Customer Service or the lack of service

customer service

“The customer is always right…..or are they?

Let’s be clear, I am not a writer.  At least I do not aspire to this as a career.  But as you must now realize being a concierge requires a multitude of skills one of which is establishing great relationships with lots of different people.  My go to person for whatever I need is usually one sales associate in a particular store that I frequent.  Whether it is the butcher at the local market, the person in housewares at Macy’s or the shoe person at Nordstrom  that person knows what I like, what I normally buy and if they don’t have it on hand, they know where I might find it or when it will arrive in their location.  I love to window shop or in general to have a great “shopping experience.”  Having been in this industry for a while now, I look at retail with a different eye then the average consumer.  Meaning, if I find what I am looking for with ease and at a great price, or if I have had a great experience with an associate on duty, that literally makes my day and I go out of my way to make sure that individual is recognized for their efforts.  So, because of my expectations of  “the experience of shopping”, I could not understand it when several of my clients came to me with the request to perform their shopping task for them because they did not like shopping.  Not like shopping; who could not like shopping?  But as I went around fulfilling client requests, I came to realize a few things.

How important do you think you are?

I had been out most of the day when I decided to stop by a store that I have been shopping in as a regular customer for over 10 years.  Now this store has been opening 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for all the years I have been shopping there and it has not changed, but on this particular day, I even over stayed my welcome.  So engrossed in my task of checking off items on my list, that when the store began to make its announcement at 5:45 pm stating that the store would be closing in 15 minutes and requesting that all guest make their final selection and proceed to the front for check out it even startled me.  I quickly collected all of my goodies and went to the front to stand in line to await my turn leave.  6 pm quickly approach and with a couple of people left in line, the associates proceeded to lock the door then straighten the store for the final time that evening.  Suddenly there was a sharp tap on the door.  We all turned, to see a woman standing at the door demanding that she be let in.  The associate standing at the door informed the woman the store was now closed for the evening and would reopen at 10 a.m. the following morning.  What followed was a full-blown temper tantrum of epic proportions; prompting me to wonder who was this woman and why could she not follow rules like the rest of us.  She insisted that since we, the last two customers at the register, were still in the store she should be allowed in and wanted to speak with a manager.  The manager proceeded to the door and eventually let her in 15 minutes after the store had officially closed.  I didn’t stay around to see the remainder of what happened, but I wondered is this a case is the customer is always right?

To outlet shop or not, that is the question.

I like to find a deal just as much as the next person; but also I remember the days when shopping was dignified, refined, an event or somewhat of an art.  The consumer appreciated the sales clerks ability to answer specific questions, marveling at their knowledge and expertise about their specific line or product area.  Somehow, I feel the respect for this profession has been lost.  Let me explain.  An outlet store by definition is a retail location that sells merchandise that does not typically meet regular store standards; these items may consist of over runs, meaning the store has on hand more inventory than expected and needs to eliminate the back log thus marking it down for quick sale, or some of the items might have slight imperfections – such as a buckle that might have tarnish spots.  I personally would not recommend shopping at an outlet if you are expecting merchandise that is perfect and is worthy of the $2000 price tag attached to said merchandise.  Not all of the merchandise will have imperfections, but if the blemish, mark or scratch is something that you know will not sit well with your perfect nature, I would not purchase it no matter how much of a deal it is, because you will never be happy.  However if you have the time there are deals galore to be had.  But this is not my point for stressing the word “outlet.”  What I have witness on my last few visits to an outlet shopping mall has me baffled beyond belief.  On one occasion I witness customers literally opening packages of merchandise “to see what it look like” then after inspecting it, tossed it aside and grabbed an unopened package of the same content to purchase.  Am I confused….have the standards changed in “you break it, your buy it.” The same should apply “if you open it, you should buy it.”  I have stood in amazement as I watched consumers completely destroyed an area in an outlet store, opening packages, pulling merchandise from the shelving, and hiding said merchandise in different locations in the store for purchase on another visit.  But I think the one event that completely left me speechless was the day that I heard a customer exclaim as they threw merchandise on the floor and kicked it out-of-the-way, that it was the sales associate’s job to put the merchandise back.  WHAT?!!!  No! No!  Do I have it wrong?  I thought the sales associate was in the store to help me, the consumer, make an educated decision through questions and discussion in selecting and purchasing merchandise from the establishment of which they work.  When did the sales associate become the cleaning crew and the shopping maids for irate shoppers?  I was stunned!  Is this customer right or is this what the shopping experience has come to?

The Mob…..

I generally prefer to shop at off times, off-season, and off the radar.  This is the time that you find the best deals, but sometimes it is not possible have the store all to yourself.  Meaning….I would rather bang head against a wall rather than go to a big boxed retailer at 3 pm in the afternoon in my neighborhood.  I will do my grocery shopping at 7 am while everyone else is on his or her way to work just so that I can enjoy the experience in peace.  On this occasion, I walked into a store that had just opened and I begin to walk to the back when I hear a lot of commotion that included yelling and clapping.  It sounded like so much fun that I almost wanted to participate, but I am cautious.  As I made my way to the direction of the noise I found a group of women gathered around a bin piled high with straw bags that had been marked down to a ridiculously low price because they contained monogram mistakes.  All I could see from my vantage point were bowed heads, arms flying and collective moans of “oh no or Yes! I will take that one.”  With the announcement of “I found one, it’s a Joyce” as an arm rose triumphantly in the air holding a lavender straw bag with the name embroidered in a pretty white scroll.  When the crowd finally dispersed, merchandise was no longer in the large bin of which they were once contained.  It was on every surface other than the bin.  I saw one of the women from the group make a jester as if to clean or straighten the mess that was made only to over hear the group leader state “It is their job, they want to get rid of them anyway.”   Would this happen in a regular retailer?  Am I that naive to think shopping should not be search and destroy?

You probably wonder why I have spent so much time describing these scenarios.  It is because I have for some time heard a multitude of complaints about customer service or even lack of service that cause me to wonder – Is it really the lack of service or that customers lack of respect for the profession?  I am interested to know if anyone has had similar experiences.

Love at first sight???

Zola

It is hard not to fall in love with one of your clients especially when they are as cute as the photo above.  I have been taking care of Zola when her family is out-of-town for 2 years now and every time we get together, I find out something new about her.  She is so sweet; I think maybe a bit lonely with the hectic lifestyle of her owners, but nice enough.  She loves people and loves having you over to her place, but don’t try to take her anywhere other than walks/runs in her neighborhood.

Our first meeting…..

When I take on a new client or pet I like to spend time with the animal, find out what time they like to eat and things they like to play with.  I find out about their favorite toys and locate the all-important snacks or treats.  My four-legged buddies have the same screening as their human parents.  After getting all the pertinent information, (or so I thought) our adventure began the following Sunday.

Sunday started off kinda shaky, I believe it was because her mom left a little earlier than expect for her trip to the Dominican Republic and it literally through her in a tailspin with a little separation anxiety.  I went over mid-day hung out with her for a couple of hours and then went on to an event that I had scheduled for that evening.  Fast forward to Wednesday of the same week….Zola and I have established a good schedule and it is working well for the both of us….She and her human family live about six miles away from me so I get up at 5 am; I am over at their house by 6-6:30, a one hour walk while drinking my coffee, feeding, playing a bit, and I am out the door and on my way to my next appointment by 8 am.

Max…..

During the time of our first meeting, the weather is a little iffy in the southern part of the United States.  It can be warm one day and really cool the next like Indian summer in the northeast.  So Wednesday afternoon when I went over at the end of the day, it was so nice out that Zola and I decided to stay outside a little longer  than usual basically until it became dark.  We went inside, for the evening meal and I stayed until about 8 or 8:30 pm.  Now this time of year when it gets to the time I mentioned on the clock, it is completely dark outside.  Tonight, instead of going out front door where we have a sidewalk and all of the street lights for our last stroll of the evening, we go out back – to our own back yard.  We gingerly step out on the small patio and we have not been outside more than two minutes when out from the left side of the yard comes this big ball of blonde fur.  He looks at me and immediately pounces on Zola who is a pit mix.  Trying to remain calm, I try to get my dog away from this hair ball.  I see no eyes or mouth, just fur.

Man down….Man down

I quickly notice that Max is on a chain and begin to walk in a direction away from him, as I say “No” in the firmest voice I can muster thinking that his chain would eventually run out and yank him back into his own backyard.  No such luck…Max the giant fur ball actually trips me by walking in between my legs to get at Zola and causes me do a full face plant, first base slide like I was am playing for the Braves baseball team into the backyard.  I felt dirt in my mouth, on my forehead and literally under the cream-colored cashmere sweater that I was wearing.  I scream, run Zola run as she is dragging me along the side of the house by her leash.  I get up and Zola and I take off running around to the front of the house.

Oh Yes, this can get worse……

Hmmm…  Now I have a problem.  The front door is locked; the keys and my phone are on the dining table in the kitchen.  UHHHH….I bang my head on the front door as I try not to think of all the disgusting things I have crawling on my person from the back yard.  Thinking quickly, I tie the dog’s leash to the handle of the front door of the house and go around back again only to find that Mr. Fur ball is gone…nowhere to be found.  Just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone.  Maybe this was a bad dream…maybe I did not just eat a mouthful of dirt from the backyard and I am just tired and hungry.  I walk through the house to the front door and catch a glimpse of my sweater covered in red clay in the hall mirror.  Nope, this is definitely not a dream.  I bring Zola in and immediately text her mother about the incident.  She tells me about the fur ball “Oh that is Max from next door.”  “He loves humans but he can’t stand Zola.”  “What…how can you not like your own kind?” Then I think to myself…do you think you should have told me about this before you left?  What did you think all the questions and note taking was about?  Oh, but it gets better…once she figures out that I have gone out into the backyard, Zola’s moms tells me not to out there at night as she has seen wolves roaming around.  In my mind, I shout “ARE YOU FRIGGIN KIDDING ME!”  “We are in the suburbs on the north side of ATLANTA not in the countryside…there are too many lights to have wolves here.”  Apparently not because there have been coyote and bat sightings as well.  Great, just great….if I felt icky before, I am disgusted and scared now.

I settle Zola in for the night and assure her mother we are both fine, just dirty, and head home.  Luckily I didn’t make a stop anywhere on the way home, because when I get to my own bathroom I find that I am covered from head to toe in red Georgia clay.  I looked a hot mess…..and all I could do it laugh and think about all the disgusting things that were lurking in that yard.  YUCK!   I jump in the bath clothes and all and I then proceed to text all of my close friends and share this story with them so they can have a good laugh as well.  This was too good to keep to myself.

Day in the life

Sticky Notepaper

Day in the life of a concierge/errand service…….

 

Ever wonder what a concierge does when they are not planning those huge glamorous parties or booking vacations to exotic locations.   Well I have an errand service and will let you in on my typical day if you promise not to keep it a secret.  Every day is different, but also challenging and fulfilling.

Morning

5:00 am  Check and respond to emails from the night before.

6:30 am  Good start – no fires to put out, get dress, grab coffee, keys, and coat to head to clients home six-mile north to walk waiting dog because client is on vacation and didn’t want to board.

7:00 am   Run, walk dog 2 miles, feed the dog, play with the dog, out the door to next appointment

8:30 am   Take a call  from the car inquiring new business startup in New York…want to start a service in the Hampton’s.  Hmmm….sounds promising.

9:45 am   Phew, made it to the next client downtown…

9:50 am   On the list for to today –  list on kitchen table

10:00 am  Drop off and pick up dry cleaning

10:20 am  Specialty coffee pick up at store down at Little Five points

10:45 am  Pick up repaired laptop bag at the shoe repair

11:00 am  oops  –  stop at pharmacy on the list.  (Everyone is in such a good mood today)

11:15 am  To the supermarket  – short list today

11:45 am  Back at the house, the dry cleaning is the closet, all refrigerated items put away, copy of receipts made and a message sent to owner that all task are complete.

Mid-day

12:10 pm  Grab a smoothie for lunch and onward to next client

12:45 pm  Meet the cleaning service in for home in Buckhead

1:10 pm    Take care for emission test client’s car – go to motor vehicles for update tag.  Tag will be mailed to owner so that everything is current when they return.

2:30 pm    Cleaning service half way done

3:00 pm    Call in the car with web service – they want to feature us on their site for the month.   Hmmmmm…need to know a little more about them…..will check them out when I get back to the office.

3:30 pm    Check emails and phone messages

4:30 pm    Cleaning crew is finally done.  Race back over to the north side of town to let the dog out

 

Evening

5:21 pm –  All day alone…”Help me Gwen….I have to go to the bathroom.”  Run, walk dog for 2 miles.  Play tug of war with bathrobe sash; feed the dog, last walk of the night 7:45 pm.

7:50 pm    Head home, dinner and invoicing left to do…

8:30 pm    Review set up schedule for next day.  Fill in any holes.

 

Yes, all of this is accomplished in one day with careful planning and a daily exercise in time management.

All is well that ends well …..

Sticky Notepaper

That is my story and I am sticking to it.

I can honestly say that I have never had a problem or issue finding a “job.” Having been in many different management positions and working as an administrative professional for almost 20 years, my skills are so wide and varied that it is almost impossible to have a lack of work, projects or opportunities unless one chooses to take a little much needed time off. In addition, I have been extremely fortunate to work in or with great organizations in which I have had the chances to showcase my abilities – some I didn’t even know that I had. I can look back on these challenges and laugh or chuckle now, but at the time, I just knew that I said “Holy Crap” so loud in my mind that the person in the next cube must have heard me. We have all done it at one time or another in our career. In your mind, you just know “they” can see you sweating.

Baptism by fire…..
May I have water, please?
One particular instance comes to mind.  I was brought into an organization to serve as backup to the President’s assistant. Of course, I had a small group of my own of about 60 or 70 individuals in marketing, sales, R&D, and new business that I was really excited about collaborating with from the creative aspect, but working with the President would be great as well. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. The change occurred just three short days after my hire date. The President’s assistant made the decision to leave and one of the task left behind, along with seventy thousand dollars of un-submitted expenses and a stranded VP in Asia without a working company credit card, was an offsite event just six short weeks away with the only thing being fully completed was the signed contract and the deposit on the hotel. Thank the universe for small favors – I think.
One of the things that I found out about myself in my career is that I am very resourceful. Having been raised in a military family, I have developed a skill of quickly accessing/adapting to a situation, in addition to finding out who and where my resources are and making fast work out of assembling a team or core group that will work well together. The last thing is realizing all will work out, most of the time, if “you” just get out of the way.

Opportunity is knocking…..
Do you hear it?
Well – the first project was to get the stranded VP back on line with the company credit card. After a few phone calls and the submission of expenses, the card was reactivated and the show was back on the road with him returning to the states some three weeks later. (I once had to re-route and reschedule this same VP while he was in mid-air on another trip to Asia due to a natural disaster, but that is another story) When I finally had the opportunity, later that day, to open notebook that was given to me by a member of senior management I was shocked and awed by what I found. There, in the neatly bound book with all the pretty dividers and labels, was a signed contract, a confirmed deposit for mere $500 to hold the hotel for the event in question and nothing else. Not even an attendees list. After metaphorically banging my head on my desk for several minutes, I told myself to “just breathe.” This was a golden opportunity, right? I didn’t have to work within anyone else’s guidelines or boundaries; I could prove to the group that interviewed and hired me that I could indeed do more than tweak a spreadsheet and polish a presentation. Again, I cannot stress enough how important asking questions and building those relationships can be. Since we could not change the date of the event or the hotel, for the next five weeks I requested budgets, drafted communications, cleared timelines for pre-event work, solicited restaurants and vendors, interviewed speakers and consultants as well as making their travel arrangements, made catering selections, shopped for supplies, created logistical drops, maps, tables, advised and revised agendas, and even managed to sneak in a birthday celebration complete with cards, cake and ice cream for an unsuspecting attendee all while fulfilling the work that I was hired to complete. Remember, we had only been working together for six weeks.

Don’t ever judge a book by its cover…… 
Upon arriving at the hotel, I discovered that this hotel was not a “full service” accommodation. So much for not working within any one else’s guidelines.  Did I mention earlier that it is very important to ask a lot of questions? After talking with hotel management for five weeks, it was never divulged until my arrival that we had no in house restaurant. Well whom have I been communicating with all these weeks on the menu? That is correct, no chef, no kitchen, no staff…….oh my. After speaking with management, I was assigned two attendants for the week to help me out, one of which was eight months pregnant. AHHHH! These two women were the best crew I have ever had. They were with me every step of the way from 5 am to some times 1 or 2 am the following morning working on request, breaking down and setting up rooms, changing out equipment, rigging cables and on some days standing bleary eyed with me on the balcony overlooking the river watching the sun rise with a steaming cup of coffee in hand. To say the event went off without a hitch is an understatement. It went off so well that no one knew we didn’t have extra help or a kitchen until the following year in planning the same event.

Always, always say thank you….
As I sit here today writing about that experience I am truly grateful for that opportunity and yes, the challenges that I had; but what stands out the most were the connections and the time that I spent with those two women that became my make shift crew. They made the biggest impression on me in that they didn’t know me and really didn’t have to go beyond their scheduled time to assist me, but they did and our friendship, some five years later, is still intact. Although I have moved on, they still send emails or occasionally phone to find out when I might return. I found my own personal way to thank them for their assistance and hard work which might have sealed the bond, but I like to believe they think of me in the same way I see them – as angels sent in my time of need.

“What’s in a word?”

To educate

Looking for a great assistant – what are your expectations?

 

Have you ever wondered or considered what creates the difference between an executive/administrative assistant, a personal assistant, and a concierge?  Although the definition cannot be found in Webster’s dictionary, there is a true distinction from which the words have derived from the meaning of “to help, or assist.”  Having had the privilege to hold all three titles at some point and all titles at the same time depending on how my clients have established the relationship with me, I have unfortunately found their meanings are not one in the same and I have found that some people tend to blur the lines when requesting, “Help”.

 

An executive/administrative assistant may work virtually or in a corporate affiliation whereby he/she is required to adhere to certain policies, procedures set forth by the organization.  Thus it is understood that the organization, the executives, and information therein is legally protected when hiring these individuals.  Assignments might include meeting planning in-house and offsite, expense reports, travel logistics, client invoicing as well as being a bridge in communication between executive and client or executive and staff.  There may also be a requirement to know certain computer software program/applications in which some organizations offer incentives to acquire this expertise.  As an executive assistant, I have pulled together a team to facilitate meetings and events for several hundred or week-long off site events for as few as forty including meals and activities in addition to demonstrating my computer skills/knowledge.

 

A “personal assistant” is just that.  He or she might take care of any task matter that is personal to you.  A personal assistant has access to your life and there is a level of trust that is established over time in building this relationship.  This is not to be confused with a nanny or babysitter for your children.  He or she might pick up your dry cleaning, shop for a spouse’s birthday gift, assist you in planning an elaborate event, and take care of the weekly grocery shopping because going to the supermarket is not your cup of tea.  As a personal assistant I have a had the opportunity to create elaborate celebrations that including sit down dinners of 20 or more guest in local restaurants right down the personalized menu, flowers and gifts, or just simply running errands to  assist the client with their busy day.  In hiring a personal assistant, please remember this is someone who you have invited into your personal space.  It should be rare that the individual is called upon to demonstrate hard-core computer aptitude.  If the situations should arise, in which one would want one’s personal assistant to act as a personal assistant/clerk typist or secretary, it is good to remember that these are two or three different positions and should be acknowledged accordingly.  Ground rules and boundaries should be well thought out before seeking out an employee or someone to hire.

 

A concierge is by definition “the keeper of the keys”.  This could also come under home owner’s representative or caretaker.  Most people view a concierge as the figure at their beck and call in a well branded hotel chain, but the fact of the matter is there are well established private concierge services all across the country and the world.  In today’s market, they come under the title of “lifestyle management“.  These are companies or individuals that will assist you in creating your wildest dream or help you maintain your everyday life, by taking care of the little things so you have more time for yourself, family, and friends.  As a concierge, I have located the only Hyatt hotel in Armand, made reservations and schedule a massage for an arriving guest, assisted in making over a kitchen by recommending a specific designer or real estate agent in selling property and literally taken care of all aspects of a home owners property while they were on assignment elsewhere.

 

Overall, determine what your needs are and establish the guidelines before placing the advertisement.  If there is a need to answer emails and take phone messages, you might only need a clerk typist or receptionist and the price established might be appropriate.  However, if the work and security expectations are at a higher level, let the buyer or solicitor be aware.