Bad Service + Lack of Spending = Continued Economic Problems

I’ve noticed a side effect of the bad economy that may end up prolonging our economic woes. It’s called poor customer service. The other day I had to return something to a big box electronics store. The line in the returns department looked like the day after Christmas and only one clerk was working. When my turn finally came I asked him if this was unusual and he said that so many people had been laid off and had their hours cut that it was like this pretty much every day. They just don’t have enough clerks to do the job.

At another place, their debit card machine was broken and they were only taking cash. I didn’t happen to have cash on me so I put my purchases down and left. I did ask when it might be fixed and was told, “We don’t know. We don’t have the money to have it replaced.” (Not only weren’t they taking debit cards, they didn’t even have this posted on the doors as you walked in so you could make an informed choice before doing all your shopping and learning this little fact at the register, another act of bad service.) It turned out not to matter too much to me because the store had very little of what I needed and what was there was so badly organized it was hard to shop. This from a formerly nice, easy to shop store. They cut their stocking staff and the place is suffering.

One last example, although I have many more. A couple of weeks ago I was on vacation at a resort known for it’s excellent service. It will be the last time I visit for a while because I encountered employees yelling at each other in public, not enough servers available in the dining rooms during peak hours, and inadequate (and one day completely absent) housekeeping. I inquired at the front desk if this was the new normal and the lady told me that they had had to lay off so many people that, unfortunately, some aspects of their service had suffered. While she comped me one night’s stay, I still left disappointed that one of the places I loved so much had gone so far downhill.

I understand that companies are having a difficult time and having to make some hard decisions. But here’s the problem: When you cut so much that it affects service, people no longer want to spend their money with you. Then it becomes a downward spiral into more problems. Bad service means fewer people shop with you which leads to still lower revenues. This leads to more layoffs and even worse service. The few customers who may have stuck with you until now start drifting away, making for even lower revenues. And the cycle continues until you end up going out of business.

I happen to be one of the people in this country that has some money to spend right now. I’m not overextended, have plenty of savings, and a relatively secure job. There are many things I want to buy and I have the money to do it. However, I find myself holding on to my cash because shopping, eating out, and going on vacation has become a chore. I never enjoyed shopping to start with and merely tolerated it. However, now I outright dread it. I dread having to wait in long lines only to be snubbed by an overtired cashier. I dread not being able to find what I need in a store because it’s poorly stocked and organized. I don’t want to go on a nice vacation to end up hating it because I’m treated badly. And I don’t want to eat out if my server is going to be spread out over the whole restaurant and not be able to give me prompt service, or if the kitchen is so understaffed that it takes forty-five minutes to get my food.

I’m not an overly demanding customer; I simply expect to be treated decently and politely and to have my time respected. That’s all I ask. But these days, that is becoming hard to find. Even online stores are no refuge. If your order is processed correctly, it can be a great experience. But if you have a problem, it may take days to find someone to help you and you’ll be lucky if they speak English. It makes me just want to hoard my money. I know that if enough people think like this it will further stall the economic recovery, but I don’t know what else to do. I work too hard for my money to blow it at places that treat me poorly. I’d rather keep it. And anyone who respects their money should feel the same.

I have discovered one thing I can do: I’m shopping more at small stores. These places had small staffs to begin with so they haven’t had to lay off or if they have, they are better able to make do because they don’t have the customer volume of the bigger stores. Their prices are generally higher, but I’m finding it worth it to ensure a decent experience. When I can’t find a smaller store to meet my needs, I’m tending to forego the purchase. I just don’t want to be bothered with the hassle and I don’t want to spend money to be treated badly (I can stay home and be treated badly for free).

Here’s my advice to the corporations: If you have to lay off, make certain that you keep at least enough staff to adequately do the jobs that need doing. Reducing your customer service to dismal levels does not help you save money, it only makes you lose it faster. You are succeeding in running off the few customers that can actually spend money in your stores right now. It wouldn’t hurt to train your remaining staff in politeness, either. I’ll throw Chik-Fil-A out as a shining example. They charge more for their food than other fast food restaurants but their staff is so polite and well-mannered that I happily pay the extra. I know they make their employees attend an etiquette class and it shows. Even if they are operating with a lower staff volume, you don’t know it because everyone is so efficient and polite that the jobs get done with grace. Other companies can learn from this. In the meantime, I’ll be shopping where I feel valued and appreciated as a customer instead of just being a number in the asset column. Or I won’t be shopping at all.

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9 Responses to Bad Service + Lack of Spending = Continued Economic Problems

  1. trevor says:

    I have recently been on the receiving end of bad customer services, but they were very good and did try to make things better in the end and I did make money for free but after the bad customer service I wasn’t interested. It does leave a bad taste in your mouth.

  2. Monkey Mama says:

    No kidding – customer service all around seems to be pretty terrible of late.

  3. Shelly says:

    Customer Service was bad at a lot of places before the downturn, and now they are using the downturn as an excuse for bad customer service.

    Let’s be honest here–those who have actual “face time” (or phone time as the case may be) with the customer are ALWAYS the lowest paid, least trained individuals in ANY company, whether they are waiting your table or answering your call in a phone bank. And, of course, a lot of companies are so uninterested in providing “good” customer service that they are outsourcing many of their services, adding a language barrier, which makes solving complex issues even more frustrating.

    It is quite likely that the decreased focus on the customer FED the downturn, like pouring gasline on a fire. And now, these companies are using it as an excuse to continue doing things half-way. Absolutely shameful!

  4. justme says:

    even when the economey was not bad I never found it usful for these stores to have large staff, they just all stand around talking to each other
    I keep hearing how stores cannot offer anything extra except great customer service ,every commercial tells me how great I will be treated,too bad nobody told the staff at the store to treat us better 😉
    poor mom and pops they are willing to do what ever it takes they have to and people know it

  5. Emily says:

    Hmmmmmm I am beginning to think that we will have fewer “stores” “banks” “car dealerships” fewer choices. And that Amazon and E-bay will see alot more business. We are becoming the faceless shoppers shopping in faceless stores. It will be hard to stop. I was in banking for years and years and I knew the minute the ATM card was invented the banks were sending a message to the public – don’t come in and see the operation, stay outside, get your money transaction and go. It is seeping throughout the US now. It is a good thing? Well the bottom line is better for some places, but I truly don’t feel that it is the American Way. I do support both Mom and Pop stores and Big Boxes – I also speak up in either giving compliments/or giving some grief the operation of the store. Have you seen the unmanned check out line in Home Depot and other stores – the end of employment for cashiers I am sure!!!!
    I will not go into that line – I still like human contact when I am shopping! God help us all!!!!

  6. iriekat says:

    I work in a corporate retail office, but I have also been a recipient of bad customer service in many retail stores. My plea to anyone who has that experience: COMPLAIN! It usually the people who dont complain who should! Get the address or name of the president or a senior manager of the company and call or write. I realize that we all have busy lives, but right now retailers have piles of resumes of people who WANT to work and WANT to give good customer service. Right now in many situations customer service is what is keeping retailers alive. We should know when we have failed you, but sometimes the machine that is big box makes mistakes. Complain!!! Its a buyers world right now. If everyone gives constructive criticism, we all benefit.

  7. Mike Pastore says:

    Good or bad economy, bad customer service will always be there. No matter how big or small the company or the store is, there will be workers in it that are ill-mannered and do not handle their customers properly. I agree with what Iriekat said; that we who experienced or will experience bad customer service must complain to the manager or the owner of the store. In that way, he can correct the wrong doings of his employee and improve their dealings with customers.

  8. Eric Tyson says:

    Bottom line Jennifer is to only patronize businesses that offer good value and service and avoid the rest (and warn others about them).

  9. Gail says:

    I read an interesting book the other day on what businesses need to do in these financial times. One of the last things they should be doing is cutting customer service staff! So many other things that they need to fix first before they put people’s heads on the chopping block and thus continue the downward spiral for their company. To bad not enough business oweners have read the book.

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