Articles for Retailers - by Kizer & Bender

Improve the Experience

    -  Georganne Bender and Rich Kizer

Georganne here. Two things happened this week in stores that symbolize the state of customer service today. It’s almost as if politeness and genuine customer care has flown out the window and common courtesy has fallen by the wayside in too many stores.

I made a visit to a department store and not by choice. It was a return trip because an item I had purchased two weeks before was still adorned with that charming security tag. I hadn’t noticed it until I was on a week-long business trip and went to put it on. No dice.

Walking up to one of the checkouts, I opened my mouth to speak with a sales person who was standing at the side of the counter. Before I could say a word, she instructed me to move from the side of the counter to the front, pointing in the direction of where she wanted me to go. I explained to tell her that I was not buying anything; I just needed to have the security tag removed. She again pointed to where she wanted me to go and explained that this checkout shares a credit card terminal. I told her again that I am not buying anything, I just needed the security tag removed, and handed her the bag.

She took the item from the bag, looked at it and said, “Have you ever bought this item before?” My automatic response was “Why?”. She went on to say that she has this item and really liked it, but after the dance of where I’m supposed to stand her question put me off guard. She could just have easily said “I have this and I really like it. Have you tried it before?”

Two days later my daughter Kate and I were at one of our favorite places to explore. We were having a splendid time at the store, cheerfully being helped by several associates who found things we wanted, but could not find on the floor.

When it was time to pay for our purchases, Kate and I stopped to compare coupons before hitting the checkout. I made my purchase using a coupon from the store’s loyalty program, and when it was Kate’s turn, she showed the cashier a coupon on her phone. The cashier explained that this coupon wasn’t working, so Kate pulled up the coupon she had received 10 minutes earlier when she joined the store’s loyalty program. That coupon didn’t work either. Now there are impatient shoppers on line behind us who we know are setting us on fire in their heads. So when the cashier suggests another option, Kate said, “Let’s do it!” And the cashier quietly mumbled, “Please.”

Wait. What? That cashier just threw shade into a situation that wasn’t even remotely negative. After the transaction, she handed Kate her bag, and Kate said, “Thank you.” The cashier just stood there as we chorused, “You’re welcome!” and left the store shaking our heads.

Paying for a purchase should not be a confrontation.

Now, I realize that I am preaching to the choir here, however, Rich and I have visited lots of independent retail stores, all across the country, where the people working there – owners included – were just not friendly. I’m talking about associates who couldn’t be bothered to look up and say hello when customers walk in the door, associates who can’t be bothered to put down whatever they are doing to talk to us about merchandise, and cashiers who don’t acknowledge our presence at the cash wrap except to say, “That’ll be $49.87.

Yes, common courtesy is falling by the wayside in too many stores. Maybe it’s because you can’t teach nice, we know, we’ve tried. If the people you hire don’t have the nice gene it’s better to keep them off the floor, away from shoppers.

As we move further into the holiday season you are going to be inundated with anxious and price-conscious shoppers. This is the time of the year to kill them with kindness because what they experience on your sales floor right now will be the perception of your store that they take into the New Year. So, be sure to set time aside in your staff meetings to talk about the importance of customer care. It won’t affect the store associates who “get it”, but it will help drive home the importance of kindness to those who don’t.

Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are professional speakers, retail strategists, authors and consultants whose client list reads like a “Who’s Who” in business. Companies internationally depend upon them for timely advice on consumers and the changing retail market place. KIZER & BENDER’s observations are widely featured in national newspapers, national and international industry and consumer publications, and on radio and television programs across the U.S. You can learn more at