The Pacific Northwest is currently being hit by a wind-/rainstorm which is making going outside, if not hazardous (which it isn't, despite what the newscasts are trumpeting), extremely unpleasant. As such, I was not in a particularly great frame of mind when I went out in the rain to buy padded mailers for Hancock Street Records in preparation of sending out promo CD's for our new release, This, Not This!
I walked into the closest office supply mega-box store - Office Depot on SE Martin Luther King Avenue, in case anyone cares - to get the mailers. I was immediately struck by how disheveled and disengaged the staff seemed. They seemed to be much more interested in what was going on in their little wireless headsets than in actually interacting with customers. I finally got one of the staff's attention and found the padded mailers. I then stood in line at a cash register for two or three minutes while people listened and talked into their headsets rather than paying any attention to me. Finally, a clerk walked up while engaged with what I could only assume was his supervisor over his wanting to take a lunch break since he had been there for four hours, a request that his boss declined. At that point, the clerk started his laborious process of logging into a cash register, attempting to engage me on the unfairness of his life (something which I could have warned him about had he asked my advice before becoming a clerk, an occupation whose days are filled with arbitrary and demeaning decisions from management). About halfway through this process, he noticed another person walking up to a different cash register, took my package of padded mailers and walked over there, leaving me standing at my register flabbergasted. I assumed that this was because the other register was at their shipping counter (which probably has both higher potential revenue and higher margins than the small purchases that come over the counter for normal business supplies), but I was still quite irritated that he not only walked away from me, but also that he took my package of mailers so that I couldn't attempt to be waited on by a different clerk - not that this would have been a likely occurrence, as all of them were engaged in talking on their stupid headsets rather than in helping customers. So I waited, assuming that the clerk would come back once that particular customer (who was obviously much more important than me) was waited on. It was only when he started waiting on yet another customer at that register that I lost it. I walked over there and told him in front of the manager (who was standing over there, still talking on his headset) that it was extremely rude that he had left me standing at register I was at to wait on other customers. I then walked out of the store.
I did what I should have done in the first place and drove about seven blocks further down the street to Arvey's Paper (whose staff was not wearing stupid headsets, by the way) where I was helped quickly, professionally, and courteously. And the mailers were 60% less than what I would have paid at Office Depot.
So what are the takeaways from this?
First, when I thought of getting something like padded mailers, my mind initially jumped and fixated on the large, multi-line chain, rather than at the smaller (still chain) but more specialized dealer. Arvey's Paper continues to supply good service at a better price - they deserved my business. I should have never been blinded in that way. I am sorry, Arvey's. I used to come to you all of the time, I think that working in the suburbs (where only the mega-chains survive) has dulled my brain. It won't happen again.
Second, Office Depot, customers count. I know that your MBA's are telling you that it's much more efficient if you use the same staff to wait on customers and answer phone requests for your online and delivery operations but, really, all it's doing is making sure that a crappy job is being done at both. If your operation as a warehouse/phone/online operation is more profitable, do that; if your operation as a big-box/brick and mortar retailer is more profitable, do that; if you need both, bite the bullet and staff both functions. Whatever you do, stop giving crappy service. If you were a small retailer, fighting for your survival, I'd understand why you might need to do this. But you're big enough that you have the luxury of doing things right. And, frankly, you're being schooled in customer service by a smaller, more-specialized competitor who will get my business from now on. You guys, frankly, suck. My wife tells me not to go to you. Next time I'll listen to her.