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Whose Best Interest Is It, Anyway?

January 2003
By Erik Cagle

The customer is not always right, contrary to popular belief. It is, from where you're sitting, to the benefit of your clientele. But how often I've wished that the retail sector would take the point of view more often.

The retail sector treats customers like...what's the word I'm looking for...oh yeah, crap. Sure, consumer loyalty is not nearly what it is in B2B, and the retail segment relies more on foot traffic than establishing long-term relationships with a core group of clients. Consequently, we miss out on all the nice subtleties that make standing business/client relationships so valuable.

On the contrary, not only is the customer rarely right in the retail sector, one blaring declaration can be heard ringing throughout the land: "Take it or leave it, because we don't care what you think."

Example: It's time for the annual family portrait, so we all pile into the Intrepid and race down to the local mall, which boasts a Sears Portrait Studio. It's not my idea; the other half insists on an annual grip-n-grin, especially with two children growing so quickly.

I've never liked going to Sears, which has a WYSIWYG style of shooting pics and a limited amount of do-overs (don't blink). Their props and backgrounds are the same ones they've had every year since about 1997. The gift prop is a red block of wood with paint chipping on all the corners. All fans and other means of air conditioning are kept in the off position, guaranteeing the glazed look that is so popular around the holidays. Our infant looks dazed and confused, and all the boy can do is bellow, "Daddy, I gotta poopy."

I didn't think it could get worse. I was wrong.

Apparently, Sears' latest package features less service for the same amount of money. Instead of six backgrounds for six portraits, customers now can only choose three backgrounds. To make matters worse, our CSR tried to make the same pose count for two pictures. Her explanation: "We want to have two pictures to choose from in case dirt gets on the film."

Say What?

At this point I start chastising the CSR, and my wife's complexion now matches the Christmasy red on her sweater. It seems the older I get, the more I don't mind making a scene. But we're paying for six portraits, and damn it, if we can't vary our backgrounds, at least we should be able to vary the poses. I win a small battle and we get to have six different poses (one family, one of the two kids together and two each of the kids alone). But I walk out seething, raging aloud that I shouldn't have to fight to get a minimal amount of customer service. I vow never to return there in the future...not that Sears cares about keeping my business down the road.
 

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