Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, July 10, 2009

I like Shopping...With Your Money

I told them directly what I thought of their service: it was poor and they needed to do better. "Thank you very much," they told me. "Can you help us improve?" Eh? I was not sure if I heard correctly. But, yes, they were asking me, the uber-critic, to give them a kick up the rear at their request. I wondered what was the catch. Would I have to don shirts with their logos? Were they going to get me to hold placards showing ...? None of that, they wanted me to go shopping, with their money, and I could keep what I bought. This was getting to be quite unreal.

Next, was training. I had quickly jumped ahead and figured that they would be taking me on one of those motivational trips to Las Vegas to fully incentivize me, while I played blackjack or .... Instead, I got an e-mail message inviting me to a 'webinar' (a video presentation over the computer). Drat. Not even a spin to St. Kitts and a day hanging around with LIAT in Antigua? I was a bit dismayed, but still excited. Would I have to wear a mask so that I was not recognized? No! So, for one hour I was 'unidentified from Barbados'. I felt nameless and faceless, and that's how it was supposed to be.

They wanted me to shop from the start of April, but I told them that I was due to travel, so would do it after I returned. But, a mix of excitement and a decision to carve out a couple of free mornings, meant that I could do the deeds before I flew. So, scenarios in hand, I was off to the stores. I wanted to be the 'shopper from hell', or the 'young but dense shopper' or the 'shooper who had just one more question'. I could be all of those and stay true to the role of mystery enquirer.

The company has a handful of stores around the south and west of the island and I visited three the first day, then the next day went to two. I was not the same in each of the stores, because the situation was slightly different each time. I was surprised that so many differences were facing me: one store was small, another very large; one was on a main street, two tucked into a mall. I was also on the look out for information about special deals, which had just been launched. Overall, I found that the stores fell into three camps: two very good, one very poor, and two just so-so. I bought the merchandise that I wanted. It was funny that although it is a newish item, it was not in stock in most of the stores: in some, it had been sold out, in one they were still waiting for stock from HQ. None of the stores tried to do any upselling--like accessories. None of the stores mentioned the special promotion! That was a shocker, and when I relayed that back to my contact at regional corporate HQ, they too were dismayed. Why had they bothered to do all the training if the staff were not trying to get people hooked up to the new deals. Lastly, everyone in the stores was supposed to be identifiable, but none of them wore a name badge: the best reason I heard was that "We're waiting for them to be printed." That's better that saying the dog ate it or it was left at home.

My best experience from this whole affair was to see the effect of a previous run-in with this company. I went into what was for me 'the store from hell'. I was asked to wait by a very nice young man, and within seconds was told to go to a counter. No one was there, so I pretend to start my query, talking to the cash register--to make the point that if I were told to go for service I was ready to be served. A lady whom I had met before approached me: "Good morning, Mr. Jones....Mr. Dennis Jones." I was in a dead faint in a flash, as she followed that with a winning smile. "I remember you. We have the same family name." Child, whatever it takes. As I was explaining what I needed to have done, I got a phone call. "I'll be with you as soon as I'm done," I was saying when Miss Winsome chimed up, "There. Finished." Finished? But normally the computer does not work and you don't know how to manually override the system and I am expected to stand patiently for an hour while you speak to a technician and make me miss my next appointment. You cannot be finished yet. It's only been two minutes. I felt cheated, but happily so. "You have a nice day and come again soon." I knew it: she was making a pass and it was my body she wanted...again the sweet smile. I left and glanced back one more time. She was still smiling. Scary. Had I had that effect from the blue light 'spanking' I ahd given the staff a few months ago?

Maybe it will all turn out right. The expectation of good service does not need to be like sucking a lime. There is no need for NISE, just nice people who care for what they do.

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