Customer service: The watch experiment

In need of a battery change, I entered a jewellery store in my neighbourhood with two non-running watches in hand. I was not drawn to the store before; its fortress-like façade plastered with big-brand advertising didn't reassure me about their bench skills. But, watch batteries, how hard is that?

Someone buzzed me in, none of the three saleswomen on the floor made even eye contact. (Two were with customers, one was on the phone.) I waited, and passed a dozen minutes surveying cases of mediocre jewellery. After a quarter hour, tired of being a ghost, I left.

Have you ever been invisible in a nearly-empty store? 

I found their behaviour misplaced. There are few more pathetic attitudes than snobbery issued from a merchant who offers nothing distinguished. I was reminded of our Parisien friend Roland's parting words when he ran into such treatment: "You have too much money; you don't need mine."

I have been served warmly at haut de gamme boutiques like Fred Leighton and Cartier, so was flummoxed by this freeze. Why did I not merit even a be-with-you-soon nod? I wondered: Was it my jeans-and-car coat outfit? My age? The fact that I was unaccompanied by a (wallet-carrying) man? I'll never know, because I shall never enter Crèation Paul H again.

At that point, I thought I'd try an experiment. I walked a few blocks to the chic Bijouterie Italienne, whose windows gleam with Rolexes, Pomelatto and Gucci rings, ropes of South Sea pearls. Let's see how the high end serves the grey-haired woman with two watches she had not bought there.

A young Italian salesman received me like a duchessa. The replacement would cost more than a standard installation, because, as he explained "the design of one watch means the change is not simple." (I knew that.)  As I left, I noticed a small sign indicating that the boutique was open sur rendezvous on that day. "Oh, I didn't realize I should have called first", I said. "For you", he replied with a wide smile, "we are open!"

Oh, charm the grandmother. But I actually look forward to picking them up.

I told the story to my neighbour, a man familiar with the best. He said,"I took Lou's watch to (a luxury downtown jeweller), and said, 'Please show me your diamond rings, I want to buy one for my wife. She showed me some, and I said, 'Do you have anything bigger?' She was falling over herself to serve me. Then I said, 'I have to go home and talk to my wife, but in the meantime, can you change the battery in her watch?'"

"And when you returned?", I asked.

He said, "I told them, 'Oh, she tells me she doesn't like diamonds!'"


KPD said…
My dad was a judge and all the other judges had very expensive watches. My dad had an old Timex on a black leather strap because he lost watches all the time and said he wasn't upset about loosing a Timex. When he passed away I asked my mom if I could have his watch. I wore it every day. When the battery ran out I went to a very expensive local jeweler. I told them the watch was my dad's and they took such care of it and were so kind. I went back for years to have the battery replaced and they were always so kind and helpful. And of course, I bought my jewelry there.
Duchesse said…
KPD: Watches can be such sentimental family mementos. Your expensive local jeweller is wise. I recently read an article by a jeweller who said a woman came in and asked for a repair- very simple replacement of a jump ring on a bracelet. She had been to four other jewellers who did not want to be bothered. He repaired it for free. She returned and bought several pieces. Then, she brought her friends! He said, "That jump ring was worth $250,000 in business to me."
I'm not at all surprised by the reception at either place. Créations Paul H has always seemed creepy and a bit louche, and not in a nice way. I hate those billboard-sized images of celebrities on their storefront. Pas très classe.

Bijouterie italienne is a longstanding family business, and while it is now very high-end, its original client base was far more working-class, but being old-fashioned Europeans were prepared to save for very nice pieces for weddings, anniversaries and other important occasions. Gold means 18 carat or more to Italians, and other Mediterraneans.

There are a couple of old very working-class or peasanty looking Italian men I've run into around here as neighbours or in cafés. Both are millionnaires, simply because they bought and fixed-up rundown triplexes in the area - now worth a pretty penny. One still works on his buildings dressed in old work trousers and a marcel (sleeveless undershirt).
Leah said…
A propos of nothing in this post...I've been away for awhile (we moved right around the time of your annual summer closure and I didn't get into the habit of reading again after we were settled), and I so enjoy your writing. You tell wonderful stories with wit and insight and always have something interesting to say on a variety of topics - some of which I wouldn't otherwise search out but which I always end up finding fascinating in your able hands. I'm going to spend part of the weekend catching up on all I've missed. :)
I had a similar experience at the Chanel Boutique in The Bay on Queen Street - their premier location. I went in after work so I was nicely dressed - I was looking for a couple of new lipsticks and you have to be served by a salesperson here as all the stock is kept locked up. There were 3 saleswoman - all with a group of 4 young women who were obviously together. They were being fawned over, given the free makeovers etc. I didn't even rate eye contact. I decided to just wait it out and see how long it would take.
Eventually this group finished and wandered off without buying a thing. The 3 saleswomen chatted amongst themselves and then they were joined by 2 more from in back of the boutique and still - not even a greeting.
Finally I said very loudly "So am I really invisible now? They all jumped and looked confused. Oh - we thought you were with those others . Well 1) I hadn't arrived with them 2) I never interacted with any of them 3) I'm still here - so why would you think that.
I then confronted them and asked if it was my age or was it perhaps my size that deemed me unworthy of any attention? They fell over themselves assuring me that wasn't it - I then pointed out to them that they had made no sales with their young friends and yet I had been prepared to buy at least two lipsticks (at least $100) and had been in the mood to be prepared to try a few other things. After being so insulted by their treatment I would now take my money elsewhere. And please know, this wasn't the first time I'd been treated in that way at the Chanel Boutique - but it would be the last time.
Most places haven't got a clue these days about engendering customer loyalty. I've had the same treatment in a Loblaws Grocery store so it's not just high end shops - I don't understand it as so many bricks & mortar stores are crying out for business. But many places empty clerks who spend more time chatting to each other or chatting on their mobiles than they ever do in assisting customers and then wonder why sales are down so much - well it's not difficult! When I do find a place with good customer service I not only return, I recommend it to friends and hopefully they do the same.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: "Louche" is apt. I knew the background of BI, but had heard no reports of their service. I •did• pay more- they job out these repairs, so there's a markup. Next time I'll use a jeweller who changes batteries himself, but I was so irate after Paul H that I decided to investigate.

When I returned to Bijouterie Italienne, the same young man showed me the watches. Neither has a second hand, so I said, joking, "How can I tell (if they run)?" He laughed as if that were really witty, and gave me an elegantly-wrapped marron glacé.

Margie from Toronto: Oho, good story, thanks! I agree you can't map service quality to the price point, but when one is paying "brand tax", you should get outstanding service. So, did you cross the street to Guerlain?
Duchesse said…
Leah: Thank you for your appreciation and encouragement. PdesP is a labour of love so hearing that means a great deal.
Janice Riggs said…
Given the current state of retail, I'm always flabbergasted, but not actually surprised, to hear these stories. I can always remember, decades ago, when my husband needed FIVE NEW SUITS, and we walked into what was "supposed" to be the premier menswear shop in Chicago and couldn't get them to even look at us... Cost them literally thousands of dollars to ignore the 2 of us.


I love your photograph - am I just noticing it, or is it new? You look both beautiful and warmly fascinating...
eleni said…
Yes, been there !! A few weeks ago I entered a well known Sports Store to buy a gift for my husband. Three young people were behind the counter talking about their skiing exploits... Not one of them made eye contact. I wandered the store, found what I wanted, without help. Approached the cash...waited, waited, was finally approached, she literally threw the items in a bag, held out her hand for my credit card - all without eye contact and still speaking about her skiing prowess. I ignored the outstretched hand and waited, and waited... finally I had her attention. No thank you, have a nice day.... I passed by the store about an hour later. A rather nice looking young man approached the cash...... well all three of them lurched toward the counter....... oh well...
Jean said…
Years ago, when I was still young enough that I wasn’t yet invisible to clerks, I brought an inexpensive watch into an independent jewelry store to repair the clasp. I like to give the independents the business when I can. The owner took the watch, sneered, tossed it onto the counter and said “I can’t fix this, it’s too cheap.” Oh my, that’s certainly the way to attract a new customer. Why not, I can’t fix this but can I show you something similar? I wonder if he remained in business, I sure hope not.
LauraH said…
Aaaaaaah, the great invisibility experience. Of course they can happen anywhere, anytime. Elevators and walking along the sidewalk are my current favourites (not). Luckily, I've had some very nice retail experiences over the past few months, been treated very well at both high end and younger oriented shops. But I know the invisibility is always waiting to pounce. Like you, I don't do business with a place when that happens.
xarcady said…
I work part-time in a department store. I was working last night, and helped a fellow sales associate in the sheet department for over 20 minutes, helping a customer who was clearly unimpressed with everything we had to offer. And she told us that--she was going to Store X, because she was really disappointed with our selection.

An hour later, she came back and bought two sets of sheets, for a $250 sale. And the reason she gave to my co-worker was that we had both been so nice to her. At Store X, the selection was no better, and apparently the sales help was lacking as well.
royleen said…
Your friend Roland has got it right. Great post! I appreciate your writing!
Carol in Denver said…
At least 30 years ago, at a hardware store, a male clerk finished with a customer. I asked him if he could help me. He said, well I guess I can. I told him what I wanted, we went to the location where it might be. A man approached him to ask a question. The clerk immediately turned his attention to the man and walked off with him. The man demurred, mentioning me, but the clerk ignored his comments. I waited for some time with no clerk, then walked out of the store. I never went back, and have told numerous people of the incident. I should have told the store owner, who had been extremely helpful to me at a prior visit.
That also happens at repair shops, whether car or bicycle.
sensitive poet said…
Ah, the great invisibility, the seeming disappearing act in stores when women (and men!) reach a certain age.
Part of it has to do with the cultural memes (eg TV) of older people being crotchety, and difficult to please, taking up your time and, in the end, buying nothing.
Combat those memes, and greet your sales person with a warm smile, and a cheery hello as a warmup. Then tell them exactly what you are looking for, and state straightforwardly if you just want to look, or whether you want to make a selection right then and there. Dress up if you are planning to buy something expensive, not so essential if it is a less costly purchase. Either way, whether you buy something or not, end the encounter on a pleasant note, give them a smile and a few words of appreciation. They'll remember you if you come back.
PS You can make the memes work in your favour: the solicitous grandmother is often a happy memory that people have, so if the weather is cold, at the end of the transaction, say something innocuous but caring, like "stay warm tonight, it's going to be cold"...younger people react surprisingly positively to this solicitude because it does not go against cultural norms, and it indicates you are interacting with the sales person as one real
human being with another.
Duchesse said…
sensitivepoet: I would have been polite and even affable had anyone looked at me. I have worked in retail, and believe my awareness of the job has given me empathy. Not one of these three women was under 45, and though I would not be demanding or rude to staff of any age, you have to engage first.

Adopting the solicitous elder stance can be a way to get enhanced service but first, the person paid to do a job has to give a s.

The posts with the most