paying them to care less, and managers who respond quickly and appropriately to ensure that they regain my potentially lost patronage.  There are times that a manager's response to a poorly handled situation can put a more positive light on a company than if their service provider had done a stellar job in the first place.

Here is what I have found in recounting years of good and bad service: For every bad experience you have, someone is waiting to provide World Class Service.  Sometimes, that someone waits within the same 4 walls, other times, you'll need to take your business elsewhere to get the treatment you deserve.  Let me open my blog and close this post with A Tale of Two Jewelers:

In 2007, my bad luck from 2006 turned around completely.  As a result, I found myself shopping for wedding jewelry in the heat of a Philadelphia summer.  My [now] husband and I felt extremely fortunate to live within easy walking distance of Philadelphia's famous Jewelers' Row.  We headed up to a glitter-lined lane to take our pick from dozens of well-advertised jewelry stores.  At one end of Jewelers' Row, we were greeted by the elevated and imposing building of Safian and Rudolph, and on the other, Robbin's 8th and Walnut, whose ads I watched since I was a child.

We headed into Safian and Rudolph's to find a young salesman hurriedly putting his fancy shoes back on his feet and an older gentleman who smelled vaguely of alcohol standing arrogantly behind the counter.  We stated our business and even gave an idea of our preferences and were directed toward a specific section of rings.  To my surprise, the selection was limited - I had expected more from their advertisements.  What amazed my husband and I, however, was the distinct impression we got from the salesman behind the counter - he seemed completely unimpressed with us.  He put absolutely no effort into assisting us and seemed to roll his eyes that we were even in his shop.  I can only imagine we did not fit the suburban, main-line type he was used to serving because he did not take a single item out of the case for us.

Disgusted with his attitude and the store's collection, we walked out into the sunshine and headed down the block.  Finally, we found ourselves in Robbins 8th and Walnut and in the extraordinarily attentive care of a saleswoman named Doris.  How is that for an impression?  Four years after this event, I still remember her name.  Why?  Because she took out just about every ring in the store that was even remotely near the description we gave her.  She turned the store upside down to find the perfect wedding band to match my somewhat unusual engagement ring.  There were a few rings that I loved, but no matter how much I loved them, they were not actually what we were looking for, stylistically.  Regardless of the far higher commission they would have paid, she gently guided me away from them and back to a few others she thought were better for us.

We bought my wedding band from Doris.  Are you surprised?  You shouldn't be - she spent at least an hour of her day with us, fussing over me and my silver and garnet engagement ring, determined to find the perfect wedding band to match the knife-edge shape of my ring while adding a little glamour.  She found a ring that sparkled with two rows of little diamonds, one on each side of the "knife edge" in a tone of white gold that matched my silver engagement ring so perfectly that to this day, no one else knows they are two different metals.

My husband and I were steaming when we left Safian and Rudolph's and I could tell that he anticipated we would have that experience in the other stores as well.  We were beaming when we left Robbins, and all it took was a little bit of genuine service.