Customer service

Just pass the 'Hi' test

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

A problem every business faces is where to find good salespeople.

The dilemma has plagued owners and managers for years, with some companies offering customer training classes, work retreats and even brainwashing videos aired during orientation.

I've been in the "people" business since my first paying job in Burger King at the age of 16. Granted, I only worked in this New York facility for three weeks - I quit right after the manager promoted me to cashier because she felt that I "filled out the uniform nicely." (She was fired weeks later for embezzlement).

Yet, it was my job at JFK Airport's Holiday Inn a few years later that taught me lessons on customer service. It was mandatory for all of us at the front desk to watch the brainwashing videos and attend time-consuming seminars that detailed different types of personalities and ways to handle certain situations.

It seemed boring at the time and honestly, a waste of time. Imagine a 19-year-old sitting for hours in front of a TV set with subliminal messages of "Customer service is our No. 1 priority" popping up every 30 seconds.

Eventually, however, something happened to me. Whether it was the repetitive information that weaved its way into my brain cells or a feeble will that resisted the powers of executives I'll never know. But I'm grateful in hindsight.

I realized the importance of respecting a customer and understanding their needs; the significance between listening to someone versus hearing what they say; and what the impact of "really caring" makes on the customer.

This little lesson in life is what I take with me whenever I go out into public. I call it my HI test. That is, can this person pass the Holiday Inn test of customer service that I learned years earlier?

Last month I set out to buy a table saw for my husband as a surprise gift. The fact that he was remodeling our bedroom had something to do with it, I suppose. I had no idea what to ask or what I should look for in a machine. It's a table with a saw attached, right? Wrong. There are benchtop and hybrid saws, v-belt or pulleys, parts made of steel, aluminum and plastic, a short rip fence and 1 to 2 horsepower induction-type motor. Give me a break!

With a bowl of determination, I approached a salesman in a particular store for help. It was his first day and he was not familiar with the machine. "Never mind," I said. "I'll take it. It's got a lot of horsepower and seems like it could do the job."

He rang up my sale, I paid and he walked away. As I looked over the receipt, I realized he rang up the wrong information. I stopped another salesman who was very reluctant to help me. He passed me off to the to manager, who seemed genuinely concerned about what happened. He refunded the original amount, rang up the sale, I paid and he left. The sale was wrong again. Twenty-five minutes had passed, of which five were spent on choosing the table saw.

Fed up by now and thinking my husband can buy his own saw, I went up to him and asked for a refund. He smiled, took the receipt and with a patronizing tone and attitude, sat on the counter after his transaction to explain the refund. His attempt, at least it seemed to me, was to make me feel like a child. It didn't work and I asked to speak to his manager.

I explained the situation to this manager. "I don't care for how I was treated and I don't know if this is how women are treated in this place because I've seen the men treated better," I commented.

He nodded his head before replying. "No, we deal with women like you all the time."

My husband has a new saw today, purchased at another place. And yes, this place failed the HI test. Perhaps I should refer them to videos.