Thursday, November 09, 2006

Weapons of mass distribution

This is a copy of the column printed in the Mov. 9, 2006, edition of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinion page.

I’ve had it; I’m fed up; I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to shop anymore.
I am through with going to stores that believe customer service to be an irritant and that standing in long lines is a rite of customer passage that must be completed if you wish to worship at the altar of retail.
And I can name my pain: people, or, better said, the lack of people. The problem with customer service (and its absence from the local retail scene) is simple – there aren’t enough employees working (or hired) to help you. I could stand there like Tom Hanks’ Cast Away character and be just as isolated waiting for some clerk to rescue me from the frozen lasagna aisle.
The straw that broke this camel’s back occurred at one of those office supply big boxes. I entered a Plano outlet searching for something simple – a package of clear plastic dividers with tabs. I might have gone looking for the Ark of the Covenant. Warehouse shopping has never been my cup of tea, and it is made worse when you – the lowly, unsuspecting customer – are left to fend (and find) on your own. I don’t accept it for office supplies, men’s clothing, supermarkets, super-SUPERmarkets or super-duper-markets that actually are nothing more than mega-department stores that sell perishable items.
In all truthfulness, I am at the AARP time of my life when I don’t like standing in line for anything. When going out to eat, I prefer (and seek) restaurants where you are seated, a menu is delivered and you are asked (kindly) what your pleasure will be. “Hurry, buddy, there’s people behind you” inspires no confidence of enjoyment.
I rather savor the oft-forgotten words, “May I help you, sir?” upon arrival at a business. And when you make your request, that greeter directs you right to that item, asks if there is anything else he or she can find for you – well, it’s almost like falling in love.
“Where have you been all my life?” is an immediate thought that might run through your head. (Sorry, I get misty-eyed just dreaming about it).
And think of the advantages that would come about if this level of business actually hired more people. For starters, more people would be working!
That’s always a good thing. And more people would be helped! That’s always positive for the bottom line, because a disgruntled shopper tends not to return to that store.
Hiring more young people would get them off the streets, out of their parents’ cars, off the Xboxes and PlayStations and teach them valuable lessons about work habits, responsibility and money management.
Since a disturbing trend is seeing older adults doing the traditional jobs previously reserved for student labor, the need is there. It would be foolish to deny it.
The physical manifestation of my anger is right up front in these biggest retail stores – those long, useless lines of checkout registers (usually idle, empty or unmanned). If a mega-store has 24 shiny checkout points, it usually means only eight are open at one time, regardless of customer traffic. I have never seen all 24 registers going full blast at these kinds of retail outlets – even during holiday shopping.
It’s all because the upper management can’t seem to hire a few more people to be there when you need them. And I say enough is enough! It’s time for action!
I am seeking my own “coalition of the willing;” my own men and women on the march. Tell that store manager of your intention to take your money elsewhere if he or she cannot convince the “district” or “division” to get some additional help.
Because it is time to remind all businesses of the cardinal rule of commerce: The customer is always right. And always waiting, apparently.

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