Where's the Service in the Service Sector of the Economy? -- Fast Disappearing! Except When It’s Suddenly There!!
Service just “ain’t” what it used to be (almost).
The friendly telephone operator to whom you could speak by dialing 411 (for information) or 0 (for help with a call) has long been extinct. In fact, our millennial children most likely don’t even know what those two words strung together mean.
A more current example of the disappearance of service is the now expected experience in many department stores (with respectable names like Bloomingdales, Lord and Taylor, and on and on) where service seems to have metamorphosed into “self” service.
Gone are what once were ubiquitous salespeople, who cheerfully (or occasionally not) helped to find the dress or blouse or cooking pot you were searching for. Gone, too, are the friendly directions that would be provided if you couldn’t find a product. “Go to the far end, and it’s just there on the right.” And despite the fact that cash registers still dot the floors of fancy department stores, they now seem to sit unattended.
Retail stores seem more like mausoleums — silent tombs, laden with clothing draped on hangers or stacked on shelves, inanimate objects separated by aisles through which unspeaking human beings roam aimlessly, as if in a daze.
Perhaps they really are in a daze, thinking, “Why can’t I find anyone to help me?” Perhaps they’re also thinking, “I might as well buy my stuff online.”
And therein lies the problem. The internet is now the go-to place for shopping, which means that the stores can’t afford the luxury of keeping salespeople, and adequate inventory and perhaps even the rent they must pay. It makes one wonder how long it will be before the mall itself is extinct.
So what a surprise I had a few days ago when, twice in one day, I was the recipient of the most splendid service in a retail store.
The first was Sephora, the French chain of cosmetics stores that first came to this country in 1998, a year after being acquired by LVMH. I was on a mission: to find a particular brand and shade of lipstick, as well as organic mascara. I had barely stepped into the store, when I was approached by a smiling young woman, dressed in a snazzy black tee shirt.
“May I help you?” she asked. I was taken aback, having anticipated roaming around the store searching for two items that would seem like needles in this (beautiful) haystack of a store.
Within moments, I had what I needed. “Let me check you out,” she then said, and lickety-split, I was done. As I headed for the door, I was congratulating myself on my good fortune to have received such lovely service. But then I saw that there was, in fact, a sea of black tee-shirted young men and women, all employees of Sephora. Like cheerful butterflies, they were flitting from one needy customer to another. “Come this way,” and “Of course we can,” were the refrains.
No wonder Sephora has been such a success, I thought as I headed down the street to my next chore.
This was a far more stressful one. The hard drive on my MacBook was failing, and I needed help fast because computers that act up make me panic.
Having been to the Apple store many times, I expected to be greeted with courtesy and professionalism. But I was coming without a scheduled appointment at the Genius Bar, a no-no in the world of high tech. When I described my crisis to the cheerful greeter, she must have sensed my anxiety because, within a few minutes, I was sitting at the Genius Bar.
My “genius” truly was that, as well as thoughtful and solicitous. When it became evident that my morbidly sick hard drive was beyond the scope of Apple’s genius and his tools, he gave me the name of a company that would make things all better. And he was right. I left the Apple store far less stressed than I entered it.
The pleasure of being treated with such care and respect twice in one day was long lasting.
It’s gratifying to see that some companies have found a way to offset the convenience of online shopping with a level of service that makes you want to return.