KAYNARD: Customer service has left the building

By Michael Kaynard, special to Charleston Currents  |  Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 30 years, you have undoubtedly noticed that good customer service is a thing of the past. In most places, you could set off firecrackers and not one employee would respond.


Perhaps some small mom and pop stores still value service but the larger, corporate businesses have too few employees and many are untrained about their products. Most could not care less whether you buy.

On the top of my list of offenders is Burger King. After a number of bad experiences, I refuse to go there. The newest member on my list is Harris Teeter. Today I took back a common item costing about $3. I have had the item a couple of weeks and just got around to returning it. I was told that they have a new system and cannot take anything back without a receipt. I remember when HT would take back items they knew they did not carry just to make the customer happy. I have shopped HT since 1973. I guess they think I stole a $3 item to rip them off. It made me feel like they were calling me a thief.

Am I being too sensitive? I have a choice of Publix and Bi-Lo less than a half mile from my house. Soon HT will have a new store just a bit further than that. I am currently going out of my way when I shop there. They are not going out of their way for me.

I would like to hear your opinion of this new policy at HT . What do you think about customer service where you shop? Do you have anyone on you offenders’ list? Do you have any places you would refer people to due to excellent service?

As Saturday Night Live’s Linda Richmond Coffee Talk would offer, “The peanut is neither a pea nor a nut. Discuss.”

I would love to hear your thoughts. Let’s discuss.

Michael Kaynard, contributing photographer for Charleston Currents, lives in West Ashley.  If you want to continue the discussion with him, write to:  mkaynard@gmail.com



  1. Glenda Nemes, Resident George St. says:

    You yourself said Harris Teeter used to take back an items even if they didn’t carry it. Now you know that this was taking customer Service too far and didn’t need to be done. Unfortunately there are those who would abuse the system and cause the store to lose money. Mr. A may find it easier to return a pack of batteries, for instance, to Harris Teeter, rather than drive to Lowe’s. Or there are those who shoplift and then return for cash to another store to get money back. The store employees don’t know you from the 2 people I described so why should Harris Teeter give you money back without a receipt. This is not personal—They don’t think you are a shoplifter but they don’t know you personally and that you are NOT a shoplifter.

    Now for the subject of customer service… The customer is always right VS. The customer is not always right…. the former encourages entitlement without regard of merit. Real Customer service comes into play by deciding fairly where the responsibility lies and then acting accordingly. If the store offers a value added proposition such as “we accept returns with no questions asked ever” then they are responsible to act accordingly. But they may chose to put their value proposition into something else like pricing or convenience. Remember Value Propositions may also cost a company money and save you money but the ultimate goal of a grocery business is to balance their profit margin to stay in business by using lots of strategies. You, as a customer have to chose what works best for you.

    Also flexibility levels are adjustable as well. Policies and guidelines can be set and then a well trained person could be available when human judgement is needed. This is a choice the company makes for allocating Human Resources.

    You may choose to shop at another grocery store because you like their policies/products/pricing better but it is wise to base your decision on the stores’ whole value proposition to you, not just one customer incident in which you felt you lost.

    Yes, I agree there is a poor customer service epidemic. But Customer Service is multifaceted. It included all types of interaction from a simple appropriate greeting to saying ‘Thank you for chosing to shop with’ us rather than “you saved $2 with us today”(yes but I spent $289).

    Training should include appropriate social courtesies and interaction, product knowledge training, listening skills, negotiating skills, and problem solving and perhaps “anger Management”. And hiring and paying better for people who come with those skills is important as well. The HUMAN resource can be the best asset of a company, above product, facility and price point. And another variable is that there may be a labor shortage that forces companies to hire from a pool of people without Customer Services skills (either train these or get rid of them if untrainable. Their skills may be better utilized in a different kind of job…)

    Truth is customer service is pretty high on everyone’s list. And each person must choose where they shop based many factors. If it is high on your list to be able to return anything anytime anywhere without a receipt(not really a fair customer service policy to stores) then find those stores and shop them…… but don’t put that in “expected customer service” category.

  2. John Bleecker says:

    My experience in Publix is just the opposite from Michael’s. His problem is he shops too much and looks like he knows is way around the store. I know nothing,look lost and I get lots of help. I am usually taken by a store employee to the exact spot where an item I am looking for is shelved. Advice to Michael is to look lost. He will probably get help even at Harris Teeter.

  3. Michael Kaynard says:

    John I can look as lost as the next person. You know who has the lost look down pat, it’s my brother. Well, maybe it’s not lost but bored with the conversation. Next time you go to Publix call me first and I will let you borrow my gps assisted cart with Audi badge on the front.

    Michael K.

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