Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stunned by sensational service

A short time ago, I took my GF Ruth's mother, Françoise, age 83, shopping. Ruth was on the beach in Cabo San Lucas with a daiquiri, I was in the mall/ant farm known as the Eaton Centre, with Mum, her walker, and a generous gift card from Ruth's partner. Françoise was hell-bent on new clothes.

She lives alone in a suburban apartment, without a car. Her daughter is devoted, but had not yet been able to mount the expedition– so I willingly volunteered.


But I chose a mall skewed toward the Mango/Bebe/LaSenza crowd. I mean, Banana Republic is 'older' there. We went because I thought we were looking for only a spring jacket, and the department store (The Bay) has a mammoth outerwear department.

Françoise struck it lucky at The Bay, immediately scoring a sharp cherry-red London Fog topper, 60% off. We visited Housewares to buy crystal beer glasses for GF's guy. Yay, done in under an hour!

I saw the exit ramp in sight, but this stop only
primed the pump for her; she had a second, previously undisclosed gift card tucked in her wallet. I then realized we'd be there for hours and mentally pictured the martini I'd have once I'd returned her safely home.

We trolled the mall; she wanted to stop at Laura, a popular-priced women's store that carries bright print shirts, career clothes, embellished sweaters, target market older than H&M but younger than Talbot's. My heart sank: I had a size 16 Petite biddy in tow, high on getting downtown, feeling flush. And I thought, there's
nothing here for her.

But I underestimated the
professionalism and determination of a young, motivated salesperson. Françoise told her, "I want a two-piece set", by which she meant a pantsuit, and lo, the girl found her three: a classic mid-gray wool, a salt and pepper tweed, and a refined, seasonless navy fine wool crepe. The navy, the most expensive, was by Louben, a Montreal company she knew from her seventy years spent there. And all on sale!

They brought me to a plush love seat, served us Perrier, fussed over her, offered next-day alterations. You would have thought I was Stacey freakin' London.


All three fit, given minor tucks. Françoise chose the navy crepe and added a string of faux gray pearls. Her choice outshone everything in the store.

She told the saleswomen (two others assembled to extend the gentle good will of affectionate nieces): "Isn't she WONDERFUL? Picked me UP! Made me LUNCH! Brought me HERE!" and insisted on buying me a strand too. She sailed out one ecstatic biddy, gift card exhausted.

I acquired my own strand of faux pearls (her gift), a first-hand experience of exceptional customer service (which
never happens to me), and yes, that evening, a restorative martini.

How did we get the red-carpet treatment? She's vivacious and voluble. Her limited mobility brought out their helpful side. (Sweating bullets hauling her bags, I elicited sympathy too.) We were in a quiet store. She obviously wanted to buy.

When I commented to Françoise that they had been incredibly helpful, she said, "Well, that's what they're paid to do." It struck me that I am simply so unaccustomed to service that I am astonished when I get it!

18 comments:

metscan said...

Your story somehow reminded me of a time, when I went to the best department store over here with my MIL. She too is very talkative and always wants to be the centerpiece wherever she goes. So, we too got special service in this store. I have come to the conclusion, that while a high age can be an asset here, you get just as little or just as much you ask for. You have to be active yourself and demand the service you are paying for. Btw., it was fun reading your well written post!

Alienne said...

Sounds like a really good shopping experience!

Splurgie said...

Miss Francoise sounds like a delight herself. Great customer service will keep that store in business for a long time.

Deja Pseu said...

Well, I'm happy that worked out well!

I've noticed an uptick in customer service here lately, even in the Banana Republic type stores, but especially in department stores. I think the recession has made retailers re-prioritize this once-vanishing element.

LPC said...

Let's hope it's a trend:).

materfamilias said...

you're pre-paying the mortgage on that spot in heaven! I wonder if any of my daughters will be that patient 25 or so years from now . . .

Frugal Scholar said...

I'm very chatty, so salespeople always remember me. However, I try to keep silent because mostly I'm just looking...So, I'd be happy to come shopping with you (since I do like to browse) and bring you the good service.

diverchic said...

I often shop at Laura - they have a decent Petite selection. As you discovered, they have lower-end and some good mid-price items (Louben) also. The service is always good there. My approach to shopping is to go in, find a salesperson with similar colouring to mine and ask her/him to stay with me and help me. That's if they don't offer to do it already, as most of the Laura people do. Usually they are thrilled to have a "project" to work on.
Laura hires a lot of new immigrants with brains and style: I have been served there by veterinarians, bankers and medical professionals from other countries who hadn't found work in their fields here.
I'm glad you had such great fun!

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

She sounds very engaging and sweet! My own mother gets service like this too...I often wonder if it is out of respect to the over 80 fashionable women that they are? Maybe the clerks are reminded of their own family matriarchs? Whatever the reason I am pleased for you.
You've done your good deed for the day.

Duchesse said...

metscan: I had the benefit of not being with a relative, which adds a certain dimension :)

Splurgie: That would be Madame. See diverchic's comment, apparently store is known for it.

Pseu: Then I hope it sticks when the economy picks up. Here it is certainly the exception despite sluggish sales.

materfamilias: Who knows, and they might have friends who are. I am fond of both mother and daughter.

diverchic: I don;t know the backgrounds of the women who served us but they were, I am guessing, newcomers, and very professional.

hostess: Elders can bring out the best in some service people. Then I go to a fashionable restaurant/lounge and am called "dear" by the greeter, and about go wild. Maybe I need another 20+ years to get the respect?

lagatta à montréal said...

frugal will also be pleased that Laura has very good outlet shops. There is one in Montréal so there is surely one in Toronto. While much of their clothing isn't my style, they do have some good basic items in decent-quality fabric, in regular, petite and plus sizes. (Don't know about talls).

Duchesse, I'm pleased you beat me to "Madame". Pas Mlle.

Diverchic, changing planes in London with time to kill, I popped into the British Museum shop. I think almost all the staff were young people of "colour", whether South Asian, British West Indies or other origins, and as you can imagine every single one was at university or a young graduate looking for a "real" job.

Indeed, Eaton Centre always seems to be blaring rock music and geared to that clientèle, but I guess Françoise had her heart set on downtown, and not a mall farther out such as Yorkdale.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: I live downtown and loathe driving on expressways, so she wants a mall, Eaton Centre is it.

Was in an enjoyable Italian restaurant in Buffalo a few weeks ago, served by a very professional waiter... who had applied to McGill's PhD program in neuroscience. He was headed to Mtl the next day, fingers crossed.

ONEWEIRDWORD said...

I've also had a good shopping experience at the Eaton Centre's Laura. When I moved from freelance to fulltime, I had to get a whole new work wardrobe and I got it all at Laura - and also on a sale day. The lovely polite saleswoman (she was quite a bit older than my 44-at-the-time years) let me stay in the changeroom while she brought me item after item. Not pushy, but super-helpful.

Aunt Snow said...

What a fun story. I love Francoise, though I've never met her! She really seems to know how to make the best of all situations.

I bet it was rewarding to the salespeople, too.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

What a lovely shopping experience for the both of you!

Belle de Ville said...

I wondering if this is a trend too. I took my daughter to the Westside Pavillion mall last weekend for some shopping and was stunned by the excellent service. Ironically, the only store that didn't offer above average service was Nordstroms which is known for its customer service.
I can't imagine in today's economy that any retail mall store would offer less than impeccable service to any women of a certain age...because those are the clients who can write the check...not the 15 year old girls.

Duchesse said...

Aunt Snow: Francoise managed one of Montreal's most popular pubs for decades, she's a blast.

Belle: Great point, we will spend and go back if the service is exceptional. The young crowd will follow the latest store to open.

tippchic said...

Heartwarming that your and her humanity touched theirs. I love places that give that type of service- they are also reappearing here since our economy fell off the edge.