Where does Common Courtesy go in #custserv?


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Customer acknowledgement is the first step in great customer service. 

  • When a customer walks up to the counter, greet them, even if you are busy with something or someone else. 
  • When a customer calls you, even if you have an IVR system answer the call, and then offer directions or options
  • When a customer emails you reply as soon as you can to let them know you have received their request and if possible when they can expect an answer. 
  • If a customer was wandering around looking lost greet them even if they’re not in your department

I’m going to use an example from my experience with Farmers Department Store here in New Zealand. This is not a one off instance either.

On Sunday I was in Farmers doing some Christmas Shopping. When in the electronics area I was after a speaker set. The two department staff were busy, one with a customer and one on the phone. I saw another Farmers staff member walk past and asked them. The response was “I dunno, I don’t work in this area”. And he kept walking…

He could have acknowledged that he did not work in the area but having noticed the others were busy at least gone to a computer and searched to see if anything matched my request

On Sunday and today when I walked to the counter to purchase my items the staff were working on a back bench with their backs to me, talking. Even when one turned around for something they looked at me, without the slightest “Hello, how are you” or a smile, nothing. Naturally I waited politely for a min before having to ask “Can I be served please or are you all too busy?” Where’s the attention? I felt as if I was annoying them with more work.

Staff should always face the front, have their heads up and a smile on their dial. I mean that’s like common sense isn’t it?

Today I had to go back to Farmers to exchange some items that were the wrong size. First off I was told to go and find the items. I walked around the area they were on Sunday but the racks had been moved, sold out or otherwise were not there. I returned to the women on the counter who was immediately frustrated that she would have to look. As we searched the racks she was getting more and more frustrated and kept saying “Sorry” as if that was the end of the matter. Getting fed up I said “Look you don’t seem all that interested in helping me sort this, perhaps you should take a break and find someone who does”. Yeah I embarrassed her but fair enough. Anyway sure enough the other sales person took over and it was sorted in 2 min. Refund done.

Most of this is just plain and simple human courtesy and yet in a Customer Service situation common courtesy seems to get lost. Why? Beats me…

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Justin Flitter
Justin shares stories, information and advice on Customer Service and Social Media for Business. Justin is based in Auckland, New Zealand and has almost 1 years experience in the Customer Service industry. Justin is the Social Media Manager for Zendesk.com


  1. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

    The companies (if they think about it at all) would consider the cost/benefit as follows:
    * Are we going to sell some of these widgets? Yes
    * Are we going to sell more of these widgets if we invest in some customer service training? Unknown
    * Are we going to sell more widgets if we hire top-line staff? Unknown
    * Will the training cost money? Yes
    * Will better staff cost money? Yes
    * Are we going to make enough from selling the widgets, after customer service training or hiring new staff, so that the profit is the same as without training and with the same old staff? Unknown

    Mathematically, it’s a simple equation. Unfortunately, they are only considering on a short-term profit basis, not on a long-term reputation basis, where they won’t sell any widgets at all because people won’t come into the shop. They’re banking on enough people being too lazy to change their shopping habits so that their cashflow remains constant. It’s institutional laziness compounded by a short term profit focus.

    That’s why the best customer service usually comes from owner-operated businesses who actually give a damn about their future.

  2. Justin, I have experienced exactly the same problem, numerous times at Farmers on Queen St. Example: All I wanted was some stockings last winter. But I couldn’t find them; when asked where they were I was told Womenswear. Then pointedly ignored.
    As if this is some kind of navigational clue. Left, right, north south; nope zero capacity for orientation found in the word ‘Womenswear’
    So I wandered around to look for someone else to help me. Same question, different person who pointed to the opposite side of the room and then turned around again. Brilliant. Thats how I like my directions, nice and vague with plenty of room for error.
    Still couldn’t find it, so went back to Person A who told me that was a question for Womenswear, not her department.

    Forgive me, but I am a customer, who wants to spend, in your place of employ- a retail store; who is trying her hardest to give you money in exchange for your goods – I’m pretty sure my questions are every employee’s department?? Since when did it become so acceptable to be so disrespectful to a customer? And, apart from the job description, a little common courtesy wouldn’t go astray either. Unfortunately, this has happened time and again consequently I now give them a wide berth. Pity for them really, because I am a fashion reporter, and I wont be filming any stories with them or their rude staff any time in the near future.


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