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Service With A Sneer (Or Why Businesses Fail)

My husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary last month. Last year (our 10th anniversary), we had talked about taking my wedding set in to have the center stone sized up. Mind you, my ring is perfectly nice but not a huge honking thing–think 1/3 ct tw. Our intent was to perhaps take the 1/4 ct. center stone up to perhaps a 1/2 ct oval.

We visited the local franchise of the chain where we had purchased the ring originally. The saleswoman (think a composite of Ivana Trump and Hermione Gingold) approached and we told her what we were thinking of doing.

She examined my ring briefly and in a very thick (and very LOUD) Eastern European trumpet tone, announced: “Well, this certainly is a SMALL one!!” Heads turned from all sides of the shop, people wanting to see this pathetic little ring. We turned around and walked out without a word.  Never went back.

Last trip to the mall? The store is gone, taken over by another chain. From what I gather, all of the stores in this chain are now gone. I just wonder how much that kind of “customer disservice” contributed to the closure (in addition to the state of the current economy, of course). 0820-12

In this challenging economy, it is a source of wonder to me that there are businesses who are their own worst enemy, who shoot success in the foot and deserve to fail utterly.  It’s as if a business owner has a death wish to strangle his/her business to the point of no return.

{ 73 comments… add one }
  • Angela September 6, 2012, 6:50 am

    Some great (and gratifying) stories! I can say that I worked in retail for a few years in my 20’s and I learned quickly that appearance meant little…people who looked shabby might pull out a wad of bills and people who were expensively dressed might have a credit card refused.

  • Mrs. Lovett September 6, 2012, 8:45 am

    @woohoo! Regarding your comment on people who work for minimum wage, that might (I repeat, might) be true during times of economic boom, but right now we are in a major recession, and finding an entry-level job that pays above minimum wage can be difficult, even with a college degree and/or work experience. Yes, many minimum-wage workers are high school students or drop-outs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hard-working or invested in doing well. Many other minimum-wage workers are college students who are trying to pay their way through college. Others still are people who were working their way up in their careers before the bottom dropped out of the economy and they were laid off. Now they’re just trying to make ends meet. That doesn’t mean they don’t take pride in their work.

    While it’s true that companies that pay above minimum wage may in general see higher productivity, this often has more to do with the fact that the workers there feel more valued and may see more incentive to work hard.

  • Enna September 6, 2012, 9:38 am

    Hmm – maybe the lady was hoping to make as many big sales as possible? Never insult or patronise the customer good way to loose buisness. If you are going to describe the size of a gem/jewel be tackful. She could have said in a more polite way “small and elegant”.

  • Shalamar September 6, 2012, 10:20 am

    MonkeysMommy, it definitely pays sometimes to go with the more expensive option if that’s the one that will get you decent customer service, doesn’t it? I remember when my husband and I decided to have a deck built – we got several quotes from different companies. We ended up going with the most expensive option because the owner (who met with us) obviously knew what he was doing and treated us with courtesy and respect. At one point he asked me “Do you ever wear high heels?” Puzzled, I said “yes”. He asked “Have you ever had your heel get stuck between the boards when you’re going up a wooden set of stairs?” “YES!” “Well, that won’t happen with the stairs we’ll build you; I promise you that.” He then looked at both of us and said “And, when you’re coming home from a grocery trip and have bags in each hand, the stairs we build will be wide enough for you to climb without having to turn sideways.” The fact that he (a) had thought of such a thing which, frankly, would never have occurred to us and (b) had not assumed that I would be doing all the grocery shopping made up our minds for us!

  • PrettySticks September 6, 2012, 10:51 am

    @Lola – This whole thread totally had me thinking of Pretty Woman too! Perhaps the only appropriate response in these situations is “Big mistake. Big. Huge! I have to go shopping now…” Bonus points if you say it while wearing a fabulous hat.

    Years ago I had randomly received a Tiffany catalogue in the mail and while paging through it I pointed out a ring to my boyfriend – small sapphire, with a tiny diamond on either side – and said something about that appealing to me way more than some honking diamond. Fast forward five years, and he proposes with that ring (having totally remembered that one conversation, which was amazing). Now, while it was quite the investment for him, and certainly by far the nicest thing I’ve ever owned, I knew full well this was not one of Tiffany’s big money items. I don’t even think they had it in their “engagement” category (I think the label alone drives up the price). But my now-fiance said when he went to purchase the ring, they gave him awesome service, and when we went back to have it sized they treated us like royalty. I also have a silver Tiffany necklace that is *really* at their low end, and I’ve gone in to ask them to polish it, which they do for free. And they always offer me a seat, and ask if I want tea or whatever while they polish it. It’s amazing. I can tell you, if I am ever actually in the market for a $15,000 doodad, I would definitely go to Tiffany first.

  • nk September 6, 2012, 11:01 am

    @ Mrs. Lovett – I have to ask, is that your name or a Sweeney Todd reference? Either way it’s awesome.

  • Calli Arcale September 6, 2012, 11:46 am

    Roslyn — your experience reminds me of the first time DH and I (well, DF at the time) went car-shopping together. We’d done our homework, were already pretty settled on a Ford Windstar; at the time, it had the best crash rating of any minivan. So we went to a Ford dealership. Young couple, dressed in jeans and t-shirts . . . the smartly dressed young men in the showroom evidently thought we wouldn’t have much of a budget, so they called over an older gentleman to assist us. He wasn’t wearing as expensive a suit, but he was very nice, and he came so promptly we didn’t think anything of it. He asked us some basic questions, and quickly we established that we were interested in a new Ford Windstar. He got a key and a plate and let us try one out. We liked it, and said we wanted to buy it. So he took us back to his office, in a grand mood, and then we started to figure out what was going on — because his office wasn’t in the main building. It was in the outbuilding where they relegate the used car salesmen. That’s right: the young whippersnappers in the showroom figured we’d have very little income and pawned us off on the used car salesman so they didn’t have to waste their time on such a small commission. We ended up buying a brand new Windstar with lots of extras and a substantial down payment in addition to our trade-in; what the guys in the showroom didn’t know was that we’re both engineers. 😀 We had plenty of money; we just dressed casual because we’re nerds and don’t dress up just to go car shopping. The used car salesman was visibly grateful for our business; he obviously wasn’t well paid and got by primarily on commissions, which aren’t very good in the used car business.

    I liked him a lot, but never came back there. Bad enough that they’d make assumptions about what we were interested in, but worse that they were so clearly disdainful of their “inferior” staff. It betrays a classist mindset, or at least one in which one’s financial worth determines their merit.

  • - September 7, 2012, 1:06 am

    The story is an urban myth.

  • delislice September 7, 2012, 6:48 am

    I’ll never forget the time my DH and I thought we might be moving to Buffalo and wanted to look at a Jeep-like vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Since we’re loyal to Toyota, we went to the huge Toyota dealership in our city. We asked to test-drive, I don’t know, a 4Runner or something. The salesman addressed all his comments to my husband, didn’t ask any questions about what we were looking for in a car.

    We got in. I wanted to do the driving, since DH had previously owned a car like this and I hadn’t, plus, I would be doing most of the driving in our new situation. Salesman did not like that AT ALL. It was only well into the test drive and with obvious reluctance that he “let” me drive, and then had a very condescending tone each time he told me to turn here or there.

    Oh, and he was smoking the whole time. Didn’t ask. In a test-drive car we might have bought.

    We lived in that city for another 10 years and bought two more Toyotas during that time. Not from that dealer, however.

  • Jenny September 7, 2012, 7:25 am

    The funny thing is – my husband and I both have jobs where we have to dress up every day in suits and such – I don’t wear suits, make up, fancy heels, or whatever when I’m shopping because I’m tired of wearing that every day as it is. We wear jeans and t-shirts when we’re shopping. I knew an extremely wealthy surgeon who liked to wear the same ratty sweatshirt when he went shopping. Don’t assume customers are poor because they aren’t wearing fancy clothes or assume customers are rich because they are dressed up to shop.

  • Mrs. Lovett September 7, 2012, 8:30 am

    @nk: It’s a Sweeney Todd reference. I’m very much a fan of the musical.

    I also sell pies at the local Farmer’s Market (though mine are filled with fruit, not meat, human or otherwise), so Mrs. Lovett seemed an especially appropriate pseudonym. I started selling at the Farmer’s Market to supplement the part-time, minimum-wage job that was all I could find after I graduated from college. I suppose that is part of the reason I felt strongly enough to leave my previous comment.

  • Annie September 7, 2012, 11:05 am

    I used to go to a dentist who had a dental hygienist who would say, “What a shame you didn’t have braces!” every time she saw me. She also refused to believe that I floss every day.

    After the third time of her insulting my crooked teeth, I found a new dentist.

  • Lola September 7, 2012, 1:28 pm

    Car salesmen are notorious for their sexism. I recall coming to a Chevy dealership looking to buy a new sedan, picked a model I wanted and asked the salesman to give me his price. He pointed to the MSRP sticker. I replied, “Yes, that’s the MSRP. I’m asking you to give me your price.” He pointed to the MSRP sticker again. I turned around and left without a word. He did the same.

  • Library Diva September 7, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Calli, your Ford Windstar story made me so sad. I’m glad that guy got a nice commission from you. It always makes me sad to see older people disregarded like that. It sounds like this guy was a nice guy and a good salesman, too, if not a real sharp-dressed shark.

  • WinkAndSmile September 7, 2012, 3:28 pm

    Once, long ago, my mother and I went to buy a car. It was to be my mother’s car, and I was accompanying her because we enjoy hanging out together. The salesman was nice enough when he was showing the car, although he didn’t tell us much about horse power and the like, but when it came down to the financial aspects of closing the deal, he completely blew the sale. He actually suggested that Mom call Dad and have him come to the dealership, so that DAD could make the financial decisions and fill out the paperwork.

    Dad doesn’t even write checks. Mom handles all the finances, and Dad probably doesn’t even know what half the bills are, let alone how much. Mom writes all the checks. I don’t think Dad even has access to the checkbook. This was, by the way, HIS choice, from early on in the marriage, because Mom is just plain better at finances than he is.

    Mom informed the salesman of this fact, and then we left, in a huff, and went to another dealership. For the next several years, as long as we lived in that town, whenever Mom drove by that dealership, she would turn and *stick out her tongue at them!* Not that they ever saw it, of course, and fortunately, there were no children in the car to see the rudeness. But really, I can’t blame her for feeling that way.

    I don’t know if we got a *better* deal, elsewhere, but we got a good one. We got a car that suited our needs, fit our budget, and we were treated well by the salesman. We recommended that dealership to others, whenever we heard someone was looking for a car. And the first dealership sure got some negative advertising, as well.

  • Louisa September 7, 2012, 3:40 pm

    Terrible behaviour and you acted well, but I am not sure the Eastern European detail is relevant. I’d be offended if I was from this area. Just a thought.

  • WinkAndSmile September 7, 2012, 4:06 pm

    I’d like to share a positive sales story, please.

    Years ago, when I was just a little kid, my father visited a jewelry warehouse in Germany. It was the sort of place where professional jewelers go to get their gems, gold, tools, etc., and they also have a selection to sell to the public. It’s a family owned business, whose name starts with R.

    Well, my father was there, waiting to be let in (there is a waiting area, with a receptionist, and security), and Herr R came out with some Japanese clients. My father greeted them in Japanese, just a simple hello, but in their language. Well, you’d think he had offered them the moon, because they were so pleased! Some stranger had shown them such respect to recognize their nationality and to greet them in their own language, when they were in a foreign country. They just lit up. Herr R was quite pleased, as well, and he told the receptionist to take very good care of my father. He got my father’s name and they chatted for a while, before he had to go on his way.

    Some years later, about 12 or 15, my family went back to that town, and my father, still doing work as a jeweler, decided to visit R’s warehouse. We were waiting in the reception area, to be let in to see the selections available to the public, and the receptionist was polite, but cool. After all, we were just a family who came in off the street, not proper businessmen with suits and appointments. She said we’d have to wait a bit until someone would be available to show us the merchandise. R is a wholesaler, and Dad was just a small-time jeweler, working individual commissions. He obviously wouldn’t be buying in bulk. Suddenly, Herr R came out. He looked at my father, and said, “You’re Herr WinkAndSmile.”

    My father confirmed this, and they greeted each other warmly. Herr R then apologized that he couldn’t spend more time with us, as he was on his way to a business meeting. However, he turned to the receptionist and said, “This is Herr WindAndSmile. Show him the *private collection*, and take good care of him.”

    Well, you could have scraped the receptionist’s jaw off the floor with a spatula. She called in one of the high-level saleswomen, who greeted us warmly, and showed us the private collection – an amazing museum of jewelry through the ages with some absolutely stunning pieces, as well as the wholesale gems, where I was able to buy a few lovely pieces with my own allowance, something I could not have afforded at the public collection.

    My father only did work on commission, so he never really needed a whole lot of stock for his jewelry supplies. But what he did need, he usually bought through mail-order from R’s, because R’s was “the best,” and he told all his clients that, too. “Oh, you want a stone I don’t have? Let’s order it from R’s.” No wonder it’s been around since 1890. Not only did we get excellent customer service, but Herr R showed just how much all his customers meant because he 1) remembered a single customer for over a decade, and 2) rewarded said customer just because the customer had made some of his other customers happy! And they were on their way out, so it couldn’t have affected that particular purchase, but I’ll bet it affected future purchases.

    Oh, yeah, and I second the point about quality being more important than size. And design is, sadly, quite often lacking in the big-box jewelry stores. I’d much rather have a unique design, done with fine workmanship, and high-quality stones than some honking’ big rock, stuck on a band. If you’re looking for really good jewelry, look for a store with a master jeweler on the premises, who will do design work for you. You’ll have a true piece of art!

    — No, I’m not advertising. My Dad’s out of the business. 😉 —

  • Cher630 September 9, 2012, 4:52 pm

    @PrettySticks – I completely agree with you in regards to Tiffany’s service. My sister’s boyfriend wanted to buy her a bracelet from Tiffany’s. His fashion style was that of the “skater boy” type – backwards hat, HUGE pants, chains dangling, piercings, etc…He was really sweet and friendly.

    I went with him to Tiffany’s because he was nervous going in. We went to the flagship store on 5th Ave since we live in NYC. I watched the salesperson interact with him. With how she treated him, you would have thought he was in a 3 piece suit and whipping out a black American Express card! It didn’t matter that he looked completely opposite of what the store usually deals with, nor that he paid with cash instead of a credit card. The saleslady wrapped up his purchase with the same gusto and elegance of anyone else.

    I always loved Tiffany’s and have many of their silver pieces, which aren’t very expensive. But they are very friendly to every customer in their store. They will have my business for years to come!

  • Shalamar September 10, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Speaking of sexist salespeople, my family and I were in the market for a new couch a few years ago. We decided to visit a local shop first before patronizing the big chain stores, because we thought that we’d (a) get better service and (b) help support local merchants. Well – as we were entering the shop, I stumbled over a hard-to-see step. The salesman, seeing this, said sarcastically “That’s why there’s a ‘MIND THE STEP’ sign right there” (which I hadn’t seen). He then added “Not that I’d expect a WOMAN to pay attention to a a sign, ha ha ha!”

    We got the heck out of there and went to one of the big chain stores, in which the saleswoman we got couldn’t have been nicer. We found a couch we loved. When we asked her if she’d give a discount for paying cash, she did indeed knock the price down a bit. As I pulled out my big wad of cash, she joked “I heard that a 7/11 got robbed a block or two away from here”; I grinned and said “You got me!”

  • Lain September 13, 2012, 2:35 am

    @Marna Tiffany is pretty much the best place to shop if you want to buy nice jewelry and feel good about yourself. I was visiting a friend in Philadelphia, I had some money saved up and I decided I wanted a charm bracelet, and conveniently enough there just happened to be a Tiffany location on one of the side streets. I went in wearing torn jeans and a hoodie with a skull on the front and got some of the best customer service I’ve ever received at any store. Tiffany is great and they know that not everyone who has money wants to flaunt it.

  • Cat Whisperer September 15, 2012, 4:21 pm

    Reading some of the car stories brought back memories: Soon after husband and I got married, we went to buy a new car. I did all the research on the car, husband agreed on the make and model I suggested, and so I started visiting dealers.

    I carried a clipboard with me to note features about the models the dealers had on the lot. We live in the LA area, with lots of car dealers within easy travel of each other, and the models they keep on the lot varied. We wanted a specific model with a specific option package, so it involved some legwork to find it.

    I walked onto one lot carrying my clipboard and walked around among the cars, noting models and taking notes. The salespeople were all standing around together shooting the breeze and they ignored me. It was fairly early on a week-day morning, not the time when most car sales get made.

    I approached the group to ask a couple of questions about two of the cars. The salesmen pretty much brushed me off and I was having trouble getting anyone to answer my questions. Finally one of the salesmen said, “Are here on some kind of school project, missy?” Very patronizing and dismissive.

    “I’m here to buy a car,” I fired back immediately, “But I see there’s no one here who wants to sell me one, so I’ll go somewhere else.” And I started to walk away.

    I’ll give them this: after a stunned few seconds, they made a good recovery, and they were courteous and attentive while they answered my questions. But it left a bad taste in my mouth, and we ended up buying the car elsewhere.

    Also, a general comment on the wedding ring/engagement ring thing. My wedding ring and engagement ring were stolen in a burglary twenty-three years ago. (One of the stones in the wedding band had come loose, and I had put the rings in my jewelry box until we could go to a jeweler to have the setting fixed.) I never replaced the rings, and haven’t worn a wedding band/engagement ring since.

    Husband and I have been happily married for 34 years. I don’t need a ring to be reminded of our love or marriage, and I would certainly not regard the size of the stone in a ring or the costliness of a ring as an indicator of how much my husband loves me. I’m not fond of wearing jewelry so for me it isn’t a big deal, and my husband concurrs with that attitude.

    Some people like jewelry, some people don’t; some people regard a ring as an important token of love, some don’t; some people find the possessiveness symbolized by a ring insulting, some find it endearing. Some people can’t wear rings because it’s dangerous in their job, or because of problems like arthritis or hands that are prone to swelling.

    Whatever, I think it’s just plain wrong and bad manners for anyone in any capacity to make any comment about a ring that someone is wearing other than “gee, that’s a very pretty ring,” said with an admiring smile and in a normal tone of voice. Any other comment is, in my opinion, in danger of straying into “mind-your-own-business” land or otherwise being offensive. Any comment about the absence of a ring as an indicator of anything is also rude and offensive. Much better not to go there. There are plenty of other things to talk about.

  • phoenix September 28, 2012, 8:41 pm

    Oddly, I’ve had worse experiences with the local, family owned shops in town. I’m in a smaller town, and they tend to be a bit oblivious to any ideas of customer service. I think it’s a lack of competition thing.

    I remember walking into the jewelry store one day, looking for an engagement ring. There were FOUR salespeople chatting behind the counter, and nobody else in the store. I was in a polo shirt and Khakis, and they couldn’t be bothered to look at me.

    They didn’t realize I also worked for the company that did their marketing, and thus was often in meetings with their boss who complained about dropoffs in sales. Had a nice chat with her 🙂 You never know who you’re ignoring in retail.

  • NostalgicGal January 1, 2013, 1:42 am

    It was 1959 and my father worked in a (for the region the big town) town; had a friend that came from out of state to go to the sales ring, and get rid of his ‘crop’ for the year. Now he was rather a little messy, cattle and sales ring being what they are… and he decided instead of taking train, to buy a new car for his wife’s birthday and drive it back. My dad took him to the big car dealership.. and nobody wanted to give this fellow the time of day. Just happened that Dad knew the owner and went to look him up… and explain about his friend here wanted to buy a caddy but nobody wanted to talk to him. Well the owner went out, talked nice, showed the guy a new powderblue caddy, let him take it around the block, and took him inside and they did the paperwork. Guy was happy, paid CASH and left. Dad said then the owner called the ENTIRE sales staff into his office where paperwork and pile of cash sat on the desk and gave them a onceover. That guy that nobody would say hello to, bought that one particular car, cash. (sitting right there). On a cash sale the sales person gets paid immediately on their commission. Since nobody could DO THEIR JOB, *HE* took care of that customer, he made the sale, and that commission was All HIS. When I left that area in the late 70’s, that dealership was still in business and it didn’t matter what you looked like, you bet you got someone to say hello!

    Early 80’s, I was in college, married, and working full time on a night shift. Some days I would get off work, stay up, and go to class, then go home and sleep. I hit the mall to buy a few things after a night of work, a day of lab classes and I was looking a little crusty. I pulled some of the rent money and other, I just wanted a nice fold of cash to carry for awhile… and got $400 out of the ATM. With what else I had, I had 22 20$ bills folded in the pocket. A small shop had a display, they sold costume jewelry, some cosmetics and some slimy slinky lingerie… on the display up front they had a necklace I had been looking at, I had decided to get it. I walk into the store to look at the rest of the merchandise before picking up what I wanted. The clerk, new, asked me if she could help me, as I went through the hangers of slimy stuff. I said no thank you, I’m just looking. I hear the manager tell her quietly that NOT TO BOTHER with people that ‘look like that’ as they don’t have any money anyways (and it’s a waste of time). Okay I make the whole circuit around the little place and the center raised kiosky thing the register is in, go to the easel display and unpin what I want ($8) and put it on the counter. Clerk is being taught so manager is hovering as she works on the register. I pull out that fold and purposely fan across it with my thumb. It’s all 20’s. 22 20’s. And peel one off and hold it up and look up. Clerk is jaw swaying and the manager at that instant KNEW that I had heard her. Her look was priceless. Clerk to her credit is nice, takes my $ makes change and wraps my purchase and thanks me for coming in. They weren’t there much longer either.

    I have sold at many shows and conventions. You never ever know who will step up to your stuff and have the $ and want to buy whatever. Be nice to them all. You need to. My DH has watched me also take some real garbage from customers, be nice, and when they leave he asks how the bleep can I put up with that. If I want the sale I’ve learned how to have a thick skin, as well. So it IS 2 sided but still. How some stores stay in business is a miracle, and a good number that go under, have no clue, about what is really going on (with sales staff or just plain attitude).

    A paid survey I got to participate in, was for a particular chain store of restaurants. They’d been trying for some years with various ad campaigns to get people into the stores. So the dozen of us dutifully sat through two hours of critiquing their new potential ad campaign. Then in the last two minutes, did we have any other concerns? I started outlining consistently poor underdone food, the time I should’ve taken the one seriously underdone item and walked out of the store and sued (I did get sick and I would have owned that franchise without trying) , the mistakes in orders, the lousy beverages (turned the drink dispensers down so far you couldn’t tell what you were drinking other than city water), the poor service, the bad attitudes of who worked there. That frankly all the ad campaigns in the world weren’t going to get people in there to eat lousy underdone poorly made food. The other participants are going yes yes yes and agreeing with me. (and I had tried their chain across a lot of turf in that timeframe I was covering, several years). I noticed a) the ad campaign never launched b) a few chains got better, some worse, and c) the owner’s grandson, they’d sold the company, started buying stores back and owned about 40 of them and ‘put them back the way they used to be before things went bad’. I happen to now live where one of these are, and yes I eat there once again. I know if I go out of the area of those stores, not to eat there!

    Another chain, came in with these teeny tiny versions of some of their menu items, and sold bundles of 30… it still took almost the same amount of time for the stores to make the smaller items; and now the orders were for 30 or more at once instead of 3… and they had the kitchen lines solid with people to crank them out sending their overhead through the roof, and the wait times in drive through went to ridiculous. (30 min) Corporate couldn’t figure out why overhead was soaring and the complaint line was blistering over wait times and someone finally went and just visited one of the restaurants. Those menu items disappeared over night.

    Both sides of the coin…

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