Tuesday 13 March 2012

Are You Being Served?


 A little fantasy of mine is that I am approached by one of the big retail companies, let’s say whoever owns Shopper’s Stop for example, and asked if I would like a job as customer services advisor. I can think of nothing that would make me happier. I would get stuck into that job like a pig snuffling for truffles only coming up for air when the profits had doubled.

This is not new territory; many regular readers will already know that I am often exasperated by shop assistants who follow me around a store at a distance of less than an inch and have once or twice even stepped on the backs of my shoes.  Yesterday an assistant actually leapt into my path, causing me to jerk backwards, knocking over my daughter who was walking behind me.

I do not wish to be rude but my patience is wearing thin. The one thing that is sure to send me straight back out of a shop is a pushy assistant offering me: “Something in bags?” It doesn’t even make sense. I understand customer service in the retail industry is a relatively new concept in India but it is a million miles away from where it needs to be.  For the sake of a little investment in basic staff training, millions of sales must be lost each year. I have lost count of the times my husband has calmly put down would-be purchases and walked out of the shop empty-handed after being made to wait for more than 10 minutes to pay. (Quite often where there are three tills or more, only one is manned)

There are exceptions of course, namely Zara and Good Earth.  Assistants at these stores have obviously been trained well and leave you alone to browse unless you specifically ask for help. The wait to pay is minimal and the retail experience is, on the whole, pleasant.

This month I had intended to write about either, my trip to the Mountains of Bhandardara or my full medical at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, both thrilling topics, but a last minute change was effected after a visit yesterday to Infiniti Mall Two in Andheri. It is with heavy heart, dear reader, that I feel we must revisit this perennial issue of poor and sometimes downright frightening customer service.

The moment I darkened the doors of Infiniti Two, a security guard gave me the once over with her security wand and then burped in my face. Charming!  First stop Zara. That was easy enough and out we came a half hour later with Polly kitted out for our upcoming holiday. In retrospect, it was a mistake to go  to Zara first as this meant we had to leave the bag at the entrance of every other store we visited, going through the whole rigmarole of handing it in and collecting tokens.

 In Accessorize the assistant legged it over as soon as we crossed the threshold: “Something in jewellery, madam?” What is the answer to that? “Yes, just give me something in jewellery, I don’t care what it is.” I gave her a curt smile and asked if I might be allowed to browse. She smiled back and continued to stand the customary inch away from me. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my skull as I handled the trinkets. The security guard also had his lasers locked on stun.  Finally, we selected a hairgrip for 445 rupees and took it to the till. I handed over a 500 note and you know what’s coming next.

“Do you have exact money please?”

And here begins my rant about till floats and it being the responsibility of the shop to provide change, not the customer. The security guard is dispatched with my 500 to find change but the shop girl, in a desperate bid to escape my tirade, darts into the staff room to get her own purse out in search of change. Polly has long since fled in embarrassment (with the token) and it is left to me to negotiate the return of the Zara bag without the token when the guard comes back, sans change. What a kerfuffle!

I catch up with Polly and we have a little look around some clothes shops where most things are sized S or XS. That’s good news for Polly because she is a petit 12-year-old girl so the women’s clothes fit her perfectly but I am an outsized hefalump because I am a size 10 -12. We are ambushed by assistants wherever we turn and when I make a joke about being too big for the clothes; it is met with confusion behind a rictus smile. I can almost see the thought bubble coming out of her head: “What is this foreigner saying? Her face looks happy but she is making negative comments. I do not know how to interpret this.”

For lack of anything better to do, we wind up in Pure Living which is a bit like a poor man’s Ikea without the self-assembly element. On the plus side, it is clean and seemingly organized. In the 15 minutes we are in the store, we are approached by no less than seven assistants. Each time I bat one off, another arrives until I lose my rag and wail: “For the love of God, just let me browse.” As I am filling my basket with candles, an assistant arrives to helpfully inform me that “these are candles, madam.” Bless him.

At the till, each candle is laboriously packed separately and then the fella gives my card to another fella who runs off with it out of the store.

“Where’s he going with my card?” I enquire

“Card machine is not working, madam, he is taking card to Puma to swipe it there”

Whatever, I have no fight left.

On the flip side, I was in Bangalore last week and spent a glorious two hours with a rug seller in his opulent showroom. He laid out one silk rug after another until I fell in love with a 6ftx9ft Kashmiri beauty.  I had one figure in mind; he had another, so we chatted and drank chai until it was time for me to go. I offered him my best price, he made the pretend phone call to his “boss” before claiming that, sadly,  he couldn’t accept such a low offer, so I left.  I had reached the top of the second escalator before I heard him calling after me. Puffing and panting, he accepted my offer, herded me back to the shop and the deal was done.  I think we both enjoyed the experience and both came away feeling that we had stitched the other up –  shopping in India at its best!