Is Technology at Odds with Customer Service?

September 2012

I just heard the most profound statement about technology by, of all people, Liza Minnelli.  She was being interviewed by Michael Feinstein on his radio show, “Song Travels” on NPR.  As they were exploring the diversity of her life in music, which spans the standards of Gershwin and Porter through the electronic techno pop of The Pet Shop Boys, he asked her,

“How do you feel about technology today? In recordings…Do you think that it’s a good thing or do you feel that we’ve lost something?”

While Liza paused a moment to reflect on the question, my mind anticipated her saying something like, “Oh, yes, the days of the pure melodies and harmonies, and the big band sound are gone forever”, but she didn’t; after a few moments reflection she said,

“I think when you’re moving forward, you always have what you had; that you’ve experienced before.”

She is 100% correct; just because advances in technology are moving ahead at breakneck speed we do not have to lose what we had…or more correctly, what we have!  I have spoken with many retailers that are frustrated with how technology has affected our industry in so many negative ways.  But you know what?  Technology will only affect us negatively if we let it distract us from our main focus.  If we continue to maintain our emphasis on the importance of customer service and prioritize our efforts on what amazing things we can do to make our customers happy, then we will naturally use technology to accomplish those ends.  Let’s not give up what we have always had – that thing that drives us everyday of our lives…a passion to bend over backwards so that our customers will love us and tell others about the amazing things that we did to make them happy.

In his autobiography “Minding the Store,” Stanley Marcus quips that he was once labeled by a journalist as, “the man who has made more women happy.”  Other labels he acquired were, “the greatest pitchman of them all,” “a maverick,” and “a benevolent dictator of fashion.” Marcus then goes on to say,

“I presume some of these descriptions of me fit under certain circumstances.  I do love to sell, and I make an all-out effort to discover the motivations which make a customer want to say yes.  The happiest moments of my day are those involved in devising letters to customers in distant places to inform them of some unusual merchandise offering, or working on a multifaceted advertising program, or leaving my office in response to a call from the selling floor to close a sale on a sable wrap for $50,000 [this was written in 1974, so that would be over $150,000 today!], or helping a man select a $10 sweater for his daughter.  We have one inviolable rule in our organization – the customer always comes first – and any staff meeting can be interrupted to meet the call of a customer.”

He goes on to say,

“Since whoever described me as “the man who made more women happy” failed to give full details of what he meant, I must assume that he was referring to the fact that I have tried to create an atmosphere in which women enjoy shopping; that I have bought together the best in fashion and quality from which they can select, and that I have given them honest and candid counsel.”

This is what it is all about; technology can never take away the passion that you have to select the ‘best of the best’ from the hundreds of collections that are available, and more importantly once you have decided which collections to order, what styles to order from that collection and then what colors and sizes to order in those styles.  Having done this effectively you then can give “candid and honest counsel” to customers that are seeking your expertise.  You can tell them that you ordered that particular dress in that particular color in that particular size because you knew that when they walked into your store you would have something that they would love!

I don’t know how you do it, but technology can’t take that away from you.  Hey, isn’t that almost a line from a classic George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin song?

Sal Macaluso

CLICK HERE to read our last Blog article, “Has the Internet Really Hurt our Industry””

Has the Internet Really Hurt our Industry? One of my clients called me recently to tell me about something that happened in his store during peak prom season. A girl came in asking to try on a particular dress. He was probably correct in his assumption that she was the same girl that had already called earlier in the day to ask if that dress was in the store in her size.
Major manufacturers embrace the eStyleConnect app that can be used by retailers to write orders digitally using a laptop, notebook, iPad, or other tablet. Click the "More Info" button below to view a demo of this amazing program and to sign up to use the eStyleConnect app at the upcoming Atlanta Market!
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