Ill-fitting Customer Service

service, Takashimaya

DO people have to be trained in everything they do?

At which point does common sense and simple helpfulness kick in? Or, in this instance, why didn’t it kick in?

I wanted to get a specific pair of Cole Haan shoes. I had the option of visiting one of the two physical outlets it was available at, or buying it online. With shoes, it can be a bit touch-and-go buying it online; if the size isn’t right or it doesn’t look as good on your feet, it’s a bother to have them returned or replaced.

So, it was off to a physical store.

During the Formula One mayhem of road closures and inconveniences, Marina Bay Sands was not even a consideration. Normally it isn’t the top choice, anyway, given the great peregrination required to get anywhere in that sprawling mall, and the difficulty in getting parking despite the exorbitant charges.

That left the counter at Takashimaya Department Store in Ngee Ann City.

Does The Shoe Fit?

On an early-ish weekday morning, as the department store’s gears were still starting to crank up, I spotted what I was after. The late 20-something (or she could have been a bit older) sales person was intent on her phone. Not expecting customers at this time of the morning? 

As I walked around looking at the shoes, she didn’t look up. There were other “brand ambassadors” about but they were staying in their own brand patches, pondering upon life’s great mysteries.

Required model in hand, I walked up to the 20-something and asked her if she had it in my size. She looked up from her phone, decided she should finish off whatever it was she was keying in before taking the display shoe to check for the appropriate size in the storeroom. 

She returned shortly with a box and pulled out a shoe and handed it to me. No loosening of the laces or removal of the stuffing to prep the shoe for the potential customer.

So, I did that and tried to slip it on. It was new and a bit tight, so I asked for a shoe horn. 

It seemed that nothing you would normally associate with the duties of a sales person in providing customer service applied to her. 

The 20-something was standing watching me while monitoring her phone. She could see there was a bit of a struggle going on, but she didn’t budge. Hey, don’t get me involved, you could almost see her brain messaging.

A shoehorn was just under her nose, but she didn’t think it was part of her job description to hand it to me. Until I asked for it.

She then picked it up — phone in the other hand — and I had to reach across to get it.

The shoe fit and I decided to buy it. 

The 20-something handed me the docket and pointed in the general direction of the cashier. She then proceeded to put the shoes back in the box.

I would normally have walked out well before this, but I did need those  shoes.

Attitude To Work

It’s baffling how the service sector hires people who are so disconnected from the basic concept of delivering appropriate service.

With so many people buying things online and department stores becoming almost irrelevant — consider the number that have folded — you would think those who still had a job would step up and raise the service levels to retain customers who could be swayed by good service. Or that stores would insist on keeping customer satisfaction levels high even if they cut corners in other areas.

Perhaps it’s the high turnover rate, or the lack of training, but do you require on-the-job training in basic courtesy?

To be fair, I have had excellent service from sales staff eager to provide me with more information than I require. And overly pushy sales people trying to make me buy stuff I have no need for. 

But at least they are trying.

As for the 20-something, maybe it was an off day. Or she thinks what she’s doing is beneath her. Maybe her morning was off to a bad start.  People may have empathy, but most are not interested in your problems or excuses. I wonder how many customers would have been annoyed by her indifference and just walked away, taking their money with them.

Come the end of the month, the 20-something will still expect her salary. So, it seems only fair that customers who help deliver that salary should expect service.

When you’re on the job, do the job.

See also  brainSTORM: Is GE2011 Still On Our Minds?


  1. Kannan of course her morning was off to a bad start. Your presence interrupted her handphone engagement!! Most people like her, feel that they are best suited to be CEO of a huge multinational and that their current job is just a temporary pause on their journey. Like you said, basic courtesy or commitment to a job is foreign to such individuals. Look at the Japanese. The extent they will serve their customers is legendary. Even buying a small item, the extent they go to just to wrap it up sometimes seems to cost more in time and effort than buying the item itself.

  2. Time to set up a school like the hotel industry. At the end of the day one must love their job and in this case love meeting people and giving the best service. Maybe the employers also need to be trained?


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