Over the rainbow

If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s when you ask a sales assistant in a shop where something is, and they point vaguely into the distance and say “it’s over there…” Where? Over the hill? Over the rainbow? Over the moon?

This happened to me recently in a store I shouldn’t name, but what the heck, it was Farmers. I went to the homewares department where I thought I might find a vase. After hunting around unsuccessfully for their vase collection, I asked the sales assistant where I might find them. She had, until that point, been doing her best to avoid eye contact and was very busy refolding tea towels.

“They’re over there,” she said, pointing to the far side of the store somewhere.

“Where?” I persisted.

“Over there. See, under the sign that says absolutely nothing to do with vases?” with that Kiwi upward inflection to her voice.

Now, my eyesight is never that crash hot, but it’s even dodgier since a fairly recent corneal graft which sees me still with stitches in my eye. But should I have to explain that to the sales assistant, who admittedly probably earns minimum wage? Or should she actually move her feet and take me over to the vases?

In libraries, and I’m sure in many other customer service based organisations, pointing is a no no. Librarians are always told to take the customer to where the item they want is. Now, I’m the first to admit that this doesn’t always happen, and with a queue forming at the desk, staff do sometimes do that pointing thing.

But we all need to find techniques to manage this that work for the team we are working with.  Whether it be a bell to summon other staff members, or asking the other customers to wait while you at least steer the customer closer to their desired destination, there are alternatives.

I talked to a friend about this recently. His daughter did a stint as a Disney intern, and at Disneyland pointing rates as a sackable offence. The staff there are taught to use the open handed guiding gesture to steer people in the right direction, even if you aren’t actually going to accompany them to their final destination. I like this very much. It’s indicating that your concern is my concern, and we will hunt for those gosh-darned vases together before I cut you loose.

And while I am at it, how hard is it to greet a customer who is walking past you in a shop, a library, or anywhere really? And by greet I don’t mean that inane “So how’s your day going so far?” from the Customer Service for Dummies course. And is refolding tea towels really that important that you can’t glance up at the customer and acknowledge him or her?

Customer service surveys everywhere tell us that the one thing our customers value more than any other thing we may do for them is to be acknowledged. You hear excuses from staff about how the desk is side on to the front door and it’s hard to lock eyes, or you are too high, too low, or whatever. Some libraries have used “meet and greet” type people at the gates, but my theory about these people is that they are actually there to chase down customers in the event that the security gates go off. It’s just too contrived otherwise.

But really, it’s not rocket science to raise your head, your eyebrows, or any other free part of yourself to acknowledge that someone is walking past your field of vision. To not do so is much like raising a middle finger. And the customers love it when you acknowledge them. Just like they love it when you address them by name. It makes them feel like regular and valued customers. However, I have had to instruct staff in my favourite dress shop that if I ever enter the shop with His Lordship in tow, they are to pretend that they have never seen me before in their lives. And bless them, they do it.

rainbowAnd about that vase … I blundered about the store for a bit until I rounded a corner, followed the yellow brick road a way, and there they were, somewhere in the Farmers equivalent of Kansas.

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