Sunday, September 20, 2009

My First Guest Writer: The Intrepid Beauty Speaks On Customer Service

One of my readers, or silent reader should I say, has decided to contribute some of her opinions and ideas to my blog, after having followed my blog for a while. A beauty enthusiast and addict like many of us are, she is especially passionate about my 'fight' for consumer rights and good customer service. Hence, her first appearance as my guest writer would be to voice out her two-cents worth on what GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE entails. And she hopes that after reading this post, customers will be encouraged to stand up to the many horrible SAs instead of going off empty handed. The Intrepid Beauty says, "I really dislike people being pushed around or given the wild goose chase (by these horrible SAs) especially when we are the ones who will be parting with our hard earned money or savings". Well said!

Please note that this is a very very lengthy post, but in order to create more awareness among consumers, NO ONE could have written any better than The Intrepid Beauty. That's why I have decided to publish as IT IS WRITTEN, without editing. I hope retailers out there, managers and everyone who are directly or indirectly working in the sales industry would find something useful in their quest to improve customer service, boost the sales and also in training their frontliners, esp their counter managers and SAs!

So, let me present my first guest writer, The Intepid Beauty (as she prefers to be known), with her inaugural guest post in the form of a letter to me.


Hi Von,

I have been an avid reader of your blog for some months now and have enjoyed reading every one of your posts. I sense that you are a strong advocate of consumer rights which is an issue I am also very passionate and concerned about. I would like to offer my take on customer service in relation to the cosmetic counters based on my customer service experiences (both positive & negative) over the past few years. These experiences can be categorised as follows:-

(1) Greeting

First impressions are very important in any industry particularly the sales industry as a customer will be more inclined to linger at a shop/counter if they feel welcomed. A customer who is not greeted within the first 5 seconds may walk on especially if the customer had no intentions of purchasing anything but only went in to check out a display. The longer the customer lingers, the higher are the chances of the SA making a sale. I have experienced SAs who barely looked up as I approached the counter and continued with their makeup at the mirror as if I did not exist. A SA who stops whatever she is doing and greets the customer as soon as she enters the shop/approaches the counter is one who places the customer first. However, if the SA happens to be serving another customer at the time, she could inform the customer who just came in that she will be with her shortly.

(2) Following the customer

It seems to be the norm rather than the exception for SAs to follow the customer around the shop. I would rather be left to browse on my own unless I have questions to ask the SA. Following a customer around the shop will not guarantee a sale, in many cases it may backfire and the customer will leave without purchasing. Recently, I was at a Korean cosmetics/skincare shop and the SA kept sniffling while she followed me around. It made me feel uncomfortable since I certainly did not want to catch her cold. Informing the customer that they can call them over should the customer require any assistance would be a better option than trailing the customer everywhere.

(3) Product/Promotion Knowledge

It is the responsibility of the shop/counter manager to ensure that their staff are aware of an ongoing promotion and that they are able to inform the customer of the prices of the products. There have been occasions when I have had to wait while the SA has to call her Head Office to confirm the details of the ongoing promotion. If the promotion has been published in the magazine/newspaper, the customer should not be confronted with a SA who declares that she has no knowledge of such. There are also SAs who have to keep checking the price of each product. New staff should have already memorised the prices of the products before they are sent to the shops/counters. Such delays only frustrate the customer especially a customer in a hurry.

(4) Full vs. part timer SA

Some companies, when informed of poor service from the SA, offer the excuse that the SA concerned was a part-timer. It matters not to the customer whether the SA was a full or part timer. As far as any customer is concerned, the SA represents the company and following from that, there should be no difference in the level of service expected from a full/part timer. If the company has seen it fit to place the person behind the counter, then we should expect the same level of service.

(5) Reluctance to give samples

Having read many blogs, I can see the difficulty some people have in collecting skincare samples even when they go to the shops/counters with the requisite voucher/coupon. This is a result of SAs interpreting the voucher/coupon according to their own whim and fancy which runs contrary to what is stated in the voucher/coupon. I have been denied samples on more occasions than I care to mention and the excuses vary from the typical "It's common sense to bring the advertisement" (even though said ad merely stated "come to any XYZ counter for a miniature sample" and not "Present this ad to the counter to collect a sample") to the downright silly "We note from our records that you have already redeemed this sample 2 months ago" (don't they understand that it was a different promotion which was redeemed through a postcard sent by their company?). Note to cosmetic companies: please instruct your marketing departments to be unambiguous when putting an ad in the papers, if you wish the customer to cut out the ad and bring it to the counter, say so. There are those who seem to think that customers who request for samples are just out to cheat them of samples. Then there is the "We have run out of samples" excuse even though the giveaway only started the day before or the even more ludicrous "I will only give you when you buy something from me". The list of excuses goes on and on. I always stand my ground when these excuses are given and unless I am given the "run-out-of-samples" excuse, I insist that they call their Head Office to confirm even when they maintain that the samples are exclusively for Parkson Elite members when the ad presented to them says no such thing, for example. Any SA who refuses to give you a sample especially when you are entitled to it (e.g. because they have unilaterally interpreted the ad) should be reprimanded. I find that the best and most effective way is to take down their names and call the person in charge of Communications/Complaints at Head Office. You may not have come home with the sample but at least you will feel much better by informing their management about the treatment you received at the shop/counter and if the management personnel are worth their salary, they will make good on the promise of the sample reneged by the SA.

(6) Giving the customer more than they expected

I have experienced some wonderful service from SAs who give you more than what you expect. You may have approached the shop/counter just to have a closer look at a lipstick/eyeshadow and the SA offers to give you a mini makeover. This is a good tactic because the customer may purchase the product after having the product applied on her lips/eyes and realised what a flattering shade it is on her. I like the SAs who are patient and don't mind you testing just about every shade of lipstick/eyeshadow. I am happy to say that I consider some of these SAs my friends and I can even chat with them about anything if I happen to be at their shop/counter. They may even throw in a sample or two with your purchase which is a good way of making you return to the counter when you find that the sample given agrees with you.


I am sure your readers have also experienced both good and bad customer service. In this competitive environment, companies must realise that it is no longer just important to come up with a fantastic product. At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: nobody is going to return to a shop/counter where they have been treated unfairly or discourteously. Bad customer service can tarnish the image of the entire company. SAs represent the company and it is they whom the customer first comes into contact with so it is paramount for them to give consistently excellent service. Although companies generally welcome customers' feedback, by the time the company's management learns about an unpleasant encounter the customer had with a SA, it may be (if I may take the liberty of borrowing the lyrics of the OneRepublic song) "too late to apologize".

To finish, I leave you with this quote from Mahatma
Gandhi "A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.......We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so".

The Intrepid Beauty


Kat said...

well said...hopefully, this will create more awareness among customers to advocate customers rights...and for the management to improve on their customer service...

abby said...

Ooo...good post Intrepid Beauty! I think you should come out of hiding a little more and share your knowledge with us. Nice work!

Thanks for sharing!

The Intrepid Beauty said...

Kat & Abby : Thank you for your comments. I am glad you liked the article. I have other issues I'd like to highlight & review so you may see other articles here soon, subject of course to Vonvon giving me the green light.

Tine said...

I thoroughly, thoroughly agree with The Intrepid Beauty. I can't stand shop assistants who hover over you and stick to you like an unwanted parasite. It encourages me to leave, not to buy.

I never understand the reason behind SAs who do not give out samples, even though they're available. I'm more inclined to think that she wants to keep them for herself than anything. Samples aren't for the miserly who can't be arsed to buy the full product. When I'm given great service and samples, more often than not, I go back to buy more.

Miu said...

I love your article too I.B! and sister, AMEN TO THAT! especially point 3 & 9 which is the most annoying!

Just last week, my friend Wing headed to MJ Clarins for makeover. Initially she didn't want to buy anything, but was later tempted to purchase a cosmetic product and then became interested in purchasing RM250 to become a member, so she could get 4 gift pcs.

The Poster said "Purchase anything up to rm250" to be entitle to the membership & 4 pcs gift. She asked me to join, so I wanted to get the starter kit rm68 x 2 on top of her rm135 cosmetic product so she could become a member. Imagine our suprise when the counter manager said that my starter kit would not entitle her to the 4pcs gift set b'coz my starter kit is already a sale item. I said what sale item, it's a starter kit and that poster said "purchase anything". She proceeded to defend by saying the items in my starter kit is already free. I was like "free??" what's free? this is a starter kit! the entire kit is RM68. Which item is free? The counter manager proceeded to say that Wing will only get samples instead of gift pieces if I buy the starter kits + her cosmetic.

Upon hearing this nonsense, I lost all my mood to even purchase anything. The poster did not say "excluding best buys/starter kits/sale items". It said Purchase Anything.

My friend Wing decided to purchase on her own, adding a masque rm135 & a starter kit. The total amount is now RM338 (she had achieve rm250 to become member, and is now short of rm12 to get 5 pcs gift set under the gwp system of purchasing rm350).

She kindly asked the Beauty Assistant if she could have a bust gel sample in addition to her 4 pcs gift set. The BA obliged and went to get for her.. half way out, in front of my friend, the Temporary B.A stopped her and whisper something. Putting away the "sample", the BA told my friend it's "out of stock".

My friend was so furious but we decided not to do anything at all. After all it's just a sample. This counter has lost a potential customer after what my friend went through. Out of stock is acceptable, stingy/lying is not. After paying for her purchases, I advise her to switch to KLCC Clarins Counter as her principal counter membership instead of Metrojaya counter. She glady did & when asked, she replied the B.A that their counter is stingy.

Come on, short of RM12 and she's denied a sample. If that bust gel was indeed "out of stock", the best thing to do is give her something else! not lie to her face after holding the item that it's "out of stock"!

and hello! purchase anything! that should include even starter kits! which is not even tagged or label "best buy/Sale Item/Free XXX inside already = not entitle to any gwp".

The Intrepid Beauty said...

Hi Miu,

I enjoy reading yr blog as much as Vonvon's. That's what I mean when I said some SAs intrepret ads according to their own whim and yr case, the ctr mgr chose to insert an imaginary small print on the poster. I'd like to share an experience with you which is somewhat similar to yours. Several years ago, I bought a makeover voucher which was partly redeemable so after the photo shoot, I bought a serum. There was an ad in the papers saying that purchasing the serum entitled the customer to a free gift. When I asked about the free gift, the ctr mgr refused to give it to me, she claimed that I was not entitled because I had used my voucher to purchase it but:-

1) There was no small print in their ad saying that ppl who purchase the m/over voucher and then buy the serum wld not be entitled to the free gift;and

2) I was paying full price for the serum despite the makeover voucher. It's not as if the voucher entitled me to a discount on the serum. If you have paid RM150 for the voucher and RM120 is redeemable, the serum costs RM160, wouldn't you still have had to top up RM40?

What did I do? I wrote a letter to the management of this company and got a prompt phone call saying that indeed I was entitled to the free gift and asked me to collect it at one of their ctrs. Subsequently, they did insert a small print on their future ads saying that ppl who purchased vouchers and bought whatever item it was that was promoted with a free gift would not be entitled to it.

There are so many ctr staff who give us problems even in instances where we are clearly entitled to something. I've found that good ctr staff are like gems, once I've found one I like, I always go back to them, it saves me a lot of hassle but I know there are times when unfortunately we don't have a choice and have to deal with someone who turns our day topsy-turvy.

Miu said...

Dear Intrepid Beauty,

I do agree with you there so many U.S.A around (unprofessional Sales Assistant)who tend to the counter like they the almighty right hand of Osama. Their words are final. Happens so often that I am now immune to such service and 90% of the time resulting in me not even going back to the same counter/brand.

I've found a very good CTR Staff/Manager this year, I even followed her from one brand to another. Convinced by her recomendations, and good service, I never fail to show up during promotions which affected my pocket (sad to say). But this is to how far good service will go! to customers spending even if they don't need to!

My recent encounter with a bad service from a restaurant, resulted in me even going to the media to inform consumers about how some restaurant to the extend of protecting themselves made all the wrong choices and decisions, even up to the extend of lying their way through and persistently insist on what they do was right. Seems that they forgot where their money is coming from.

CheaKyGal said...

Ya.... I am also particular about customer rights....

I agree with No2) following the customer around- makes us feel like a "thief"..

No3) I would say-- yes, we all have to know our product knowledge-- in advance. especially in sales, I udnerstand that part.

No5) This is the tricky part- between knowing whther it is the SA who is actually keeping it for themselves, or the company who is restricting the giving out of samples (that is if the company has instructed them to do as such).

Either ways, its bad practice on the company to advertise widely- as not allocating enough samples to go around. They should include print like limited to first 100 persons- to protect themselves.. but they don't.. ha.

That's how they don't use their brains..
4) If I were a part-timer, or newbie,i'd inform the customer i am not aware of it, but i'd check with the manager.