How To Make a Customer Feel Lousy About Herself

So I was shopping at this store called Feminu (in Serangoon Nex Mall) last week for an attire for my latest workshop, and I experienced pretty bad customer service there. :(

Feminu at Serangoon Nex Mall

Feminu at Serangoon Nex Mall — lousy service. Avoid to spare yourself the pain.

How To Make a Customer Feel Lousy

I learned four things from them to make a customer feel bad about him/herself:

1) Impose your judgement

At Feminu, I tried a dress at “S” size and asked the store assistant (let’s call her X) to get me the “M” size as “S” was a little small.

Rather than help me do so, X took a look at me in that dress and refused, because — she said and I quote — “‘S’ fits you fine and ‘M’ would be too big. There’s no need to try ‘M’ at all.” Even when I said I wanted to try it anyway, she didn’t do anything to help me but continued whatever she was doing! (I think she was fixing a dress for a customer.)

While I appreciated X’s input, shouldn’t my dress size be a decision I make by trying out the sizes myself? I don’t know. As a customer, I felt  oppressed into deciding on my purchase without given the chance to try other sizes and see if they fit better (for me).

2) Push flawed merchandise

As it turned out, I decided to purchase the dress at “S” size anyway as it was okay-ish and I was in a time crunch to get my attire. I had already shopped the day before with Ken and this dress was better than all other pieces I had seen/tried.

I asked for a new piece (a standard request you make in Singapore retail shops since some display only display test pieces) to which her junior assistant retrieved for me.

However, upon inspection, I found that this ‘new’ piece wasn’t 100% clean: there was a small grey patch on it! Same for the testing piece which I wore in the dressing room actually.

Given that the dress was white, I didn’t want to take a chance. I asked if X could retrieve another new piece, to which… she refused. She said either of the patches could be washed away, and it was either I get the one she had retrieved or testing piece on the rack: both of which weren’t in 100% clean. -_-’ Which were kinda like… non-options if you asked me. <.<

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get anyone else to help as X seemed to be the person in charge. I felt boxed to make a purchase on non-salable merchandise.

3) Focus on making the sale without regarding your customer’s needs

After some reluctance, I took one of the two pieces, hoping the patch could be washed out.

Immediately after I said I would get the dress, X immediately zoomed in to my purchase method, took my credit card from me, made the sales transaction, got me to sign the transaction receipt, and moved on to whatever she was doing.

As a customer (and person), I felt like I was only good for my money, and my utility had been exhausted having made the decision for the purchase and handed over the money. It was like X had no use for me anymore, not even regarding that I could be a future customer.

4) Make it seem like it’s the customer’s fault

After a day, I decided to return the dress as I didn’t really like it after all. To begin with, I felt pushed into making the purchase with limited help and options, and I wasn’t really satisfied with the buy.

Since Feminu allows for exchange within three days, I immediately returned the next day with Ken to get my dress exchanged for another. I was ready to top up if need be.

However, when X saw me back at the shop with my exchange request, the first thing she uttered was, “Wow, tried so many clothes yesterday (and only bought one), and now you want to exchange (the only item you bought)?

That really made me feel awful actually! To be honest I was already half-expecting something like that from X because her service from before was terrible. I just kept quiet and continued to hand over the dress I bought, hoping she would agree to an exchange.

What X Should Have Done

While I eventually got to exchange for a dress I like from Feminu (luckily), X’s service attitude left me thinking, I don’t want to return to this store again.

The fact that she isn’t just an assistant, but the assistant-in-charge, made it even worse because I knew that I would definitely have to face her if I returned to the store. I rather go to other shops or pay a premium for a better service attitude.

Here’s what I would have done if I was in her shoes:

  1. If the customer wants to try a different size, let him/her do that! You stock up merchandise to sell them, so why are you being so stringent about letting customers try the clothes? Your clothes are meant to be tried so that they would sell! Even if you have your opinion about what dress or size fits the customer best, the dress/size is a decision the customer has to come to on his/her own. Share your thoughts, but do not impose your judgment.
  2. If your merchandise is faulty, acknowledge that, and get a new piece that has no defects. It is your job to ensure that the merchandise you are selling has no defects to begin with. The customer is paying money to get good quality goods and you shouldn’t expect them to exchange their cash for defective goods.
  3. Be customer-centered. Meaning, understand his/her needs and concerns and address them thoroughly first before talking about purchase or sale, vs. being focused on nailing the purchase and getting the cash. The former builds positive goodwill and potentially creates return sales, while the latter makes you seem like a money-grubbing business owner.
  4. If your store has an exchange or return policy, honor that duly while giving a 100% service attitude. There’s no need to be snarky, rude, or demeaning. All you will do is to push the customer away and turn him/her off from returning to your store in the future.

Focus on Building Customer Relationships, Not Sales

Ironically, in being so sales-centered, X has negatively affected her store’s long-term sales because I have no interest to return to the store anymore. (Or at least, that particular branch. I don’t know if Feminu has other branches.) If I think this way, chances are there are other people who think this way too because they have received the same treatment.

The sad thing is that she’s not even the store owner (I don’t think so), and she — with her unhelpful service attitude — is driving sales away for her employer!

While X is from China (I gathered based on her accent), I’ve observed bad service attitudes in Singaporean retail and F&B service staff before. Usually more lackluster attitudes than brash ones.

If you are in sales or you run your own business, the above tips and my 10-step customer service guide will definitely help you build long-term customer relationship (and as a result, sales). (The Customer Service Manifesto will be useful as a print-out reminder for your staff.) I’m proud to say that many of my product and course purchases come from past customers, and I believe that’s because of satisfaction with the products they bought and the courses they attended in the past.

PS: In the end I didn’t even get to wear my new dress to the workshop because I was informed by my client to wear a different attire a day before the event. Well, I look forward to wearing it nonetheless for a future event or training. :D

And You?

Any negative customer service experience to share? What are your tips for great customer service? Do share below!

  • Hilda Xie

    i had one in one experience, a shop assistant forced me to buy the dress which didn’t fit me, saying that it looked good on me, and there was a promotion that if I bought second piece, I will get it with discounted price, but I refused, she gave me the look like I was stupid or something with cynical smile and pursed her lips… i filed a complain to the company, then feeling guily after that, but i think that’s good for her too, wish she learned that it’s not the way to treat customer or others that way.

    • Celestine Chua

      Sorry to hear that Hilda! :( It sounded like she was only interested in the sale, just like X in my story. Good on you for filing the complaint to the company; this way at least they would know about their service staff’s attitude. Even if they didn’t take action, at least you did something about it.

      I really dislike such passive-aggressive service attitude, because it goes against the heart of what customer service is about: to treat your customers with care and passion. As reader Paula mentioned above in her comment, in customer service, you (as the staff) want to support and do the best for your customers (within reasonable grounds of course). It’s unfortunate that there are many staff out there who just don’t care enough! Hopefully their employers can send them on staff trainings/retreats to boost them in this area.

  • Zalika @ Hope & Sugar

    This is horrible! It’s so disturbing when people have an attitude like that for no rhyme or reason. I too remember getting bad customer service before the advent of malls. There was an40 percent off on a product and they hadn’t mentioned the discounted price. So I asked the sales woman what the price would be after the discount and she told me to do the math myself! Yes that happened. Since then I’ve boycotted such places and after that never have been treated that way.

    • Celestine Chua

      Wow insane! Why was she so mean for? It sounded like she was frustrated herself and was just taking it out on you. Sorry to hear about your experience, and happy to hear that you boycotted such places because you don’t deserve such treatment!

  • Paula

    I’ve stood waiting sometime to pay for my purchase while the cashier was having a conversation with a friend, after (a long) while, I put my stuff on the counter and left.

    This is how I see it: when someone wants to sell something, it’s their job to convince you the item is worth buying, it’s also their job to be happy you even want to spend your money on their product and treat you with respect and give you good service. Also it is their job -and I would say a matter of pride for doing a good job- to make sure the product has the quality you sell it for, after all, you do pay a price for it.
    customer is king, and with reason, the customers are the reason the shop doesn’t go bankrupt.

    For this reason I absolutely hate it when I’m in a store or a lunchroom or whatever and I’m being treated as a burden, when the employee gets annoyed for having to work to earn their money. When I notice I’m being treated unfriendly when I’m willing to spend money somewhere I tend to walk out and do my purchase elsewhere.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hey Paula, you remind me of this experience I had in Holland where I was in a cafe at 10:59am, all hungry and ready to order at the cashier, and then the waitress gave me a dead-pan look saying, “We are only open at 11am.” I guess sales really isn’t of interest to her; maybe to such staff they are just there to do a job especially since it’s not their business anyway. :)

  • cherene

    Terrible! I was surprised you still stayed on in the shop; I would have left. I think it all boils down to the salesgirl’s personality. If she behaves this badly, she’s very like likely to be someone who is mean to her friends and people around her.

    • Celestine Chua

      That’s what Ken said! He said that if someone is so rude, then chances are the person’s capacity for kindness just isn’t there (for now at the very least). I’d like to think that maybe that’s just her sales attitude, but it really could be better because it has probably driven away customers (it has for me)!

  • Benjamin

    Whenever I encounter unfriendly people, I simply go away from their shops.Unless I am really in a hurry.

    The best way I found to meet friendly sales persons is to go small shops. Shops belonging to huge brands often treat their customer like shit. In addition to proposing really poor quality items for the price.

  • Aqilah Norazman

    Hi Celes, long time reader but first time commenter here. I have to say that I really love your blog. And this article caught me. I am absolutely disgusted too whenever I get bad customer service, especially when I come back home to Singapore (I’m residing in Sydney now). It seems to get terrible each time and sometimes I feel like shopping online feels much better than going in store. Rudeness is not tolerable. And I absolutely agree about everything you’ve said in here.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hi Aqilah, sorry to hear about your experience with bad service! I’ve met some good and personal servers in Singapore so it’s not all bad at least. I know I did get more *attentive* service in U.S., but I always feel like part of it is agenda-driven (for more tips), and some of the servers I met felt a little fake (saccharine sweet smile, slight tilting of head, etc. — behaviors suggesting they are engaged but there’s no warmth from their voices). So I’m in a fix between getting outright bad service or “good” service that’s not genuine.

  • Glenn Thomas

    My guess is that X hates her job and isn’t following her passion in life.

    • Celestine Chua

      That is very well a possibility, Glenn!

      • Glenn Thomas

        Whatever her problem is, I think it would go a lot deeper than her lack of customer support skills. An unhappy home life perhaps? You can never know what a person is going through that would cause them to behave in an inappropriate manner towards others.

  • Sandy

    I and everyone I know almost always receive terrible customer service from the phone/internet company here at home. Which is bad for us because it’s the best company out of 3 in our little country so there is no where better for us to go. The employees usually lack knowledge, are slow with replies or never reply to enquiries and its always difficult to get help over the phone, on-line or via email so we all usually end up having to go to the store in person which always has a long line during lunch hours so you go knowing that you’ll miss lunch for that day just to get your problem sorted out.

  • Fufu

    I hate bad customer service!! :/ There are 3 momenta of bad service that always stuck to me.

    1. I got a call to sign up for some classes but the teacher had such a rude accent on the phone that he left a horrible impression on me, even after I met him in person and he was all kind I just saw a fake and decided not to sign up.

    2. I wanted to make an online purchase via a facebook page. The first admin was super kind and amazing service. I had my purchase on stand-by while I waited for them to re-stock on the product I was interested in. Some time passed so I messaged to update on the status of my purchase but thr second admin

    • Fufu

      the second admin talked to me in a tone suggesting I was stupid for asking about the purchase and well the experience was so distasteful that I decided to order the product in another online shop instead.

      3. Whenever I pick up my lil brother from school, we used to go to a candy shop that sold cheap but the lady was super rude and grumpy (plus did not return the poor kids change!!!) so we decided not to go anymore and pay in another candy shop with higher prices but much better service.

  • angry shopper at yishun

    DO NOT BOTHER TO VISIT BEGA!! If you buy alot of items, of course they will smile brightly. If after trying out few items and decide not to get any, the attitude will change. i tried some pants and this other salesgirl kept bringing pants for me. I decided to get 1 pant but they do not have my size and i need it next day. Other pants i do not like the design, and the salesgirl kept pushing me to get the other one and when i refuse…she said: YOU have a problem!! I just say back to her, if you have size i buy. I just stormed out of the store. SO rude! If you have plenty of money to splurge, go for it..they will make sure you buy alot. If not you will get a black face, if you do not buy anything. Store i was at is Northpoint! Anyway i wont buy anything from this lousy store, overpriced and extremely pushy sales tactics

    • Celestine Chua

      Wow that’s terrible. I’m really sorry about your bad experience — it’s good that you took your stand and didn’t buy anything in the end! Some people would feel obligated to buy and will end up buying the clothes even though they don’t really want to.

      Thanks for sharing your experience too — will be helpful to those living in Singapore. Sharing such customer experiences helps to educate other shoppers about shops with good/bad customer services so that we can watch out accordingly.

  • Piggy Stardust

    Same here. I once was shopping with my mum, wanted to buy some skinny jeans. Then they were very very skinny. So I asked, if I could try one size bigger. She said: Well I use the one size smaller than that, so I think you should go on by that.” well, she had skinnier legs than I have, so of course she can wear that. But if I as a customer want to try the bigger size, you damn have to give me that. And my mum only stood there and verified her behaviour.

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