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Jewish World Review
Sept. 22, 2006
/ 29 Elul, 5766
Service with a Smile
If you can remember going to a shoe store, sitting down in a chair and having a sales clerk measure your foot, bring you several styles and sizes of shoes, put them on your foot for you, ask you to walk around in them and then ask you how the shoes feel, you probably qualify for social security. That level of retail service is long gone. If you encounter a shoe sales clerk at all these days, they'll do little more than bring out a pair of shoes you ask for from the back room, hand them to you and walk away. And that would be considered GOOD service.
This came to mind the other night as I was watching a really old movie on TV. I mean a really, really old movie. This one was from the mid 30's. In this film the guy goes into a department store, walks up to a counter and asks to see a pair of gray dress gloves displayed in the glass case. The salesgirl not only takes out the gloves, she smiles, and then proficiently puts them on his hand to be sure the size is right. How's that for service? Go into a store today and ask to see a pair of gloves and they'll direct you to the gardening department.
Personal service, at least as it relates to the everyday shopper, simply doesn't exist anymore. There are several possible reasons for this. One reason might be the decline in courtesy, manners, and formality overall in today's world. Another reason is that most of today's younger people just don't want it.
Also, the job of "store salesclerk" has been dumbed down. There was a time, a few decades ago, when a salesclerk was considered a good, solid, middle class occupation - not like it is now, just something to do for a paycheck until something better comes along. My dad was a salesman and he was good at it. A really good salesman took pride in his work and enjoyed the relationships he built with customers. Today's salesclerk is really not a salesperson at all. He or she is more of a stock clerk than anything else - with little or no knowledge of the merchandise they're paid to handle in the store.
Another obvious reason for the disappearance of good service is the class factor. Most retail stores are not classy anymore. They are quite simply not designed to be service oriented - they are set up for self-service. Who would expect to walk into a Target or Wal-Mart and be "waited on?" The idea is preposterous.
Although the service is better at "high-end" stores such as Saks, Nordstorm, and the designer boutiques, it wouldn't hold a candle to the old time service that was once available to most Americans at most stores half a century ago. There seems to be an edginess or impatience with many of the clerks at the expensive shops these days, why? Are they unhappy with their jobs? Or does the store purposely hire people with attitudes because they think it's "cool?"
"The customer is always right," "service with a smile" and "satisfaction guaranteed." What were once steadfast rules of retail have become nothing more than quaint outdated slogans - undoubtedly scoffed at by the 21st Century "sales representative." Antiquated mottos as passť as those dress gloves I spoke of from the old movie.
What I miss most is the courtesy. Okay, it may not have always been sincere, but it was welcomed nevertheless. Being treated as someone important is good for the psyche. Not too many of us are really all that important in the great scheme of things, I grant you. We all can't be billionaires, heads of industry, or celebrities - but isn't it a nice thing to be treated as if we were? In the brief time it takes to buy a jacket or a pair of shoes or even a pair of gloves, we should be given the modicum of respect and attention that was once so commonplace in my father's day.
Courtesy. A familiar expression you'd hear was "common courtesy." Just like the joke about "commonsense" not being all that common, you could say the same for courtesy. I don't expect courtesy to make a big come back in everyday life, but it sure would be nice if at least it gained popularity in the stores again. Are you listening Macy's? And while you're at it, you can toss "respect," "manners," and "dignity" into the mix too. I'll forgo the "class" this time. No sense in asking for the moon.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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