27 May, 2014

The Importance of Awesome Customer Service - Sweatshop Manchester

Since the age of 14 I have had a job in some shape or form. My mum came home one day and announced to the household that she had gotten me a Saturday job, working in a local garden shop. Someone she knew was looking for someone and she suggested me. No job application, no interview - I was hired on the word of my mother.

For the princely sum of £15 a day (15 Irish pounds and before the euro was introduced) I turned up and sold flowers to budding gardeners. I did it for two summers and I liked it. I got to meet lots of locals from my hometown and learned the art of conversation and good customer service. I learned that people appreciate it when you count their change into their hand, assist in bagging their purchases and take a genuine interest in them and their day. I also learned when a customer wasn't interesting in engaging in conversation and were happy to just browse the shop floor without much assistance. It's not a skill you can learn on a course but a skill you gain with experience, a skill you learn when working with a variety of people. 

Since that summer, I continued to have a job every single summer and I was the only person in my group of close friends to have a part time job the entire time I was in university. I worked, I worked and I worked. My range of jobs included working in McDonalds and Pizza Hut where I was offered management positions. Selling cards and stationary in the well known store Birthdays and a short stint working in the homewares department of a well known, large store. I turned up for all of these positions, rarely missing a day and I helped thousands of customers. I made and served them fast food when they were hungover, with family, with friends, flying solo or having a bad day. I assisted in picking the perfect Valentines cards for men unsure about what their girlfriend wanted and knew the difference between a fitted and a valance sheet. Whatever the position, I liked learning everything about it because I like helping the customer, I like being a source of correct information.

I write this post due to a recent and might I add fabulous customer service experience.In this instance, I was the customer. After crossing the 10K finish line last week (Oh yea, I ran the Manchester 10K in 22 degree heat!), I met my boyfriend at the finish line and proclaimed "I know what I want for my birthday, new trainers!". My feet were hurting, they lacked support and I just knew blisters had formed. In short, they hurt, alot. 

On the following Friday we headed over the Sweatshop Running Store located in the Manchester Arndale Centre. I had spotted their shop before. Bright and colourful, I never stepped before as I don't consider myself a 'real' runner. I'm more of a jogger if I'm honest. 

In my mind I wanted those new fancy colourful Nike runners I'd seen so many people sport. As an art graduate I'm a magpie to colourful clothing and shoes are no exception. The boy and I stalled in this area for a bit and I picked up runners and checked out the price tags. As they boy was buying, I was conscious of the price but I still wanted to ensure I got the right purchase. A short time later we met a member of staff who asked if we needed any help. At the time he was dealing with a rather awkward customer who was trying to haggle a discount. It was hilarious listening to the customer trying to barter, but the staff member handled him brilliantly.

He then came back to us and I explained what I was looking for. A new pair of runners which I could use for outdoor running and the gym. We chatted briefly about the runners on display and then he asked me would I be interested in having my feet measured and photographed, all of which would assist in buying the perfect pair. Now, I'll be honest and say, at the time I wasn't in the best of moods and was feeling more than grumpy, but knowing that it would help towards picking the best pair of runners, I decided to give it a go. The staff member explained it would take about 20 - 25 minutes and seeing as we weren't in a rush to go anywhere, we gave it a whirl.

We were seated near the top of the shop and I was asked to remove my shoes and socks. (Thankfully, my feet were in a decent state!) This was so that I could stand on a special machine that would outline where I was applying pressure on my feet. It was quite interesting to see it on screen and the store assistant who we later found out was called Rick and was the store manager, explained very clearly how I was applying pressure on my feet and how he would then proceed in asking me to stand on some custom inserts for my shoes. Standing on them, moving my feet back and forth, with help from Rick ,would allow them to mould to me feet so that when inserted into my new shoes, I would be fully supported and fully comfortable. I really enjoyed and appreciated how attentive Rick was. He was friendly, knowledgeable and we exchanged running stories. Me telling him about my pathetic running race attempts and him impressing me with the fact that he has run a marathon and in my home country capital of Ireland. We continued to chat about running and his love of Ireland and my mood started to lift.

With that, Rick brought out three pairs of runners for me to try on. Each time I tried on a pair, I had to run for about 20 seconds on a treadmill and it was filmed from behind. I got to view the footage each time and it was amazing to see the difference each running shoe made on my running and how my feet landed. My right foot in particular looked different and better when I wore and ran in the New Balance shoes Rick had brought out. My right knee is slightly turned in and as a result, it impacts on how I run. Because the New Balance shoes clearly helped this, I decided on these as my birthday present.

During this I asked Rick about the Sweatshop Running Club. I had discovered it online and wanted to learn more. His eyes lit up as he told me that it was free to join and that all levels were welcome. I explained that I'm very slow, not particularly fit and would be conscious that I would slow people down. Despite my concerns Rick assured me that I should come along, that they are a group of 120 strong and a real community who help each other out. There is a person at the back who ensures no one is left behind and in no time, I'd be feeling better and fitter. I could tell how passionate he was about the group and it made me want to join even more. He told me stories of how some joined to lose weight, get fitter or meet new people and how many of them have progressed to run longer distances and record great times. 

Rick had me hooked and excited and with that I grabbed a flyer and promised to turn up next Tuesday. I profusely apologized in advance for my running slowness and he laughed it off and joked that I'll probably be running past him. The boy purchased my new runners and inserts and I thanked Rick for his help. I left the store on a high. No joke, the man who spent 25 minutes with us ensuring I got the best pair of runners, turned my mood around and assisted in motivating me to keep up the running.

It's a rare occurrence that you experience such excellent customer service like that. Often staff members are under pressure to obtain sale after sale after sale and are in a rush to hurry you in your purchase. They think little of giving you a smile or about taking an interest in what you are looking for or buying. When we receive bad customer service, we love, just love to rant and complain, tweet the company directly, send an email and even twist the truth a little. Its a rare occurrence that we do the same when the opposite occurs and so with that, I'll be sending my positive thoughts to the good folk at Sweatshop Manchester and to the powers that be at Sweatshop HQ.

Thank you Rick for your assistance that rainy Friday evening. Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge, your running stories and enthusiasm for the running club and thank you, for cheering me up - even though you probably didn't realise it. 


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