Need to Outsource In-Store Customer Service

For anyone who has shoped in a store in the US, this is a story you will relate to. Over the past two weeks, my experience in some stores in NYC, has re-affirmed my faith that we do need to outsource the in-store customer service to India or any other place where people are willing to work, and not be the lazy asses they are in the stores here.

Sunday night we were at Pathmark, a food supermarket.We were looking for a particular kind of oil. We couldn’t locate it and so ask the one of the store employees working in that aisle. She gives us a super vague answer and walks away. We go and explore her answer, just to find that she was completely bullshitting and didn’t even know what we were asking for. Instead of taking the trouble to look it up either on the shelves or the computer, we were stonewalled. I threw a fit and asked for the store manager and he came after 15 minutes, and said that they don’t even carry that product. So on what basis was the earlier store employee telling us that it was on some shelf !

The second instance was at Circuit City yesterday. I was looking for a SATA Hard drive connector cable. As soon as I walk in, one of the reps walks over and in a “parrot way of talking” announces “Welcome to Circuit City…..”. For once I thought, great, here is someone wanting to help.

I ask him for the cable and he says no they don’t carry it in that section but I should check in the TV section. I repeat my query, and get the same answer. He looks at me as if I was stupid….and hadnt heard what he said earlier. At that time I could have just politely walked away and found another person who wasnt as ignorant, or give it back. I gave it back. I told the person point blank that he did not even know what I was talking about and that he was just passing the buck and sending me on a wild goose chase. I don’t think he expected such a blunt, to-the-point, reaction and immediately pointed me to the manager. I gave the manager a piece of my mind making sure that I got the sales rep name in the conversation. The manager was only a little bit more helpful and said that they don’t have that in stock.

The same has been my experience at Radio Shack, Staples and PC Richards in the past two weeks.

The only pleasurable customer service experience was at the Container Store, where even though the product was not available, the rep was really helpful, even suggesting other stores in the area which might carry it.

Why is it that these store reps make you feel that you are a burden and a distraction in their workplace. Arent we the customers the sole reason they have a job. And why do these stores employ dimwits to work in departments where they have no clue about the products. Most reps I have seen cant differentiate between a USB and UPS. They have no business working in the computer department. The last time I was at Circuit City, one store rep was hard selling a crappy laptop to a middle aged lady. From what I gathered, this was her first big laptop purchase.

And of course the sales rep was giving her all the bullshit he could. The lady was a bit undecided and while she was looking at other models, I couldn’t stop myself telling her that what she was being sold was a load of crap for a lot of money. She could go to an online website and get the same specs for atleast 40 % off. She couldnt believe it, so we pulled up the website on one of the free internet machines in the store and she was convinced, and walked out of the store without making a purchase. Serves Circuit City right for employing assholes.

Not to sound racist, but I have observed that the worst customer service reps in all these stores are either African-American or Hispanic. They are least interested in their jobs, and especially so if they sense that you are not there to buy a big dollar amount item. And the reverse racism works a lot. I have always found that they are reluctant to help me….a brown brother, but more than eager to help a caucasian. It could be just my face, or then a larger deeper underlying problem. Am not sure on that one, so wont form a conclusion.

I think this is a perfect industry for outsourcing. Or in this case, insourcing.

Get a few gujjubhais, from bhuleshwar or crawford market, or the sales reps from Vijay Sales and put them in these stores. At least they will be helpful and want to work. Even if their knowledge of the product is not complete, their willingness to help more than compensates for it.

And, just in case you didn’t notice, I HATE Circuit City. More on that in another post.


  1. Apurva May 24, 2006

    Quite obviously, you have never been to Bangalore…

  2. laalasa May 24, 2006

    second (and third too) Apurva on that………..shudder…..

  3. arzan May 24, 2006

    Well I’ve been to Bangalore but not in recent years.

    Could you guys elaborate. My experiences shopping in Bombay, have never been bad. Infact I find the salesman too nagging….in a positive sense.

  4. Shivam Vij May 24, 2006

    How dare you criticise a private sector service? Are you a commi, my comrade?


  5. Apurva May 25, 2006

    @arzan: The amount of indifference to customers is just amazing. Once, we had to wait for more than 30 minutes and innumerable requests to take our order before someone finally did.

    I have had experiences where I have felt that I am standing in a government office rather than a private enterprise. People are just not interested in customer service…

  6. That Dude May 26, 2006

    Here’s a tip.

    The amount of service you get is relative to the amount of money the employees receive and internal respect within the storefront. People at those places you frequent happen to have the least. Take that and you will go far – meaning, you’ll be less disappointed when someone of minimal pay gives you minimal support. For example:
    1) You go to Fry’s to buy a plasma tv. You get ignored or minimal information.
    2) You go to the Magnolia section of Best Buy to buy a plasma tv. You have eager and somewhat informed people.
    3) You go to a home theater boutique specific store. You get smiling faces, wealth of information and service that blows your mind.

    So let’s break this down: Fry’s has a high turnover, cheap wages, high employee to store count and mismanagement. Employees treat their job as a job and their performance has little affect on the company and are treated as such. Magnolia at Best Buy treats their employees as the cream of the Best Buy crop, pays a higher wage, but still are subject to big corp mismanagement. Again their performance does not vastly affect the bottom line. The boutique store has a smaller employee count, experts in the field, employees who love their career, and pays on commision. If salemen do not treat customers well, the company loses money and gets bad publicity. If there’s any store that you should raise an issue about regarding mistreatment, it’s that one.

    Notice I said nothing about black or hispanic people. When you say it’s black or hispanic people who are the ones who give you the least amount of support and reverse racism applies, what you are really seeing (and suffering from) is social predjudice. It’s not the black or hispanics (latinos) that treating you like that, it’s what I mentioned in the about paragraph. The reason why it stands out to you is because of the exposure. Non-white people (including asians) stand out more just because American (and the rest of the world) focuses so much negativity on us ‘colored’ folk. I suffer from it too and (gasp) I am black as well. On the flip side, I have been poorly treated by indian, pakistani and other asians as well… until I really realized what was going on. It took some time to really realize that and be able to separate racism/prejudice from people who really are just lost in the system and have jobs.

    There is so much more to talk about this, but I do feel your pain. As someone who (at my previous employer) arranged international outsourcing for an American company, I’ve seen the pitfalls and benefits. I’d really like to continue talking about this with you. Please do email me back as I want to start up a dialog if possible.

    True wisdom is being able to separate pride from false superiority complexes and anger

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