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khaleej times Friday, December 4, 2009



The Art Of

CUSTOMER SERVICE A store’s first impression is made by its service — or lack thereof

Stephanie Rivers


hatever happened to customer service? It seems to have fallen from grace as quickly as the dollar has during the economic crisis. Where did the welcoming you into a store with a warm smile and a upbeat greeting, disappear to? Did I not get the memo that said discourteous service is now the in thing? That stopping short of berating your customer or potential customer was the new protocolofrecord? Unlessmemoryfailsme,thosewho work in astore areactuallythereto servethe customer. Those working in a store are doing just that — working in the store. To my knowledge they do not own the store; they manage it, and are the brand ambassadors. A store’s reputation is made or broken based upon its interaction with each and every customer. The adage of “greet them with a smile, treat them with tender loving care and you have a customer for life”, has never been more true. The customer’s first impression of whether a store is worthy of shopping in or returning to again is based purely on how he or she is treated. A simple greeting of hello, an offer to help, giving the potential customer your name to call upon when they are ready, and politely walking away, are excellent points of contact. I belie these points because I had two glaring examples of rude behaviour and customer service at its worst thrust upon me in the middle of a hectic week of preparing for a haute couture photoshoot for my company’s luxury magazine. My first encounter happened in one of my favourite fashion brand stores at the Dubai Mall. I entered the store laden with shopping bags as it was my final stop of theday.Thestoreisanelegantly-appointedshop,darkin colour, requisite centre table, flowers/orchids, low lighting,well-dressed staff and a doorman. I sat my bags down, retrieved my letter that gives proof that I was approved to pick up items for the shoot, as well as my credentials. Both necessary to presentbeforeanytransactionscanbestarted. Asales person came to inquire what I needed, I explained and handed him my papers. He looked them over and stated he knew nothing about this and would check with his manager. With that he disappeared into the back. After a few minutes, he returned and said that the manager knew nothing about this.

Slightly bemused and amused, as the email clearly stated that I had been approved to borrow clothing items and accessories from the store and who approved it, I requested to speak directly with the manager. During any tenuous negotiations, it is always better to eliminate the middle man. The gentleman in the grey suit disappeared into the back again and a few minutes later returned with the same dialogue and I quote, “My manger knows nothing about this, so there can be no lending of any items.” I again asked to see the manager and proceed to try and contact the PR rep to see if she could expedite the process. Now if the store were basing its rude and snobbish behaviour on the visible worth of a customer, assessed through their designer shopping bags, then my cache should have been very high, as I was carrying Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior couture garment and shopping bags. I persisted, as I needed to get the last few items for the shoot, by again asking for the manager. Mr Grey Suit refused to go back to try to retrieve the manager who I could hear clearly chatting away in the background. He said I would not be getting any clothes from the store, signalled to the doorman with a nod and with that, the doorman opened the door as though asking me to leave. Humour is always the best defense in these types of situations, so laughed as it was one of those surreal moments and the fact that I was able to get the items I wanted from another store without any of the hassle or attitude. Hours later after it was all straightened out and I could go back to the store and retrieve items. I did not. After all, it should not matter whether I was loaded with high street bags or haute couture, whether I was dressed appropriately or in street cred cool, a customer is a customer. The second encounter was funny in a sense but not really. This store had a selection of shoes being launched over a week ago. I had stopped by the store when I saw the sign in the window and a display of some of the shoes. I inquired if they were in stock and was informed that they would launch the following day. I inquired further if I could reserve a pair, preferably the pair in the window so as not to take away from stock inventory. I was told that there were no holds, no prepays. I walked away disappointed but understood the fairness of that policy. The day of the launch I could not make it, so the following day I stopped back by and saw the pair I wanted was still in the window. How elated was I

to discover that they survived the carnage of the opening? Very. I found a sales person and immediately asked if they had any in stock, knowing full well that if it worked like any of the store’s launches in NYC then there would not be. Of course, the answer was no. I asked to purchase the pair in the window, as they are usually always a size seven, my size, and was told and I quote, “Sorry, they are reserved.” Now this would have been funny to me had I not been there two days prior and been told that the policy was no reserve and no prepay. I asked to see a manager. Yes, I know my mantra and theme for the week. Never stand between a woman and a pair of shoes she wants, it is a dangerous thing. The manager sauntered out, asked what the problem was, etc... I answered that there wasn’t a problem per se, that I just wanted to clarify an issue. He listened as I explained what I was told and the predicament at hand, that now the shoes were on reserve and I was told otherwise. Heshruggedhisshouldersandsaidthey were reserved and promised to a customer so that was that. I politely inquired again why I wastoldonething,yetanothercustomerwas clearly told the opposite. Again he shrugged, repeated that they were on reserve, that was that and with that walked away. Now, an apology for the inconvenience would have been a better tact, along with perhaps offering a discount on my next purchase. The proper customer service protocol would have been offering to call all of the chain’s other stores to see if by chance there might be a pair somewhere in Dubai left in my size. Yet here I was, a willingcustomer,handledbadllyandrudely.Clearly,this store’s headquarters needs to focus more on training its staff properprotocols. In the words of Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, “Every customer should be treated as the last customer, treated as though they maybe the only customer to come through the store doors. Each customer is important, with each customer contributing to the bottom line.” At the end of a day, a sale is a sale. So I shall end, as I began, how you treat a customer determines whether the customer will be a repeat customer, whether they will tell friends and contribute to your bottom line. Treat them well and they will willingly return, even on a tight budget. Treat them badly and you have lost a customer for life, who in turn tells their friends, who will tell their friends.

Tradition with a Modern Twist Stephanie Rivers


he Obamas hosted their very first official White House state dinner last Tuesday evening and it was a modern twist on a traditional affair. The dinner was in the honour of the visiting Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Normally, state dinners are very staid official affairs, presided over by the Commander-in-Chief, countless aides, government officials and the like. However, unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama gave the dinner, much like his presidency, a more refined, relaxed approach. It began with the event being moved from inside the White House to a tented outdoor dining room, replete with locally sustained and harvested ivy and magnolia branches, and a modern, elegant and refreshingly new colour scheme of

green, burgundy and fuschia. The guest list was an eclectic mix of government officials, actors, directors and musicians. The guest chef was none other than Marcus Samulesson of Acquavit fame in New York City. He is an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised celebrity chef with an affinity for the delicacies of his native and adopted country of Sweden. The menu offered vegetarian specialities, along with southern favourites and seafood delights. The musical guest selection was just as diverse with a performance by singer-actress Jennifer Hudson. AR Rahman, the Indian composer of Slumdog Millionaire fame, also paid a homage to the Indian Prime Minister, as did the National Symphony Orchestra. During the George W Bush era, the dinners had a well-edited, small guest list. For the Obamas, it was an opportunity to embrace diversity, and dust off the overly formal approach to the affair. The guest list has been estimated to

have been around 320, which included not only high-profile performers and celebrities, but also both members from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Some of the guests included acting luminaries such as Alfre Woodward, Blair Underwood, Ms Hudson, film directors Steven Spielberg and M Night Shyamalan and writer Jhumpa Lahiri, to name a few. It was a fashionable outing as well. Mrs Obama chose a golden strapless confection by Indian designer Naeem Khan. This was an exceptionally exciting moment for me, as I am a huge fan of his designs and feel he is often overlooked. From this point on, I am sure he will not be. As one only has to note the meteoric rise of Jason Wu from when Michelle Obama wore his one-shouldered dress during the First Couple’s first dance to understand the magnitude of this type of a moment. She chicly completed the look with simple, yet elegant pieces: gold drop

earrings, a matching shawl and a stack of gold bangles. OtherfashionableguestswereactorAlfreWoodwardwhoworealovelyblueand citron strapless gown; Mrs Colin Powell who wore a gold and black flower embroidered jacket over a floor-length black dress; and Mrs Singh who wore a traditionalsari inblack,with redand gold. Continuing with their open-house approach to the White House, local students were invited to witness the arrival of Prime Minister Singh and his wife and were treated to an audience with Michelle Obama and a tasting of the desserts that would be served. It was a highly anticipated event, with all eyes on the Obamas at a time when the President has many other things weighing heavily on his mind and administration. He proved adept at handling his duties as Commanderin-Chief as well as embracing his role as Head of State.


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