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Customer Assistance Is Needed in the Shoe Department

Shannon Wetzel

Over the weekend I was shopping in a department store. For the 30 minutes that I shopped and the five minutes I waited in line, I heard the robotic store intercom voice announce on loudspeaker that “Customer assistance is needed in the shoe department,” repeatedly—every 30 seconds or so.

At first, I didn’t totally register the announcement. But 10 minutes in, I could start to see the smirks on other shoppers’ faces as once again we heard, “Customer assistance is needed in the shoe department.”

I began to imagine the person in the casual sneaker aisle: hoping to find out the store has more sizes in the back and then becoming increasingly agitated the longer they had to wait. At some point, it turns into a matter of principle. They are not leaving until they get their assistance! The robotic voice began to sound more ominous the longer it went on. I thought to myself, “whoever finally helps that customer is going to get an earful.”

The store was busy—associates were working hard, and there were lines at the checkout. So, it was understandable that the customer in the shoe department had to wait some time for help. And obviously the store was shorthanded—large signs at the front doors advertised job openings. 

As the store manager, what would you do? Pull a cashier from checkout to help the one customer, causing the eight in line to wait longer? Hope the waiting customer in Shoes gives up and leaves? The longer it went on, not only was the one customer becoming upset (I imagine), but my attitude of my shopping experience began to shift as well. I was annoyed to be in line. I began rethinking my purchase. 

Do you have someone waiting in your shoe department? A customer who is asking for some assistance—politely at first but now a bit more insistently? Even during busy times, customer service is a critical piece to your business. When you let down a customer, not only do you risk the loss of the sale, but you could be losing credibility from other witnesses, particularly when a company is not shy about letting the word out about a bad experience. And the longer you take to even acknowledge a customer’s needs, the wedge in your customer-supplier relationship is driven deeper. What could have been collaborative is now adversarial. 
Like my store example, sometimes helping one customer may inconvenience another. But not helping them can have others doubting your capabilities. As I left the store, I heard the loudspeaker again chime out, “Customer assistance is needed in the shoe department.” I’m in no rush to return. 

What strategies do you use in your business to juggle your customers’ needs? How quickly are you replying to requests—even if the response is “We’re working on it but don’t have an answer yet.” 

The flipside to bad customer service is good customer service can win you new work. As the founder of J.C. Penney Stores said, “Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.” 

As we flip the calendar to a new year, I hope 2022 becomes a year of strong sales, safe employees, and happy customers.