Alan Chartock | I Publius: Smartest business will keep customers happy


GREAT BARRINGTON >> This week I will be writing on some perplexing things that have nothing to do with Donald, Hillary or Bernie. I will be addressing some of the things that have been puzzling me and, more importantly, my significant other, the lovely Roselle.

So here we go: There is a woman's clothing store in Great Barrington that has just changed hands. My wife is a terrific and stylish dresser. She loves vintage clothes and no matter where on earth we are, she will search out and find purveyors of old clothes.

She knows what she likes, she knows what she doesn't like and most of all, she doesn't like to be followed around by salespeople. If she goes into a clothing establishment and someone starts to follow her, she is not happy.

"Is there anything I can help you with?" is the usual approach. I am sure that salespeople are instructed to do that in the same way servers are instructed to ask you if you want anything to drink before a meal.

In fact, someone in that business once told me that restaurants can make as much on a drink as a meal. Clothing people should listen to the customer. Some people want help, others do not. Roselle decidedly does not.

Have a mirror

She does have one great peeve. She likes to see what she looks like in a dressing room when she is trying something on. She will never, ever to go into a shop that does not have a mirror in the dressing room. She is always very explicit about that with owners and salespeople in shops that do not have mirrors in their dressing rooms.

In some cases, these folks tell her that they think most of their customers like to be told how they look by the owner or salesperson. Some owners and salespeople have been downright honest with Roselle about their motives.

Some want to force their customers out of the dressing rooms so that they can do a bit of flattering or downright arm twisting. That is quite obvious and it really annoys Roselle who is very compromising. She tells them how she feels about all of this and suggests that at least one dressing room has a mirror in it.

However, compromise does not seem to be a possibility with many of these people. They really do lose her business, leading me to the question, "Whatever happened to the oldest of tenets, 'The customer is always right?'"

Cool the kitchen

Then there is a second issue of grave importance that might be discussed. We know a restaurant that catered to the breakfast crowd.

Unlike Martin's on the top of Railroad Street, this place had a mixed record. After years in their location, they decided to have a fairly complete face lift and that included an excellent new menu.

Years ago, under the old regime, Roselle and I complained that the front door was kept open, allowing a draft of cold air to hit the customers. Our server explained to us that this was because the rear of the restaurant got too hot so they opened the front door. OK, so years later we come back. There were new tables, new chairs, and an updated and excellent menu.

I'll bet that you can guess the problem. Both of us felt a breeze coming into a fairly cold restaurant. So Roselle sweetly asked the server if she knew where the breeze was coming from. Without saying a word our very nice waitress reached behind the screen door and closed the outer door which we had thought was closed. Some habits die hard.

Maybe when it was going through its excellent conversion, the restaurant owners might have thought about an air conditioner for the rear of the restaurant so that the folks in the front would get some relief. Ah well, I'm glad that I'm not running a clothing store or a restaurant. It's hard enough putting up with complaints from radio listeners.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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