Why your customer service should take care of old ladies.

customer service





Last Saturday I needed some sandpaper for a coffee table I was making out of 100-year-old barn boards. Instead of going all the way into town to Home Hardware where I always get excellent service, I went to TSC the farm supply store which is a little closer. Although the people at TSC are generally helpful, the store is becoming more a general hardware shop than a farm supply store and the prices are not always the cheapest. Which means that I do not visit the store as often as in the past.

Despite the shelves having been rearranged since my previous visit, I found the things I needed quickly and headed to the check out. In front of me was an elderly woman, probably well over 70, using a walking stick and looking frail. I couldn’t help overhear her asking the young woman at the checkout where she should collect the bags. The sales clerk casually told her to “Just pick them up from the stack outside the front door”. The older woman, old enough to be the younger one’s grandmother, looked a little confused, carefully put her wallet away in her bag, picked up her stick and a shopping bag with her purchases and slowly walked out of the store.

I paid for my small purchase and went out the door, I noticed the woman customer climbing into the driver’s door of a large 4 x 4 pickup, having some difficulty in getting into the high vehicle even though it did have a step. At the same time, I realised that the only bags outside the front door were 40lb bags of soil mix. It went through my mind that the woman would have some difficulty in getting one of those bags into the back of her pickup.

Before she reversed out of her parking, I asked her if she would like me to load the bag for her, she gratefully accepted and drove her truck to the stack. She then told me that she had bought 7 bags, 6 from that stack and one from another a few yards ahead.

After some puffing and heaving, I got all 7 bags loaded for her, she thanked me profusely, made my day be calling me “young man” and went on her way. Not often that I, as a mid range baby boomer, get called that.

The store was not busy that day, there were several strong young men in the back re-stocking shelves. In the past when I have bought large items, the sales clerk has asked if I needed help to load my purchases. All it needed was for the cashier to pick up the phone to call for assistance for the customer over the PA system.

I don’t know if  TSC trains its staff to ask customers if they need help, my previous experiences indicated it did. In any case, any mildly observant sales clerk should have realised that a small, elderly customer would have difficulty loading one 40 lb bag let alone seven of them.

The incident certainly left me with a bad impression and eroded the generally favourable feeling I had for TSC based on my previous experiences. Will that older woman tell her family and friends about the lack of service? Probably. Will it stop her or them from supporting TSC? Perhaps. Will it stop me? No, because I value the convenience of the location of the store more than the irritation of poor customer service.

But if I have other errands to do in town which take me closer to Home Hardware, I will almost certainly try them first for my hardware requirements.

There are three lessons here:

Firstly, errors of omission (not calling for someone to assist a customer) can be just as damaging as errors of commission (being rude to a customer).

Secondly, the damage is not confined to the affected customer, it also leaves a bad impression on all the others who witness it or hear about it.

Thirdly, in certain market segments particularly farmers, contractors and other small businesses, the “old” shopper in the store is often helping a son or other family member in one of the few ways they still can at their age, by running errands and shopping for supplies. Alienate him or her and risk losing a good customer.

We can make exactly the same mistakes in Internet Marketing. Instead of asking frail old ladies to load heavy bags, we might expect people to make sense out of confusing shopping cart systems, understand complicated instructions or navigate a difficult route to contact support.

How well do you look after your customers and visitors to your store on or off-line?

Wishing you success.


Peter Wright





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