Training really does make a difference.
During the coldest part of last winter, I witnessed a road accident. I was driving behind a motorcyclist on a very icy day. He was riding carefully and was in the correct position on the road, so that he could see clearly and be seen. Fortunately we were not traveling at any great speed. As we approached a crossroads where a minor road crosses the road we were on, cars in front slowed quite suddenly, as one was turning onto the minor road. The motorcyclist touched his brakes and immediately lost control, sliding across the road, into the path of an oncoming car. I pulled over, onto the pavement, got out and ran over to the scene of the accident. The motorcyclist was stuck underneath his bike, which was wedged under the front of the car. He was not injured, though he was quite shaken. The driver of the car managed to release him quite easily, whilst I phoned the emergency services. I then waited at the scene, ensuring that everyone was okay, until the police arrived.
I was immediately struck by how quickly the police officer assessed the situation, identified what needed to be done and acted in a calm and professional manner to ensure that the road was made safe, that all information was gathered and that the needs of everyone at the scene were addressed.
Out of earshot of the people involved in the accident, he asked me to describe what I had witnessed and then allowed me to leave.
About a week later, I was asked by one of my customers to assist her in the purchase of a computer. She'd hardly ever used a computer before, but, through talking with friends, had decided that she wanted an Apple laptop.
I took her to our nearest Currys - PC World, which now has a reasonable selection of Apple hardware. I'm always wary of the staff in stores like this. Usually they have very limited product knowledge and tend to ask highly annoying and irrelevant questions like "Are you looking for something for yourself?", or the more usual "How are you today?".
Consequently, I have a tendency to zig-zag through these stores, dodging the assistants in case I end up saying something that perhaps I shouldn't.
We managed to get to the Apple laptops without being accosted and I was explaining the differences to her, in very simple terms between the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. A member of staff wandered by, asking if we needed help. I said "no, we're fine thanks" and she didn't bother us any more. Shortly afterwards we were approached by another member of the sales staff. This one was the self appointed Mac expert, keen to impart his worldly wisdom in matters Apple, to anyone who would listen and, more specifically, those who did not want to listen.
He started with the usual, "Are you looking for something for yourself", directed at me and totally ignoring the my customer. I said, politely that we were fine and just looking, and that it was not me but my customer who was interested in a new computer. Perhaps that was my first mistake.
He immediately launched into his favourite subject; what he liked to do on his computer.
"Do you take lots of photos" he asked. "No", my customer said. "I don't have a camera". He launched iPhoto and gave us his " This is so cool, look, you can remove red-eye and everything" presentation. As he occasionally glanced up from what he was doing, he always caught my eye and never once looked at my customer. She reiterated, "I don't take photographs". Unswayed, he suggested that she should buy a digital camera or use her camera phone, because iPhoto was so cool. "You can even email your photos to family and friends or make books of photos, it's just so cool - do you listen to a lot of music?".
By this time, I had stepped back, out of his line of sight. My customer turned to me briefly and asked if he was getting on my nerves - I nodded.
She turned to him and said, "Look, I'm not interested in taking photographs, I don't have a camera, I don't have a camera phone and I don't listen to much music, I just want to look at the internet and send and receive email and maybe write the occasional letter". "Cool", he said, "but you may want to, in the future".
At this point, I stepped in and told him we would continue to look, on our own and call him if we needed further help. He was about to start saying something else, but probably thought better of it and walked away. "Just give me a shout if you need anything" he called across to us as he left.
During the next few minutes I explained to my customer what she needed to know about the range. She didn't need much more than a MacBook or MacBook Air, but liked the look and feel of the 13" MacBook Pro, which she eventually bought, along with a copy of iWork. The salesman was slightly more subdued during the purchase process, though he did try to sell a range of unnecessary accessories and an extended warranty which were politely refused.
What struck me about these two completely different experiences was that the two young men, the policeman and the salesman were, in many ways, quite alike. I would suspect that they were about the same age and that they both had very similar family, social and educational backgrounds; yet the way they dealt with the public in their professional capacities was markedly different.
Is the way they interacted purely down to the way they have been trained? And if so, why did the salesman irritate me so much? Does he irritate every customer in the same way, and if that is the case, are retailers like this missing the point and losing potential business because of it.
Certainly, high street retailers are fighting for survival. With the ever increasing pressure from online retailers with significantly lower overheads it's incredibly difficult for them to compete on price, so they have to ensure that customer experience is absolutely first class, and that means the face to face contact must impress the potential customer. DSG Retail Limited, the owners of Currys - PC World have, in recent months been investing heavily in store upgrades, and, from what I have heard, staff training; yet they still continue to lose trade.
I fully acknowledge that I may not be their typical customer, but if I try my best to avoid the sales staff in stores like these, I'm sure many others do too.