Woog's World / Where to find customer service
Published 7:05 am, Thursday, December 15, 2011
The Westport woman wandered along Main Street. It's the holiday season, and she was eager to do her part goosing the economy along.
She walked into five stores. Not one person approached to say hello, ask if she was looking for anything special, or offer help.
Those sales clerks were not stocking or folding merchandise. They were not "busy helping other customers." They simply did not acknowledge her. They looked right at her -- and through her.
The woman does not want to name the offending shops. She does say, however, that they are chain stores.
"I don't get it," she says, sounding more puzzled than hurt. "This is supposed to be a friendly town. Why can't you train your employees to at least look someone in the eye, like a human being?"
Her downtown experience was not a total downer. Across the Post Road from Main Street, she received a warm welcome at Max's. The art supply store might not be the first place you or I would go for gifts, but they sure help you pick out something good if you ask. Or even before you ask.
She had similar kind words for Crossroads Hardware. This too is not exactly a holiday store -- unless you want a nice set of snow shovels, or maybe ant and roach spray for a stocking stuffer -- but if you're looking for a pleasant shopping experience, Ace is the place.
The woman asked if "Woog's World" could give good customer service a shout-out. We can indeed. Mitchell's, Silver's, just about any liquor store in town -- the stores that cherish their customers are the ones we love. And the ones that deserve our business.
There's a second part to this, though. Isn't it interesting that the friendliest stores are the ones with the most local roots? Bigger -- as in national presence, prestigious names, economies of scale -- does not mean better.
(I know, I know: Crossroads is part of a big hardware chain. But it's locally owned. The Izzos have been part of the community forever. Which is why everyone who steps through the door feels part of the Izzo community.)
I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. Though glossy, glitzy retailers bring a bit of glamour to downtown, they're not part of our community. Their community is not Westport; it's the retail world. They belong to Park Avenue, Beverly Hills, malls and airports.
They're on Main Street. They just don't really belong to it.
But on a day-to-day basis -- when you're selling ads for your organization's program book, seeking donations for your group's fundraising auction, or looking for a sponsor for your Little League team -- who you gonna call?
You call the men and woman you're familiar with. The ones you see in church or synagogue, at PTA meetings, on the beach: the local store owners.
I'm sure branch managers of chain stores would like to help. They wouldn't mind being integral parts of the community. But they can't. Or if they can, corporate policy makes it pretty damn tough.
They can't put your flyers about the upcoming show in their windows. Sorry, corporate policy.
They can't give donations. We'd like to, but corporate policy says...
They can't even close their front doors on sweltering summer days, though they know trying to air-condition the sidewalk is an obscene waste of energy. Corporate policy, you know.
Contrast that with the stories of customer service and generosity you've heard from local businesses -- or witnessed first hand.
Bill and Jack Mitchell -- and now the family's third generation -- are legendary. They fix tuxedo ties for people who rented their tuxedos elsewhere. They searched for a corporate jet to rush a suit to a customer's son in Tokyo (he needed it for a funeral). They've clothed more teenagers for free than anyone can imagine.
Sally White -- the much-loved owner of Sally's Place -- goes to the ends of the earth to hunt down the most obscure CD for people she just met. She unwraps the cellophane, plays it -- and if the customer doesn't like it, he doesn't have to buy it.
The Mioli brothers of Westport Pizzeria fame endowed a Staples Tuition Grants scholarship in their family name. That might be a first for any pizza parlor, anywhere in the country.
And one other thing, circling back to the Westport woman whose comment provoked this column: Whenever you walk into Mitchell's, Sally's Place, Westport Pizza or one of dozens of other locally owned shops, you will not be ignored.
Instead you'll be greeted gratefully and gracefully, just like any important customer. Because you are.