Yesterday I was on a mission to buy some new candles for my house. I like candles, especially the kind that smell nice and look pretty. And the more unusual looking, the better. Price is important, too. So, that’s why I usually go to one of those big homewares stores that sell everything under the sun from pillows to glasses to uncomfortable wicker furniture. You can usually count on them to have a big clearance rack, and you’ll always find candles on any clearance rack. Usually I go to World Market. I could spend an entire day in that store. Yesterday, though, I decided to go somewhere different. I went to Pier One Imports.
And never again.
In Pier One, I had one of those experiences that I like to call Customer Service 101, the kind that should be highlighted in an employee training manual as how not to treat a customer, except yesterday’s also bordered on “am I on Candid Camera?” That’s because my experience in the store was that dreadful.
It started out lovely, though. That’s what’s so puzzling.
As soon as I stepped inside the door, I was greeted by soft jazz music and an extra friendly store clerk. He had a big grin on his face.
“Hello!” he gushed. “Welcome to Pier One! Can I help you find anything today?”
“Not yet,” said I. “Just looking right now.”
“Okay,” said he. “Feel free to browse.”
“Will do,” said I, and I proceeded to look at some really cute hand-painted margarita glasses.
Two minutes later, another friendly clerk asks me pretty much the same thing.
“Finding everything okay?” she said.
“Yes,” said I as I proceeded to browse the pictures section where they hung some really cool black rod-iron artwork that I thought might look really nice in the entryway to my front door. Kinda Santa Fe-ish looking.
Two minutes later. Another store clerk.
“Can I help you with anything?” said she. Big, warm smile. Lots of perfume.
“No, thank you,” said I. “Just looking.”
This attentive store clerk helpfulness continued—by the pillow section, past the throw rugs and curtains, the furniture, and then one final time when I finally made it to their floor-to-ceiling candle display. Everyone was very pleasant and helpful and chatty.
But, here’s the kicker. As a customer, here’s when you really need a store clerk’s help: When you’re standing at a cash register with your purchases, ready to check out.
So, I picked out two really cute candles and they were even on the 50% off clearance rack. I’m at the cash register, ready to pay. Suddenly, there’s not a store clerk in sight. All of a sudden it’s like everyone decided to take a smoke break or something.
The friendly guy who greeted me when I first entered the door rushes by me. He’s got a box loaded on his dolly; he’s headed out the door behind a customer.
“I just have to cart this outside to her car. I’ll be back in a second to ring you up.” Big smile.
“Okay,” said I. “No problem.” I start to look at this glass ring display in the checkout aisle. A few minutes go by; then a few more. Nothing. No friendly store clerk.
I glance at my watch. I look around the store. I’m the only customer in the entire store and someone has changed the piped-in music to Euro-techno music. It’s the same song over and over. Loud.
I start to wonder, Where is everybody? Where are all the store clerks? There had to be at least six of them.
A store clerk from the rug section sees me standing at the cash register. “I’ll be there in a second,” she yelled. “Just taking care of something in the back.”
“Okay,” said I, slightly confused at this point. I’m starting to wonder if my candles are worth the hassle. Then I remember their 50% off prices. I decide to wait. One more minute.
Finally, a different store clerk breezes up to the cash register, one I recognized from the curtain aisle. “Thanks for waiting,” she said.
I nod and then reach inside my purse for my American Express.
The phone rings next to the cash register. She puts up her hand. “Let me answer this. It’ll just take a second.”
My brow furrows. I don’t say anything. I watch her. I listen to the conversation. It will not take a second.
She puts the phone down and dashes toward the pillow section, leaving me alone again at the cash register. “Just have to check a price,” she said to me over her shoulder. She disappears.
I’m still standing at the cash register with my two crummy candles and my American Express card in my hand. And my mouth hanging open. I put my credit card back into my purse and walked out the damn door.
Free customer service tip of the day: If you own a retail store, the moment when you want to offer your best, cheeriest, and most helpful customer service is when someone is ready to pay.
::Writer X also writes at The 100 Most Annoying Things::