You can’t have good customer service with miserable employees

CORRECTION: I listed the wrong store (Staples) in my original publishing of this post. When I discovered the error, I immediately un-published the post and edited it to note the correct store (OfficeMax). My apologies to Staples for calling them out in error and for not fact-checking myself against my receipt (which is how I discovered the mistake). We’re all human and this post is not about never making mistakes, it’s about creating a culture of internal customer service.

My Labor Day weekend has been filled with much errand-running, including a stop at OffixeMax yesterday. (*BTW, why is it that articles like this often don’t want to name the establishment where the crappy service went down? OfficeMax, I hope you are “listening” and are embarrassed enough to want to change something…) *Probably has something to do with not wanting to call out the wrong store by mistake…

First, the good service part of my experience. I was warmly greeted by a friendly young woman at a register when I walked in the store. I asked for her help in finding my item and she helped me figure out where in the store it was, and although she could not leave the register, gave me easy directions to find it. When I was checking out later, she commented that she was glad I was able to find what I had asked about. She is a keeper and I can only hope some of her attitude can rub off on the other employees, and not the other way around.

She happened to be the only employee at a register and had someone in her line in front of me purchasing literally hundreds of file folders, of different types and styles. I’m guessing it may have been a teacher getting ready for back to school. Each different type of folder had to be rung up separately and it was taking quite a while to process everything. I was next in line and not in any rush, so I settled in to wait. However, quite a line formed behind me and folks were getting rather impatient. There was another employee at the copy center desk and someone behind me asked if he could get rung up there. This is where things turned ugly. The employee looked at him like he was some kind of alien and said (very snarkily), “can’t you see I’m helping this person??” The lady next up in line said to the rest of us, “I guess that was a no, a definite snarky no.”

But, wait, it gets worse. As the line is getting longer, another employee comes up to the empty register next to our line and starts refilling the soda fridge. I’m thinking to myself, I bet these fine folks in line would rather you rang them up than stock some soda to start chilling. Plus, even if they wanted to buy one of those warm sodas, who would ring them up? She looked at the one cashier and muttered something like, “Fine, I can start checking, but I’m supposed to be leaving.” Made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The snarky employee then opened his line at the copy center as well and proceeded to waive his arms and yell at folks something along the lines of, “Helloooo, I am open over here. Come this way. Come on!” Sorry, we didn’t catch the clue fella. We got kind of confused when you told us just a few mere seconds ago that you were all busy and everything.

I paid for my item and as I made my way out to the car all I could think was that OfficeMax must be a terrible place to work, or at least it was at that particular store (Ballard location if anyone at Corporate wants to know). Aside from the one wonder-employee who helped me initially, no one seemed to want to help any of the customers. They ultimately opened more registers, but it felt a little more like it was to usher us out the door rather than because it was the right thing to do.

One might say, hey, this is retail and on a holiday weekend, and who wants to work at a OffixeMax. Today, I had to run to my local Bartell’s Drugstore, still on a holiday weekend (and the store is right near a huge music festival currently taking place – not the case for OfficeMax), and still in retail. A line formed at the one open register, but the cashier called for back-up and someone appeared immediately. She was friendly and even took time to comment on my jewelry. This prompted the original cashier to smile and comment as well. The store was crazy busy, but the employees were smiling and genuinely helpful. Does this Bartell’s values customer service over that OfficeMax? I’m sure OfficeMax would say they care a great deal about service, but I can’t help but believe the general mood and attitude of the employees played as big a role in my experience as any mission statement about customers written on a wall somewhere.

One of the most important aspects of service, in my opinion, is internal customer service. How “Management” treats employees, how employees treat each other, how people in different departments interact, all trickle down to how the outside client experiences our businesses. If everyone in a company can agree that focusing on serving all clients, inside and outside the company, everyone wins. And that starts at the top. So OffixeMax HQ, I see far more lacking in your service to your employees at the store in Ballard than I did in their service to us.

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.
Mahatma Gandhi


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