Wednesday, February 18, 2015


“Can we help you?”  asks the clerk at Sandbox in the City, a ladies’ clothing boutique my hairdresser recommended to me, as she materializes between racks of brightly patterned sun dresses.

“Yes, thank you, I’m looking for a dress for my daughter’s wedding. In June,” I reply, more to the jeans, tunics, dress pants, dresses, blouses, two-piece coordinating swimwear, and jewellery that consume almost every square inch of the retail space than to the clerk’s face.

“Well, you’ve come at the right time,” she reassures me.  In a month, we’ll be sold out.  Really? I thought, struggling to find byte space for the conversation.  Wow.  And I thought I had time to spare.  “What did you have in mind?”

My head rotates back to the clerk, like a flower seeking sunlight, and I locate my smile.  “Something sleeveless, fitted, knee length, in a solid colour.  Not red.  Not black, either, I hope.”

“Why don’t you look around and see what you like, to start?”

I feel intimidated at the embarassment of riches.  This, too, is an elephant, and a small bite is in order.  I separate the hangers to get a good look at the dresses and check sizes, and  I hook a beige and black geometric design on the end of my finger.  Well, I can see what the general effect is, anyway.  Encouraged but not yet enthusiastic, I add a navy lace, a royal blue straight cut with a gold belt, and another to be unveiled at the wedding. 

You know, already, then, that I did find a dress, that the clerk’s enthusiasm for the diverse looks I modelled fuelled my enjoyment of the process, so much that I even tried on the red shift and the bright yellow long-sleeved number she suggested.

I try the winner on again at the end of the process, just to be sure.  While the purchase goes through, she recommends earrings, and tells me where to go for shoes, and who to see there. 

She was competent, that’s for sure. Many people can be competent.  How many, however, can manage a distracted customer at the end of the day, half an hour before closing, with that customer’s satisfaction rather than a sale at heart, and the ability to convince me that there’s nothing else she would rather have been doing at that moment.  I leave the store surprised that I have something to wear for the wedding, relieved that the pressure is off, and  grateful for an exceptional service experience.

The prize for not just exceptional service but an unparalleled service experience goes to the receptionist of the imaging department of a hospital I visited recently.  Negativity infected the waiting room.  People used their time to grumble about the wait, to remind the young woman managing the area about the length of their wait.  Not to her face, of course.  They didn’t go to the counter and inquire about their turn in a calm voice, smile on their face, confident that all the employees were doing their best to expedite the service.  Instead, they conversed among themselves, strangers joined in a solidarity of the dissatisfied, connected in their irritation, their words just loud enough to be heard throughout the room.

Rather than ignore those complaints and continue about her business, the receptionist addressed them in the same upbeat, joyful tone she used to interact with her colleagues and patients who presented at the window.  How long have you been waiting, sir?  Let me just check for you.  You know, it will only be a few more minutes.   Her decision to maintain a pleasant disposition immunized her from the negative contagion.  In fact, she herself could vaccinate against pessimism anyone entering the room inclined to benefit from her tonic.  Through her command of both her own attitude and the skills necessary for effective service, she innoculated me as well.

The onus is not only on the service provider, however.  To be fair, as a customer or client, I do have some responsibilities of my own.  I want to smile, be positive and patient, wear my pleasant face and minimize the gestures.  That strategy pays off most of the time in better service.    Only when it doesn’t can I give myself permission to invoke retaliatory measures, as long as those measures don’t involve rudness.  For the boutiques where the salespeople can’t be bothered to say hello when I walk in, especially if they’re not  with a customer,  for example, I make a point of not finding anything I like, an apt consequence, I tell myself, for someone who neither does a job nor provides a service.

Congratulations and thank you to the clerk who sold me my dress and the receptionist at the hospital.  Through the joy and pride you take in the service you provide, you make life better for the people you touch each day.  You also remind us what great service looks like, and give us a model to emulate.

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