acts of service

I admit it: I can be a finicky customer. Not the demanding, unreasonable kind that causes scenes or unnecessary drama, but one that expects companies to deliver excellent customer service, because that’s what’ll keep me coming back.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time living in Europe (Italy in particular), and service standards there tend to be pretty iffy, I think the experience has made me even more aware of the issue when I’m back home.

In a society where clients are also expected to respond to service professions with monetary reward (i.e., tips and future business), we have a better reputation for it. So whenever I find myself presented with a less-than-ideal situation, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I find myself discontent with what seem like minor details, but make a world of difference between a superb experience and a crappy one.

The other day I entered a hardware store and a store rep walked by. “Hi how are you doing today,” he muttered in a careless stream as he walked by, and I had no idea where his eyes were, only that they weren’t on me at all.

I know this isn’t a big deal, but I felt insulted! Rule number one when there’s another person in your line of sight: Acknowledge them. Validate their presence. He’d done that, but in his sort of “drive by” greeting, he’d only done it with his words, not his body. Had what he said not been addressed to me, you might’ve assumed he was just mumbling to himself as he walked. He’d walked by so quickly, too, that I could hardly have even felt comfortable asking him for direction as to where I could find what I’d come for.

There’s some astronomical percentage that communication experts tell us is understood through body language alone. Something upwards of seventy percent. I felt like some sort of formality and would have preferred being ignored! If you’re going to bother saying hello to me, take a moment to stop walking, face me, and look me in the eye.

On the other hand, when an employee at a store bothers to personally show me to what I’m looking for, or goes out of his way to ensure my experience is satisfactory, I end up leaving ready to spread the word — in fact, I’ve had people jokingly ask me if I worked for these places as a result of my raving stories.

I was at a different store recently, a higher-end department store, that left me a bit disgruntled. I’d really needed the women’s lounge and had followed poorly placed signs for the restroom around the entire floor before I finally found it, and once I got there, the first stall was missing a coat hook — out of the question as my purse is the size of an infant. So I switched stalls, and the lock on the door was flimsy, the kind that will come unlocked if you sneeze in the wrong direction (exaggeration, but you know what I’m talking about).

Once I finished, I went to wash my hands and my sink didn’t have a soap dispenser (the bathroom was designed so all were supposed to have individual dispensers).

When I came out of the bathroom, my boyfriend asked me why I wasn’t a fan of it. Because, I told him, this is a department store: a place of commerce for higher-end merchandise and luxury. Luxury means the customer never has to worry about discomfort or inconvenience, that she is taken care of and the little details matter.

It may seem I’m too particular, but think about it. Not every experience at a store or with a company has to be life-changing, but it should never leave you wanting for more. At the basis of any service interaction (and here’s the kicker: there is no business that is not based in service) should be consideration and care.

I believe we start this practice with our personal lives. I’ve been told that when I talk to people, I give off the impression that the person in question is the only person in the room. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone somewhere and ended up talking for hours with the same stranger I just met that evening. Or how many times I’ve spent hours cooking for others — how many friendships I’ve made based in appreciation for food!

I spend the time to personally reply to comments and e-mails/messages I get because it costs me nothing but a bit of time to lay down the foundations of reaching out to other human beings. Social media is nothing if not a basis for connection and interaction; I don’t hide who I am behind an anonymous icon for a reason. I am proud of what I stand for.

And I sincerely hope that my interest in people translates into something that’s getting a bit lost in this day and age. To quote Peaceful Warrior, “There is no greater purpose than to serve others.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let’s start a conversation.