Listening and attention skills: Are you your young employees deficient?

Three times in the last month I have felt as if I’d suddenly begun speaking Swahili and hadn’t noticed. This was when the sales clerks to whom I had just spoken seemed to have not heard a word I said.  Was I speaking Swahili? Was their internal radio tuned to a far different station than mine?

First scenario:
“Do you have this in a size 8?” I inquired of the shoe sales clerk.
“Here it is,” she said, handing me a size 7 and a completely different style than the one I held in my hand.

Second scenario:
Me: “I would like a latte, please.”
Clerk: “Would you like room for cream in that?” (Ahem. A latte is, by definition, milk plus espresso. As far as I know, no one adds cream to that combination.)


Third scenario:
What I ordered: “I would like a small, nonfat latte with no sugar, please.”
What I got: A medium-sized, fully-fatted latte. With sugar.

Now, at the risk of sounding age-ist, I feel I must point out that each of these clerks was age 20 or younger. Perhaps their brains had been too hard-wired to the constant buzz of their cell phones or computer video games to truly pay attention to a person standing in front of them.  But was that the real problem? What I really think was going on is that the clerks were, each of them, over-worked and rushed.  They either truly needed more hands in that store or, at the very least, the clerks felt like they couldn’t or shouldn’t take their time with each and every person, with each and every question or order.

A customer service evaluation program, such as we offer here at Customer Perspectives, may be able to reveal the root cause of such inattention on the part of sales clerks.  A mystery shopper, posing as a customer, could take note of all the conditions at play at the time of her order or question, then report back to company management. Perhaps it’s a problem with employee training. Or perhaps the evaluation would reveal a true staffing or management problem that needed addressing before customers started to flee.

I have told these three stories dozens of times in the last month.  As you know, that’s the kind of negative word-of-mouth you want to avoid.