Several years ago we had a chain of department stores here in Canada called Woodward's. They were very exclusive, much like Harrod's in London, complete with a gourmet food department. My first job when I was in high school was at Woodward's, and customer service was drilled into me. The chain of stores was owned by Charlie Woodward, and he always referred to himself as a merchant. He said he was in the business of selling merchandise. If anyone need anything -- from groceries to private school uniforms -- they shopped at Woodward's. Folks could find anything at Woodward's and the service was wonderful. In 1986 the chain of Woodward's was bought by the Hudson's Bay Company, and most of the stores, excluding the flagship store, were torn down.
Yesterday I decided I needed some new pillows, but not just any pillows, I wanted Tempurpedic pillows, so I made some phone calls to see where I could find them. Big mistake. Do you think I could get a live person on the phone at any business in Vancouver? Just guess. Nope -- just voice mail. I called The Bay ... one ringy dingy ... two ringy dingies ... 24 ringy dingies later, no one answered. I called back and again the phone rang 30 times. There wasn't even a voice tree.
Finally I decided to go to Sears, after logging onto their website and choosing the pillows I wanted. When I got there, the store was so empty, you could shoot a cannon down the main corridor. I traipsed up to the third floor, and not a soul was in sight. After trudging around the cavernous linen department, I found the pillows I wanted. Were they on sale? I couldn't tell, and there was no one to ask. I glanced up and saw surveillance cameras with a sign "shoplifters will be prosecuted". As if I am going to walk out with two large Tempurpedic pillows and perhaps a new duvet cover, especially with Big Brother watching me. There were no sales clerks to help me, just lots of cameras ... watching... Rather than making me feel like a valued customer, the store managed to make me feel creepy.
Did I end up getting the pillows? Yes, I went to Ed's Linens where there were three lovely sales clerks ready to answer all of my questions about what was the right product for me. They even threw in some free bath lotion.
Charlie Woodward was right. If a person is in the business of selling merchandise, they had better at least make an attempt at selling the merchandise.