A Christmas grumble

Wednesday, 7 December 2011 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It’s Christmas and it is open season on us shoppers as the retailers wait to get us. In fact the world over, especially in the USA, the beginning of Christmas shopping has a special term called ‘Black Friday’.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when Christmas shopping is supposed to begin. The term which is said to have originated in Philadelphia, refers to when retainers start making money – in other words when they begin to get ‘in the black’.

Here in Colombo, the Christmas shopping is getting into full gear. It’s the time when radio stations move their continuity studious into malls and through their bubbly, cheery, announcing of discounts and special offers, urge shoppers on to spend more of their holiday money.  However, despite all this going on, there is something that is seriously wanting in our local formula – and that is good quality service. People at the counters and even sales people are not up to mark and are not trained to give right information or service to shoppers. Sometimes they are not even at the counters to provide the service that is promised by their establishments to customers. A branch of a bank I use, operates (or say they do) two counters to service customers who the bank categorise as “being ahead”. But on four consecutive visits to this bank, I found that only one of the counters had a teller while the other stood empty.

On the third visit I expressed my dissatisfaction in a loud voice to an officer there, who quickly found somebody to position at the empty counter. On the fourth visit, which was during Friday lunchtime, it was the same scenario. When I asked to see the manager of the bank about it, he gave me the excuse that since it was Friday prayer time for Muslims, both counters could not be operated. Shouldn’t this have been managed better, and someone else who was not a Muslim taken up duty at the counter until the other got back?

After all the counters are the first line of interaction that a bank has with its customers and in this case the bank was failing on a special privilege they advertise big about. If the bank does not have the staff to manage two counters, then why not have only the one? Or is announcing having two just a gimmick to manage expectations?

On another occasion I walked into a shop that sells office furniture to get a filing cabinet. First, I had to compete to get the attention of the sales girl who was on her iPhone. When I finally do attract her notice, she sends me through the process of asking in detail, the specifications and colour, etc. of the cabinet I needed and then when I finally do come to the decision of ordering what I want, I am told that all the options offered were out of stock and would take two weeks to deliver.

Then I find through some of my contacts a direct line to the supplier of this product based somewhere in Ja-Ela who offered to deliver the same spec, the very next day.

Then again, I was in need of a belt to hold my trouser up and I walk into a store which promises to make me a ‘real man’. I am not a difficult customer – only rather rounded at my waist, and I am given a belt, the type where the buckle is attached to the leather with ‘crocodile teeth’ (sharp metal claws that dig in to the material).

Within two hours I was placed in a very embarrassing position as the belt gave way and I was in a struggle to keep my trouser in up. This may have been living up to the store’s ‘tag line’ as in its opinion I was probably not wearing ‘real clothes’.

Be that as it may, I went back to the store and the manager pulled up the sales person for giving me the wrong belt. That’s when I learn that there are two types of belts – one that is utility and the other, which is merely for cosmetic purposes. I unfortunately got the wrong one. Thankfully they replaced it with a utility piece and I walked out a relieved man with my trouser safely on the waist.

I have said it before in this column and I say it again, that if one goes to any supermarket there would be two or more unmanned weighing scales with just one attendant weighing and a queue of customers waiting for service. The rest of the service personnel would be just walking idly amongst shelves, where customers do not require any help to identify what they need. Today, there are lots of fancy words used to describe the management of personnel all coming under the ‘human resources’ umbrella. However, changing the terminology does not seem to have helped solve problems such as these.

An establishment can have all the good intentions and the best of advertising to attract customers, but if they don’t get their act together on the ground, they will have nothing but a lot of irate customers and probably lost business.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

Recent columns