Friday, March 23, 2012

A Big Difference Between France and Les Etats-Unis

It's no secret that France is better than certain things than we are. Like cheese, public transit (better than LA, anyway), and pastries. But something that France doesn't seem to get yet is good customer service.

I guess I'm only bitter because I've worked in so many customer service jobs, so I feel like any corporate employees that don't have to put the effort in that I was required to in all those years have it too easy. I've seen examples of bad customer service here countless times, especially at chain companies, which seems strange to be because they'd be the ones with the actual guidelines, I assume. Once at H&M, I went up to the fitting rooms holding a bunch of hangers with clothes, and I stood at the entrance for a good 30 seconds (which is a long time in retail) while THREE saleswomen laughed and talked to themselves before they even took notice of me. I totally would have gotten yelled at if I had ever ignored a customer like that where I worked. And there have been times when I've been next in line to buy things, and the cashier, instead of telling me "I'll be right with you!" will instead go do whatever errand she needs to do without even making eye contact, while I wait there for a few minutes until she comes back. It's strange.

This week was the worst though. I was buying some groceries at Super U, and at the last minute I decided that I didn't actually want the oatmeal that I had picked up. I handed it back to the cashier, AND SHE MADE ME PUT LEAVE THE LINE AND PUT IT BACK ON THE SHELF. I know I might sound a little snobby at first, but I was actually shocked. The fact that she would make me leave to go do it, holding up the already long line behind me that was just getting longer, to put away a NON-PERISHABLE item, seems like, well, bad customer service. Don't get me wrong -- in my time at three different Barnes & Noble locations, Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, a day didn't go by when I wished I could order a customer to put something back where they had found it -- "Hi! See this yellow dress that you're handing back to me? Well, actually, it goes on that wall to the left...and please be sure to put it towards the back, since it's a large, thanks!" or "Excuse me! It would be great if you could pick up this book that you just set down in the Children's section and put it back downstairs in the Sexuality section where it came from!" But the thing is in retail (well, in retail in the US, anyway), you simply can't do that. American companies build their brand around good customer service -- in Anthropologie, we were actually told it was okay if a customer left without buying anything, as long we helped create a atmosphere that made them want to come back in the future. I don't feel bad about being annoyed because I know for a fact that I always went out of my way to be helpful, even before a customer asked for help, but this kind of thing definitely illustrates something that the US, with all its flaws, has a handle on better than France does (we also have better salads, but that's a completely different story).

 I'm not a jerk so I put the oatmeal back where it went (luckily for her!!), but I definitely made the conscious decision to take my time and amble along as I did so. If the people in lie behind me had to wait, it was going to be her fault, not mine!