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Politesse

Published November 11, 2010

It’s a key retail skill. And I bet you thought it was vitesse or souplesse…

It’s politeness. Please. Thank you. I’m sorry that happened. Accept our apology.

Examples to the contrary? I’ll hold myself to two.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I’m picky about retail. It’s been 25+ years since my behind-the-counter time, so I’ve blanked out all my own shortcomings.)

OK, Example 1. At a local bike shop, buying a 2010 Pearl jacket, on sale for 30% off. So a good deal. Pauline loves the fit and the color.

At the register, I’m hoping for politesse. For a retail staffer to say, “Thank you!” when I make a purchase.

Oh, it happens occasionally. Usually in a place like Target where staff has it drilled into them.

This time, I didn’t get the hoped-for, “Thank you” or the expected, “There you go” from a shop guy. Instead, I got a hearty, “Right on!” What did THAT mean?

Example 2. Took my suit in to get it pressed, to the store where I bought it. They offer free suit pressing for life. Of course, I needed it the next day.

The pressing machine was broken. The sales guy suggested I take my suit to their other store in Broomfield. I was on my bike.

I didn’t say anything. Just waited to see how he would handle me. His response: “Well, there’s really nothing we can do about it.”

I get that. How about, “Gee, sorry you were inconvenienced, c’mon back next time, I’m sure it will be fixed.”?

Where does this lack of old-fashioned politeness come from? Two theories:

First, it’s endemic in our culture. No one gets much love in their retail dealings, so they don’t give it, either.

Second (both more subtle AND more important): In specialty retail, staff thinks of themselves as “expert counselors.”

I give you good advice, I help you buy stuff that’s right for you, and in exchange, you buy it here. No “thank you” required either way, right?

Customers don’t see it that way. They choose your store among all the options they have, some of them lower priced or closer to home.

Being customer-friendly polite is just a matter of forming a new habit.

Accept that you are serving people, not just selling bike stuff. And along with the help you give customers, you are more likely to keep them if you are nice to them.

Retaining customers is more of an owner’s concern. So owners, some free advice:

Have a politeness training with your key off-season staff. Set a great example when you’re on the sales floor. Add a politesse page to your employee manual.

I truly believe this is the easiest way to improve your customer satisfaction with the least amount of effort. If it works for you, “Right on!”

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