Is This What They Mean by Customer Service?

Ask any successful person in the service industry and they will tell you the key to long term success is, and always has been, superior customer service. Quality products help, but a business going out of its way to put its clientele’s needs first will almost always succeed. People want to be treated in a certain way, the experts say, and are willing to pay handsome sums for that type of treatment. The best salespeople are always the ones who eliminate walls and build a certain rapport with their customer. As my Dad used to say, successful people tend to be the ones who “feign sincerity the best.” I guess that’s one definition of customer service. But not all customer service is good customer service. Consider this case with my mother.

My mother loved to shop, whether it was a grocery store or department
store or something in between. Shopping gave Mom the chance to interact with people, and the opportunity to engage with humans was better than any silly dress or pair of pants that she could buy in a shop. Mom craved the attention she received when she was a customer. Hell, it’s another story altogether, but at one point in her life, Mom called a QVC Network show so much she became somewhat of a series regular. True story. Now that’s dedication to the craft.

In the mid-1980’s, it was not unusual for housewives from our small Mississippi Delta town of Cleveland, Mississippi to plan a day trip to a larger city such as Memphis or Jackson, MS for a day of hardcore retail therapy. In fact, you could probably argue it was necessary to get away from their families for them to remain sane — a Girls Trip with their husband’s credit card if you will. These packs of women, aka mothers on a mission, would leave early in the morning on their journey and return in the evening, usually with many large bags in tow (and the family further in debt). Naturally Mom was a big fan of these trips, and at this time in her life, her favorite destination was the then-new Northpark mall in Jackson. Northpark had all of the cool new things in urban shopping (a Ruby Tuesday plus a B. Dalton bookstore? Holy hell. That’s an Eighties middle-class Valhalla!!) but best of all, it contained a Lane Bryant.

For those who don’t know, or don’t remember, Lane Bryant, according to its web page, is a women’s retail store “specializing in plus size clothing.” (As an aside, all of us men who are small in stature are thankful shops do not advertise specializing in “Minus size” clothing. I swear my memory tells me there was another clothing store along the same lines called “Lots to Love.” WTF?) My mom, along with the other larger gals all over the nation, knew Lane Bryant afforded them the opportunity to peruse racks of stylish clothes without having to deal with those little bitches who wore size 0s and size 2s. Mom was drawn to this store like a moth to a flame, and she usually left the mall with enough loot to make Captain Jack Sparrow envious. It was as if the 1980’s polyester and spandex gods had reached down and anointed their chosen disciple.

One summer morning, Mom and one of her friends set out for their latest day trip to Jackson. I’m sure their day was filled with munching decadently on potato skins at Ruby Tuesdays while sipping frozen daiquiris and talking about their domestic dramas as a starter before picking out the latest trends for their children at J.C. Penney’s and buying a couple new paperbacks at B. Dalton’s. Their daylong pilgrimage would culminate at their mecca — Lane freaking Bryant. I don’t have a clue what they bought this particular day, but I’m sure their purchases were both inspired and fashion-forward. I’m also sure her love of that store was so strong the sales team could have sold her a colored garbage bag with sleeves. She was in her own private heaven.

Mom was a discerning shopper, as well as being never early for anything in her entire life, so her friend had already finished her shopping and was waiting outside of the store when Mom finally placed her days’ work on the counter. The sales clerk, probably no more than 25 years old and way too excited to be working at a Mississippi shopping mall, keyed in the clothes as fast as she could while striking up a conversation with Mom about the store. Mom explained proudly that she was a seasoned Lane Bryant shopper, and I’m quite sure she declared her undying love for the sales racks. The two continued to banter back and forth mindlessly for a couple of minutes until the counter was bare. As the clerk keyed in the last item, Mom handed over her credit card.

Once the cashier punched in the card number, Mom’s home address appeared immediately on the screen of the sales register. The bubbly clerk’s eyes widened suddenly, then leaned forward and motioned for Mom to lean into the screen to see the home address. It was if the country’s nuclear codes were somehow now visible in Northpark Mall at a cash register in Lane Bryant. Since Mom knew damn well where she lived, she was not nearly as taken aback by what she saw. She just looked at the register screen, nodded, and then straightened up to wait on the return of her card.

A receipt was printed for a signature. Mom grabbed a pen from her purse and scribbled her name quickly so she could go meet her friend who was still sitting outside of the store. She handed the receipt back to the clerk.

The salesperson couldn’t hold her excitement any longer.

“This is so neat,” the clerk yelled loud enough for everyone in the store to overhear, “Another fat lady from Cleveland was just here shopping a couple minutes ago.”

Nothing beats good customer service.

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