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.