In today’s podcast, I recall a memorable shopping experience which reminded me there is a right and wrong way to do customer service. It provides a clear example of how customer service is killing sales — especially retail! And five things any business can learn from this experience.

I’m Not a Great Shopper

This weekend, I went shopping — which is pretty unusual for me. Occasionally, if I need something, I’ll stop in a store and buy it, or just order it online. But from the time I was kid, I’ve always found shopping boring!

But this past weekend, I found myself at the King of Prussia Mall, with my wife and my daughter, shopping for dresses. Now, the first thing I have to tell you is that I missed the bulk of the actual shopping experience. I was busy at the Apple store taking care of a required repair on my wife’s iPhone. I’ll fill you in on that experience next week.

After successfully completing my mission, I met up with my wife and daughter in the dress section of a well-known retail store, which will remain nameless. They had picked out a total of three items and were about to check out when I arrived.

Customer Service Done Wrong

The first indication of trouble came when the clerk rang up the first dress at full retail. My daughter mentioned that the sign said it was 30% off. The clerk asked her to show her. When we walked back to the display, there was a sign that said 30% off, but the clerk explained that the 30% only applied to a certain section of the rack, and not the entire rack itself.

“That’s kind of misleading,” I muttered. But rather than risk embarrassing my daughter, we walked dutifully back to the cash register to pay full retail.

When ringing up the second dress, we ran into a similar situation. It came up as full retail, but was supposed to be 50% off. This time, a manager overheard our conversation, so we got to walk the manager over to the area where the dress was being displayed. This time, it was obviously in the 50% off section, with no possibility of confusion. The manager said that it was in the wrong place, but that she’d honor the price anyway. Okay. Nice of them to honor what their advertising was promoting.

Let’s Do the Math

So now we get back to the cash register. The clerk has to manually adjust the pricing. “Let’s see, 50% off of 238, so that’s 140.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “half off of 238 is not 140.” “Well, I did take math in school,” she said. I didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, I merely pointed out that half of 238 is 119, not 140. When she confirmed it herself with a calculator, she made the correction without apology or further comment. It was about that point when my wife decided that the third dress, the one she had picked out for herself, might not be worth the trouble, so we just ended up getting two.

Next round of fun. “If you register for our store credit card today you can get an additional 15% off your purchases.” “Okay, it’s not the 30% off we thought we’d be getting on the first dress, but it’s something,” I thought. “Sure, sign us up.” After what seemed like ten minutes of intense, probing questions, we were approved for the new card. But when the clerk rang up the order, it didn’t reflect the 15% savings. “Oh, that will show up on the bill,” she said. But nothing we received in the store indicated that would be the case. I guess we’ll find out when the bill shows up.

When Customer Service Focuses on Discounts

Now, here’s the interesting part. I didn’t go into that store looking for discounts. All I wanted was to buy the dresses my wife and daughter were looking for, for the weddings they’re planning to attend. I wouldn’t have cared about the 30% off the first dress, or the 15% off if we signed up for the new card. But the way the store personnel approached pricing, made it seem like a really big thing.

Their signage and their comments kept calling attention to discounts that we might or might not get, depending on where they hung their clothes, whether or not we’d agree to sign up for their credit card, or how their math expert calculated half off of $238. So ultimately, we just felt like we wanted to get out of there without being ripped off.

Not exactly an ideal experience.

So What Can We Learn from these Customer Service Mistakes?

Whether you’re selling at full retail price or discounts, whether you’re selling B2B or B2C or B2G, whether you’re selling in person or online, here are a few takeaways:

  1. Make it about value. If what you’re selling is worth full price, then charge full price and don’t bat an eye. If it’s a quality product, people will pay it.
  2. Don’t offer discounts if you don’t intend to honor them. Not everyone cares about getting the very lowest price, but everyone hates bait and switch tactics. People don’t want to feel like they’re being mislead, cheated or ripped off.
  3. Eliminate confusion. Make sure that everyone understands what they’re getting for the price. Put it in writing, so people don’t have to wonder.
  4. Avoid sarcasm. So the clerk took math in school. Even if she had been right about her calculation, the comment was antagonistic and unnecessary.
  5. Do what you say you’re going to do. This seems obvious, but many in business fail to do it.

Ultimately, my trip to the mall was not a total failure. In addition to getting my daughter two dresses that she wanted, I had another experience which showed me how customer service can actually save retail. And I’ll tell you that story in our next episode.

Do You Leap to Mind?

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn how to leap to mind when your prospects and clients are thinking about buying the products and services you offer, check out my web presentation entitled Programming Clients to Choose You, and schedule a complimentary strategy session where we can talk about your plan for market domination. Go to

If you’re tired of flat or declining sales and losing business to your competitors, be sure to check out my latest web presentation entitled Programming Clients to Choose You. Who are your very best prospects currently programmed to buy from? Is it you? Or someone else? If you want it to be you, visit and register for the free presentation now. That’s

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    2 replies to "The Wrong Way to Do Customer Service"

    • Michael Crooks

      You’re right, David, KNOWLEDGEABLE, courteous, prompt customer service CAN save retail. All they need to do is give people an experience they cannot get on-line. Easier said than done, however.

      It’s starts with hiring people who truly want to serve others. Some people have the gene … other don’t. Then, they need to be proactive. Your difficulty could have been avoid if someone who worked there went around and made sure stuff is where it’s supposed to be.

      Brick and Mortar is killing itself. Too many clothing stores with not enough of a marketable difference to differentiate themselves. Clerks who are doing the job on the way to something else. I can stay home, shop online, be treated indifferently and save money and have what I want in 2 days. Granted, clothes are something you really want to try on. And the retail clothing chain that decides they want to give people what they can’t get on line will survive. Those that deliver an experience – will thrive.

      • David Blaise

        Michael, your statement “Brick and Mortar is killing itself” is right on the money. Unfortunately, hiring people who truly want to serve others is often easier said than done. As far as providing an experience they can’t get online — when I first walked into the store, I was really impressed with the wide selection of merchandise they had. The stuff looked good and I was really excited that my wife and daughter would likely be able to find exactly what they were looking for. So from that standpoint, the experience started out strong. But when the wrong customer service agent got involved, it all went downhill quickly. But, yes… GOOD customer service CAN save retail. In fact, I had a great customer service experience the very same day, in the very same mall. I told that story here.

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