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What We Shop for: Customer Service

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Sometime back I wrote that the best day to go shopping was the day before Thanksgiving. The reason was that the stores are all stocked up for Christmas in goods and in sale staff. They know the day after Thanksgiving they will be swamped with Christmas buyers so they are getting ready.

The day before Thanksgiving, the stores are empty because all of the non-working women are home fixing Thanksgiving dinner. The working ladies rush right to the grocery store after work. So the "Christmas shopping stores" are empty.

I said in that famous article that going to J.C. Penney the day before Thanksgiving was wonderful. They had goods on sale and they had plenty of workers to help you select what you needed. We were in and out of there in an hour and we had a bundle of gifts for our 32 grandkids, our great grandchild, and their parents.

I worked at J.C. Penny years ago.

I worked in the evening part time to earn a little extra cash because I was heading back to graduate school.

I am an engineer but I was interested in the retail business and how it operated. I learned that each of the J.C. Penny stores in the Denver areas carried different merchandize according to the needs of local customers. I learned the power of newspaper merchandizing, and I learned something about store management.

I didn't check to see if they had different prices for the same merchandize in different stores as Wal-Mart� has (what the market will support) but I assume they did not.

(It's well-known that Wal-Mart� does this. Buyers in cities with multiple stores shop around in the different Wal-Mart� stores. Maybe Wal-Mart� knows that just brings more sales. The more time a buyer spends in your store, the more money he will spend. If he visits three of your stores in one day, looking for the best price, he will buy more than if he visited only one store.)

Well, I have another good report on J. C. Penney. I went into the store for their 40-50% off sale on men's clothing. I seldom buy clothing, but when I do, I buy a lot of stuff.

I started by selecting a sport coat. Soon a woman come up to us (I was with my wife) and gave us a hand. Then her supervisor showed up and helped too.

I couldn't believe that we actually had help in selecting our stuff. I bought two coats and the ladies tried to find pants that would fit me. But they didn't look just by size. No the pants had to go good with the coats. They were very critical about the whole matter.

I selected a couple of pairs of blue jeans while they were finding the pants. I ended up buying five pair of dress pants along with the two sports coats. Next, we tried to find dress shirts that would fit my bull neck. We ended up by having these special ordered.

When they rang up the bill they suggested that I grab a J. C. Penny credit card to save another 15%. That was another $45 bucks or so in savings so I took the card knowing that I could actually pay the bill then and there.

They said why not wait for the bill to come in. There would be no interest charged as long as I paid the bill on time. Since I had the mail order materials coming in too, I decided to let them put it on the card.

Now, it's hard to get that kind of service these days. We were in the store for over an hour and we had two clerks working for us full time. I thought that was great.

So maybe customer service isn't dead. You just have to find a department store that still has that good old customer service program. I noted that the clerks were careful in getting credit for the merchandize sold. The supervisor made sure the first clerk got full credit.

When I worked at J. C. Penney they had dropped sales commissions. I thought maybe they have put it back in place again.

I know the fulltime employees at J.C. Penney in Denver back in the early 1960s were very unhappy that they no longer got commissions. They preferred the excitement of generating commissions over the guaranteed salary increase they received based on their past commission sales.

Curious about the commission situation at our local store I had another nice experience, a person who knew exactly how to talk to a customer on the telephone.

It's sad to me that sales are continually lost because of untrained workers who are rude, uninformed, or abrupt on the telephone. I told the young women who answered the telephone about my shopping experience and that I was writing a second article in which I mention J. C. Penny. I told her about my work experience at J. C. Penney and I asked if they were now paying commissions.

She explained that some stores paid commissions on certain items and that some did not. If commissions were paid, they would be paid on suit coats such as I purchased. The store I visited was not paying commissions. I asked if incentive wage increases were given based on sales. She didn't know for sure. I called over an hour before the store was open, so we did not get that answer.

I assume that sales are important to management and that they checked the sales of employees when giving wage increases, especially to supervisors.

Here is my opinion: Pay commissions to your sales people on larger-ticket items, train them properly, and they will give the customer the best service possible.

In the store I visited, I still got the best possible service without the commissions, but that is part of the work ethic and training in the Twin Falls store. So, I guess you don't absolutely have to pay commissions for good customer service.

But what about this: Why were the employees at the Denver store back in the early 1960s where I worked unhappy about not being paid commissions when they were still earning the same money?

Look at it this way. You need an extra $50 bucks this week to take on vacation. You go into the store, work your tail off, and you earn the extra money right when you need it.

That's my theory. You also can "hit the jackpot" on a particular day if you are paid a commission.

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