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Customer Disservice

An article in BusinessWeek this week discusses what people do in response to poor Customer Service. It moved me to consider a recent experience I had in that venue, and to remark on a truly inspired approach to the problem.

My daughter Jagan is beginning Ballet lessons, and of course for that she needed a certain leotard outfit, black with a ruffled skirt. Turns out it is pretty hard to find stores which carry that kind of thing, or at least the ones who advertise it. I finally learned that Target carries such leotards, and so last week I took Jagan over to Target to get the leotard and some tights, and to search for ballet slippers. I went to the Target store at 10801 Westheimer. I was fascinated by what I found.

The store was clean and well-stocked, to its credit. However, the signs were not clear and it was difficult to figure out where leotards could be found. I looked for a store employee to help me, but I them realized that all of the employees were either working at the registers, or else were sitting behind the Returns/Special Order counter. I noticed a sign pointing to a red phone, advising customers to call if they needed help, so I picked up the phone, and after a couple seconds it began to ring.

After eight rings, the phone was answered by a woman with a sullen voice, who told me leotards would be in "Girls". I looked over and saw that the store was 45% "Women", and 45% "Girls" in sections, so I asked her to be more specific, and she just sighed in exasperation at having to actually provide information to a customer, and said "just look for the sign". I asked her what sign, and she said "Dance", and when I asked where that section was, I was treated to another long sigh, then a silence, then she finally grumbled that it was in the back of the store, against the wall. Then she hung up before I could ask or say anything else.

Well, it turns out the 'Dance' section was in the front and middle of the store. But at least we finally found the tights and the leotards. I found one which looked like it would fit Jagan, so I told her to try it on in a dressing room and see how it fit. That was when we discovered, after some searching, that Target has done away with dressing rooms. Completely.

As part of her company's ongoing training and motivation process, my wife had to read the book "Raving Fans" by Sheldon Bowles and Ken Blanchard. One part of that book addressed the insult to honest customers by the policy limiting them to three items in a dressing room. The insult was that the majority of honest people were being told they could not be trusted more than the small minority of dishonest people. Well, Target took care of that problem by just denying anyone the use of a dressing room at all. And that was when the light came on for me.

- continued -

Most companies try to serve their customers. Some of them excel at it, and stand as models for the rest to imitate. Most try to be responsive and considerate of their customers, but fail to some degree and show obvious limits to how far they can go. But Target takes a fresh, if hostile, approach - they simply do as they please and if the customer doesn't like it, nuts to them. No dressing rooms, no floor help, no trained and courteous operator on the help phone to assist with questions or concerns. No, they just put out the product and it's take it or leave it. Fascinating, in its own way. I noticed that the commercials for Target are the same way. They show models who ignore everyone and everything but themselves; none of the commercials ever shows a customer at all, much less pretend to help them. Near as I can tell, Target does not like customers, and wants to do without them as much as possible.

So we went to check-out, and just to test a theory in my head, I asked the cashier who her manager was. She answered that she did not know where the shift manager was just then. I explained that no, I did not want to see a manager right now, I wanted to know who was the store manager. She did not know. So, I had her ask the cashier at the next register, who also did not know. And the game began. After four people were asked, they got together in a huddle, looked up something in a book, and came back with a name - a Mister "Canada". Yeah, like the country. Well, Mister Canada, I once ran a business with 60 employees, and everyone in the place knew my name and would give to the customer who wanted to know. I have to admit though, that not knowing who is running the store is truly consistent with the performance of the staff and your customer-resistant policies, so kudos for that, I guess. I can't imagine why a store would want to drive away customers and lower service even more than we see now, but you do seem to have it down to a science. And in deference to your preference, I will be happy to give Target a miss and take my business to those stores which make some effort to serve the customer. Well, I will be going to Target one more time - that leotard did not fit, so I will be returning it. Turns out that dressing room would have been useful. And no, I will not be buying the same leotard in another size - your store does not have the size I need, and in any case I don't think that I want to give my money to a store which hates its own customers.

UPDATE (1:30 Central Time) - A couple readers say that this behavior is not the norm for Target. I can't vouch for that being true, but at the same time I thought I should mention the statement. If true, then this might be a different case, perhaps one where individual managers do things without the company's knowledge? Either way, interesting case.


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Comments (31)

Competition is dead. Most ... (Below threshold)

Competition is dead. Most of the little guys have been wiped out and there are only a few (read 1 or 2, maybe 3) chains of any one kind of story. In those stores, there is similarly only 1 or 2, maybe 3, brands for what you are looking for.

This is the price we pay for looking the other way on non-competitive practices to achieve a bloated stock market. Moreso in the 90's when actual had more than a few chains that were merging or going out of business. Now they're running out.

So don't complain, just remember your 401(k) is doing great. Or at least did great in the 90's.

DJ, sorry for your bad expe... (Below threshold)

DJ, sorry for your bad experience. Consumer issues impact everyone regardless of their politics.

Megaretailers like Target are unfortunately only interested in moving big amounts of product along. I've heard of them selling some really cheap basketball shoes for as low as $2.50 once before. Compared to a quality specialty store, it is difficult to expect decent quality or service in a company that markets in this way. This is why I will pay much more for a quality pair of basketball shoes or boots for riding my motor scooter in a shoe store myself. I personally wouldn't trust some cheap boots to protect my feet motor scootering where using your feet is important to stopping or sometimes cornering. Even a loose shoelace could cost me my life if my shoe should slip off. But Target and Wal-Mart have good prices if a person is willing to put up with all the shortcomings that come along with that.

My own comment is surprise ... (Below threshold)

My own comment is surprise that the Target you went to doesn't even have a dressing room anymore. The ones where I live have them, but it's more of a shared dressing room area that is shared by both genders. (which I'm not entirely sold on as being a good idea to begin with.)

Still, retailers should at least realize that it's much easier to try stuff on there, than to purchase and return. Less headaches for the consumer, and less hassle for the store's customer service department.

But as I like to say, "it would make sense, and they want nothing to do with stuff that makes sense."

And as Instapundit would probably put it, the last thing you want to do is piss off a customer who is also a decent blogger. Just watch how fast things move from there!

Interesting. In the mid-si... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Interesting. In the mid-size city where I live, there are two locally owned dancewear stores. I know the owners of one, and I'm sure they could have come up with what you needed. They do pretty good business too.

I'm starting to notice this as a trend in a lot of areas. Mega-consolidation has in a lot of cases produced chains that do a lot of things, but they don't do any one thing very well. That leaves them vulnerable to death by a million start-ups, all nipping at specific areas. I'm seeing it in banking too. As the national bank chains merge and close local branches, locally-owned banks and credit unions are springing up and taking some of their business.

That's how competition works: if you don't serve your customers, someone else will. It's an interesting dynamic to watch.

You're massively overgenera... (Below threshold)

You're massively overgeneralizing, DJ. The Targets near us have dressing rooms. They are staffed by helpful people. The cashiers are generally knowledgable and friendly. There is floor help that is as good as any floor help you're likely to find anywhere that uses high school kids for that job. The returns department is nothing if not exemplary. I have never had an issue with a return. I actually picked up a misplaced copy of a DVD, it was the fancy-shmancy version instead of the bare-bones version, but the sign wasn't that clear and it was in the rack marked 9.99 and I was psyched to get the fancy version on sale for that price, when it rang up as 24.99 I walked straight from the register to customer service and said, hey, this was in the rack marked on sale for 9.99. She called a worker in that section, confirmed what was supposed to be on sale, I said, you know, it's probably the wrong version, there were different versions scattered around, so I'd just like to return it, but she went ahead and just credited my card for the difference and gave it to me for the sale price because, she said, it was their fault that it was misfiled. The problem with megaretailers and chain restaurants is that they are subject to attack on a generalized basis because everyone has a 'Target' or a 'Red Lobster' by them, when in reality individual stores and locations are controlled, and the employees hired and trained, by a store manager and above them a district manager. It is, to be honest, ridiculous to coat all the Targets in the US with the same tar and feathers that is rightly reserved for the one you shop at. It's one thing to talk about a general store policy, like if Target really did eliminate ALL dressing rooms, but they clearly haven't. But if you wrote a post about "Molly's Danceateria" nobody would even read it because they don't have a "Molly's" near them or care what the customer service was like.

If I'm not mistaken, when y... (Below threshold)

If I'm not mistaken, when you picked up the phone, the person you spoke to was NOT a Target employee! They contract that service out to another company...who apparently employs at least one individual with inadequate customer skills.

jpm100you're wrong... (Below threshold)


you're wrong

Target does this because people still shop there

it's called free choice in the market place

When customers prize customer service and quality as much as they do bottomline price, then Walmart/Kmart/Target will not be able to treat customers this way.

There is a reason a place like Nordstroms is still successful.

Target is a do-it-yourself ... (Below threshold)
civil disobedience:

Target is a do-it-yourself store. Their job is to bring low cost consumer reasonable quality goods to a store with minimum merchandising on the floor. After that it is all on the consumer. Its a trade-off, if you value your time you may want to visit a specialty retailer rather than a mass discounter.

And to poster 1, your 401k should have been doing very well the last 5 years, just as well as the bubble from 95-00.

Price, selection, quality, ... (Below threshold)

Price, selection, quality, service.

These are the factors in choosing a retailer. Most people put price at the top of their list, though, which is why service suffers. To keep prices low, retailers must employ fewer workers and pay them generally less, so they end up with . . . well, you get what you pay for.

Now, I expect in a large metro area there are several "dance" shops which have knowledgeable staff and quality wear - BUT their prices are much, much higher. That you headed to Target instead of one of these tells me that you were opting for either a good price or the convenience of the local mass-marketer, or both.

When Wal-Mart first came to our little town nearly 20 years ago, there was much consternation among the small, locally-owned retailers. What would it mean to them? I did some research with newspapers in other towns which had gone through the same thing. What I found was that if you are selling the same stuff as Wal-Mart for a higher price, you're going to lose out. However, if you offer something Wal-Mart doesn't, you can prosper because the big store draws customers into town from a larger area.

The specialty sports uniform store and the quality men's clothier did fine, as did eating places. Hardware stores took a hit - all the small local people were out of business in five years, replaced by a single large Ace which manages to compete with Wal-Mart by offering specialty items and expertise the big boys can't.

Customer service has been going down the tubes for years. Service is a part of the package, but it isn't free - what is? - and the customers have repeatedly opted for lower prices instead of better service. So, that's what they get.

Gotta concur with Falze on ... (Below threshold)
Dave A.:

Gotta concur with Falze on this one. My example is Lowes. Where I used to live on the east coast, they were poorly run and I avoided them if I could. But my local one where I live now is very, very good for customer service, and I go there almost exclusively.

I just spoke to the manager... (Below threshold)

I just spoke to the manager (very friendly and helpful) of a Target store in the same region as the one DJ went to. He indicated that DJ's experience did not reflect regional or national Target policy. The manager I spoke to said that he works to make sure nothing like the above happens in his store. He was familiar with the store DJ went to. He said it was "different" without elaborating.

Interesting, thanks Margee.... (Below threshold)

Interesting, thanks Margee. To quote the Master; "heh".

My Target too still offers ... (Below threshold)

My Target too still offers dressing rooms, moreover they let you bring in as many items as you'd want, (or at least as many items as I've ever wanted,) although they do ask you to take a tag with a highly visable number corosponding to the number of items being taken in.

As others have mentioned Target is a large-volume discount-price retailer, I know when I go to one looking for a specific item that I'm going to spend some time hunting for the right item. That said it does seem that this particular store was rather poorly run. If anything I think what you did identify here is that Mr. Canada would appear to be doing a woeful job as store manager. There is every indication that he's not actually in the store, actually managing his employees enough for them to even know who he is.

That is definately the type of thing that should concern a large company like Target, because one store not performing up to the level of service one should reasonably expect from this type of store can do real damage to the entire chain's reputation.

The service of any chain un... (Below threshold)

The service of any chain unit varies from store to store, or restaurant to restaurant. When one receives bad service (or in your case, no service) it's not the policy of the the business. It's simply bad management.

There is a Lowes and a Home Depot near my home. I bypass the Lowes everytime and make the one more mile drive to the Home Depot because the service at that Lowes is so poor. I tried them several times before I just gave up. Try finding a certain screw in a behemoth store like that and no one willing to help you.

But I'm willing to admit that there are plenty of Lowes that are much better and my experience does not reflect that of all the rest.

Funny you should say that, ... (Below threshold)

Funny you should say that, Oyster.

Where I live, it's usually the opposite. My wife and I will drive an extra 15 minutes north to go to Lowe's, because they treat us much better than Home Depot that is 5 minutes away, let alone any other Home Depot I've been in.

But, just because HD sucks in Pittsburgh doesn't mean it sucks elsewhere.

However, the signs... (Below threshold)
However, the signs were not clear and it was difficult to figure out where leotards could be found.
Should've tried the "2004 section," under the sign that reads "reporting for duty."


I personally wouldn't trust some cheap boots to protect my feet motor scootering where using your feet is important to stopping or sometimes cornering.
I can't resist... 'cause you leave yourself SO open.

Did the more expensive boots you ware protect your brain from being scrambled after the cheap-assed bearing went bad on your cheap-assed Chinese motorscooter that are sold from your "quality specialty store?"

I gotta go with the folks h... (Below threshold)

I gotta go with the folks here pointing out that different stores of the same big chain can very often provide very different experiences.

I've noticed this with restaurants as well as the mega-department stores. The whole idea may be that you can walk into one of their stores anywhere and find the same stuff (often in the same aisle layout), but the reality sometimes skips a beat.

As if there must be some threshold critical mass of competent folks distributed among the staff who actually give a damn about what they're doing (and can make sure the rest at least act like it).

The stores are designed to run themselves as much as possible. But there are limits, and good staff will know where they are. It doesn't take much to keep plates spinning on poles.

Completely, and I mean utte... (Below threshold)

Completely, and I mean utterly, without irony, Paul makes his shoddy comments here and then goes horsetrading and ends up with the sorriest, and I mean spavined, nag possible.

Well, pet my ass, and Paul it.

As a motorcycle rider, I as... (Below threshold)

As a motorcycle rider, I ask myself, does any chain "mart" retailer sell the kind of footwear one should wear on an open motor vehicle? The answer is no. Cycle grade boots are a specialty item of limited consumer appeal. And basketball shoes are never proper attire for riding.
And maybe the rules are different (of the road and of physics) in Oregon, but using your feet to stop or corner on a cycle or scooter is a profoundly bad practice.
In the states I am familiar with (NJ, PA, DE, IA, IL, CA) you'll fail the road test if you put your foot on the ground except when you are already at rest.

I don't think DJ's experien... (Below threshold)

I don't think DJ's experience is as one off as commenters have suggested. In the mid-size town I live in, Target is notorious for poor treatment of it's employees. The employees pass it along to the customer. I understand not having a lot of floor staff in a self help store. I don't understand not having competent cashiers to help you finalize the sale and take you money. Put me in a line for 30 minutes for 2 items and I am likely to leave.

Our three main general merchandise retailers are Kmart, Target and Walmart. They all suck at customer service. I travel extensively and have shopped in all three brands all over our state and in different reasons and have found that indifferent service is the norm. I have been in a couple that have seemed downright hostile to the customer. Only real difference between the three is the amount of merchandise overall and minor variations in pricing. Try to shop made-in-the-USA in either place. Hard to do. The stores I like the best though are to ones that treat you like a theif. ;o)

I have a sneaking suspicion... (Below threshold)

I have a sneaking suspicion that you just couldn't find the dressing rooms DJ. Every Target I've ever been in, which is quite a few as I have to visit big box stores for my job regularly, has had dressing rooms. They are difficult to find though, they are typically in the center of the store, between the the men's and women's clothing sections, and between walls of merchandise, so it is almost like you are walking into some shelving unit! They aren't really labeled either. DJ, I'd be interested to know if this is the case, I think you need to go back and explore!!

Next time be smart and shop... (Below threshold)

Next time be smart and shop at Nordstrom.

I think the point is that h... (Below threshold)

I think the point is that he shouldnt have had to "find" the dressing rooms.

He should have been secure in the knowledge that if he asked an employee, they would be able to tell him where the dressing rooms were located.

Nah Sara. Shop smart. Sho... (Below threshold)

Nah Sara. Shop smart. Shop S-mart.

As with all large chain bus... (Below threshold)
stan25 Author Profile Page:

As with all large chain businsses, there some that are clinkers. Yes these clinkers do make a chain get a bad reputation,while there are other stores that perform above expectations. These good and bad stores are due the way the store manager runs things in their store. You will find that the stores with managers that don't give a shit about how things are done, just as long as he/she draws a large salary and you can tell.

Case in point. There is a pizza hut here in the town where I live. The national office was about ready to pull the franchise out entirely. They hired a woman to run the store here and they gave her 90 days to get it back on its feet. To make a long story short, she did this in less than 60 days. Now you can't find a place to park during the lunch and dinner hours.

I like our local Target. A... (Below threshold)

I like our local Target. And it does have dressing rooms. There are usually employees around but I don't often need help. I go there a lot and know where everything is... mostly.

This place sounds like a disaster and yes, it's probably got everything to do with the fact that the employees don't know who the store manager is.

Where are we on the Salvati... (Below threshold)

Where are we on the Salvation Army Santa Claus's? Are they at Walmart this year, or Target? Both? Neither? Why? Or why not? So many questions, so few kettles.

A prime example of a big ch... (Below threshold)

A prime example of a big chain with poor customer service is the local Best Buy. I mean, talk about some seriously poor customer service!

But the Best Buy 18 miles north is fabulous when it comes to helping out.

Same company, two different towns, two completely different shopping environments.

As a former retail manager,... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

As a former retail manager, I can tell you that the problem is not as simple as you might think. Because people put so much emphasis on price, as someone mentioned, retailers are forced to find ways to keep prices down. Unfortunately, that typically means hiring under-qualified people and paying them less or having fewer people working at any given time.

My own experience as an auto parts manager for a national chain underlies this. When I started, I ws grilled extensively on my knowledge of automobiles and auto repair. In fact, compared to the other people around me, I felt inadequate in that regard. I had enough knowledge to be successful as a manager. By the time I left, it was typical that a store had only one or two people who knew cars and parts. The company, to save money, had invested heavily in computers for looking things up. It alowed them to hire lower quality workers and save money that way. They figured that the computer would always give the right answer. Obviously, that didn't work every time.

These days, more and more comapnies are using this approach. When you call a computer company for technical support, it is rare that you actually get someone who knows anything. In most cases, they have a script to follow and must go step-by-step to find a solution to a problem. They don't actually know anything. As an IT guy, it makes my job harder because I have to waste my time going through steps that I know have nothing to do with the problem.

Consumers aren't free and clear here. Too often, I have seen people with outrageous expectations about what a comapny should do. For instance, when I started with the auto parts company, one of the little extras that we provided was that we woud do little things like install windshield wipers or batteries for free providing we had the manpower to do it. In most cases, we could shake someone loose for the few minutes it would take. However, during certain times, that was not practical. Most of the time, the customer would be reasonable, but many times he/she would become very hostile. I have been called names and told that I had lost someone's business because we couldn't install wiper blades right then and there. I have seen people get indignant because we were reluctant to go outside in a downpour and replace a battery. Not a day passed where one customer or another made some kind of outrageoius demand. It's no excuse for rude behavior, but remember that the store's employees are only human and just trying to do their jobs. Sometimes, it just gets to you.

Thank you, Steve. I have c... (Below threshold)

Thank you, Steve. I have changing batteries in the rain memories, seared, seared I say, into my brain.

SCSI, I often park on a roo... (Below threshold)

SCSI, I often park on a rooftop parking at a local store, and there's a real hairpin entrance to this upper lot. A guy in a suburu didn't leave much of the road once before so I had to stop suddenly and put my feet out and one of my shoes came off and I nearly fell over with my motor scooter. After this no more cheap boots. Good boots have worked perfect with no problems. And for sudden stops in traffic absorb more impact with the road. Many motor scooters have a higher center of gravity than a regular motorcycle because of the large underseat storage space and the handling characteristics are different than many motorcycles for this reason. Motorcycles don't have much a body by comparison, but larger engines and tires. My scooter is 71 inches long compared to many 46inch models like Vespa and stands inches taller than a Vespa as well.

Marc, my scooter only has the 10inch wheels that many scooters have. One street was very bad with many potholes and damaged my bike, causing my August 2, accident. With a car you don't notice so many potholes as much as with a motor scooter with far smaller tires. On 30-40mph streets the paving is always very good and just fine, it's those side streets that aren't too cool with a motor scooter. New 2008 model motor scooters are beginning to feature bigger 16inch cast wheels. My bike can go about 45, but the 68mph version features a larger engine and 12inch wheels. But the body is the same. Smaller tires are more prone to potholes.

At any rate, better shoes are better for playing basketball and running and gunning, and better boots are better for motor biking and susperior foot protection for stop and go traffic. Target, KMart, Wal-Mart are fine for everyone else to buy cheaper goods. But I wouldn't play basketball with an $2.50 Target pair of basketball shoes myself.

Kim, changing a battery or worse in the rain isn't that bad as long as you have the right tools in your car and get it done quickly like the right socket for side post terminals. Carry a good toolkit with you to be prepared for anything or emergency. I also carry a wide range of fluids and some common spare parts like light bulbs as well. I carry a little tool kit in the motor scooter as well.






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