Friday, June 5, 2009

Are your connecting with or, unwittingly, alienating clients?

It is a rainy, chilly night on the Rhode Island coast. After a crazy week that included whirlwind travel to the jewelry industry's biggest trade shows in Las Vegas, and a lot of work on a fab new promo kit for Tomgirl Tours, I'm reaaaaaally happy for an excuse to be tucked into my cozy Victorian house in Westerly for the night. Seeing as I find cooking a great way to relax, I went to the grocery a few hours ago to get all the ingredients for my favorite Greek feast (for those New Yorkers out there: yes, you can take the girl out of Astoria, but you can't take the Astoria out of the girl... even if she has to make due with sub-par Feta. Sigh...)

Anyway, after hitting my favorite market, I realized the only missing element for a proper rainy-night feast at home was a good bottle of wine. Now, if you don't know Westerly, RI, here's the scoop: there are two really good wine shops in town. One is right on the commercial strip and very convenient to the food markets. The other closer to downtown and a bit out of the way from the groceries. Tonight, as every night when I want a good bottle... despite rain, being tired, and having a stir-crazy restless puppy in the backseat, I drove right past that "convenient" store and drove a few miles out of the way to Dick's World of Wines. Why? Well, while the other store has a great (perhaps superior) selection of domestic and international wines, I haven't set foot in there since last October. See, in October, 2008, I was preparing a special birthday dinner for a friend and needed the perfect bottle of wine. So, on that afternoon, after a looong walk on the beach with Mia, I stopped at said wine shop to find a great red to match my (if I do say: AMAZING) seafood risotto. And my experience is what has lead me to Dick's, even if out of the way, ever since.

On that October afternoon, I wandered the wine shop, (props to them for this:) an employee
 approached me and asked if he could help me find the perfect wine. As a luxury publicist (at the time, editor), I was impressed by the service and told him exactly what I was preparing for dinner, and that I was specifically looking for a red that would match. It was at this point that I felt/saw the "once over". You know: the judgement that too many purveyors of higher-end goods and services make. So, he led me to a (actually) great and very affordable French red. However, as he recommended it, he said: "This is the only one in this price range (under $15) I'd recommend." Um. Okay. At NO point did I say that something OVER $15 would break my budget. In fact, we never discussed my budget whatsoever. He made a foolish snap judgement based on my appearance. It is the biggest mistake any upscale business can make

So, that was it for me. Actually, it was a very special dinner for a very special person in my life. Granted, the wine ended up being fantastic but I would have spent much, much more than $14.99 for a bottle. But I would have felt a whole lot better had some liquor store employee not insulted me in the process. Not that I'm a gazillionaire who wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle of wine, but the statement by this person was clearly a condescending judgement based on my appearance.

After 3 miles on the beach, I didn't look the part; but THAT is the point. Luxury customers--especially in this day and age, don't necessarily "look" the part. We shouldn't NEED to. Perhaps he would have kicked himself had he seen me leave the store and climb into my late-model Saab. Yes, the wine was great but, really, I don't need for a wine shop worker to pass judgement on me. And I have NO intention of dressing up in order to be treated properly in a LIQUOR store. Hello? Welcome to the 21st Century, folks.

Bottom line: since October, I've probably bought a lot of wine. But, since that date, I haven't been back to that shop. As such, they've lost a whole lot of sales. If I went back and mentioned this experience to that particular employee, he'd probably be shocked... as this is a shop that clearly focuses on customer service.

My point? Even if you are approaching and believe you are connecting with clients... are you really? Or are you, even then, making judgements that leads to a loss of sales? Indies can NOT afford to make this mistake. So, as a sip a glass of nice red (purchased at Dick's) and finish preparing my Greek feast, I wonder how many other customers for wine, and who knows how many other products and services, have had similar experiences...


  1. Carrie, great point about the customer service. However, I think you missed an opportunity. I'm sure the employee meant no harm, but in this case, I feel you owed the owner/manager of the store the information that someone ( you could decide for yourself if naming the individual is warranted) treated you in this manner. That may have been all that is needed for them to instruct their employees on proper customer service, something as simple as " How much were you thinking of spending; I can show you what your options may be?" We can surely vote with our feet as you did, but we can also suggest changes to establishments that we feel our worthwhile. Cheers !

  2. Why is it that storeowners (as I assume 'anonymous' is) always insist that customers victimized bad customer service are the ones at fault? Could something have been said to the storeowner about the rudeness of the clerk? Yes, certainly. Is it the customer's job to educate the storeowner on proper treatment of clients? No. If the storeowner doesn't care enough to train his or her employees on proper behavior, then why should the customer care? When we have dozens of different places to shop, why don't you, the storeowner, do your job and train your staff right instead of expecting shoppers to do the work for you. This is the kind of passing-the-buck, blame-the-customer mentality that boosts sales online, and creates going-out-of-business sales in the real world.
    Leigh, Philadelphia consumer