Personal Service

I like to buy Kish perfume for Christmas.  It’s a good idea, but there is one problem:  I don’t know bupkis about perfume, or how to pick it out.  So, what to do?

There is only one answer — Nordstrom.

img_3266When I went shopping for Kish’s presents before Christmas, I went to Nordstrom because I knew that I would get plenty of desperately needed help from the friendly employees walking the floor of the perfume department.  And sure enough, when I showed up in the bustling department one afternoon, wandering aimlessly with scribbled notes in hand and a hapless, sheepish, and somewhat lost expression on my face, a nice young woman approached and asked me if she could help.  When I explained what I was looking for, she thought for a moment, then took me over to another part of the department, where she summarized my concepts for an older woman who apparently got her Ph.D in perfume.  A knowledgeable nod, a few careful selections from a shelf full of different perfumes, a few spritzes on a kind of paper stick, a few whiffs by yours truly, and I knew I’d made some good choices.  And they even threw in the gift wrapping, too.

Sure enough, when Christmas came and Kish opened the perfume, she loved it.

I don’t like shopping, and normally I’m one of those people who knows what they want and likes to dart in and get the heck out of the store as quickly as possible, without interacting with anyone.  These days, that’s increasingly easy to do so, because many stores have cut back on the number of floor employees.  Nordstrom isn’t one of them — fortunately for me.  Sometimes you want a little personal service, provided by pleasant people who aren’t high pressure and who act like they just want to help.

So thanks, Nordstrom, and thanks especially to the nice folks in the perfume department at the Easton store who helped a baffled, perfume-challenged husband give his lovely wife a merry Christmas.

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Sins Of The Silent Auction

If you’ve been to any kind of charitable fundraising event in the past 25 years, you’ve probably encountered a “silent auction.”  That’s where various items — signed sports paraphernalia, artwork, one-night stays at a hotel, golf bags, massage treatments, wine, weekend stays at a condo in Cancun, and other potentially enticing options — are displayed on tables for attendees to examine.  Rather than making bids at the behest of a live auctioneer, the interested parties write their bids on paper and then lurk around to see if somebody else outbids them before the auction closes at the designated time.

auction-from-golf-tableKish and I have bought things at silent auctions, but they’ve been tangible things that you can carry away, like a needlepoint stool or a small hand-painted table.  We’ve never been the prevailing bidder on any kind of silent auction item that involves any element of personal service.  I’ve wondered how, say, a guitar lesson or a restaurant visit obtained through a silent auction would work out.  After all, the proprietor who donated the item isn’t getting paid at the time you show up; they’re just redeeming the coupon they provided weeks or even months before and probably long since forgotten.  Would that fact affect the quality of the experience?

We’ve now seen different answers to that question.  Some months ago two of our friends won a silent auction item that allowed them to bring a group to a local place called The Kitchen to make a meal with the help of the gourmet cooks on hand and drink selected wine pairings with each course; they invited us to join and we all had a wonderful time.  More recently, other friends won a silent auction item that involved a special fixed-course meal at a local restaurant and graciously asked us to come along.  In that instance, the service of the food was very slow, with long gaps between courses even though the place wasn’t crowded.  With old friends for company the time passed very enjoyably, with a lot of laughs — but the delays were noticeable and remarked upon, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether we had second-fiddle status in the eyes of the restaurant.

So now I’ve developed a multi-faceted theory about silent auctions.  I think you’re always safe bidding on a tangible, displayed item, because you know exactly what you might be getting.  The signed, framed photo of your favorite sports star isn’t going to change.  But when it comes to the personal service options, I think you need to assess the source.  If you have reason to believe that the offeror has some skin in the game — because, say, they are offering one free yoga lesson and hope that you’ll be so impressed you come back for more, or they’re a new business and are counting on your positive experience to get a good comment on their Facebook page and help with their word-of-mouth — you’re probably on solid ground.  If it’s an established restaurant, though, and the items relegates you to an off-night, you might need to brace yourself for less than stellar service.

Gold Soul

I’ve written before about the Platinum Stylist, the dedicated professional and perfectionist who cuts my hair and gives me a head and shoulder massage, mini-facial, and hot towel treatment to boot.  She’s an exuberant personality, and our appointments always end up being fun encounters where I walk away relaxed, refreshed, and with the best haircut you could possibly get anywhere.

static1.squarespaceThe Platinum Stylist’s real name is Alyssa Rowland, and at our appointment on Thursday she told me that she’s starting up a new consulting business.  (Fortunately for me and the rest of her coterie of intensely loyal clients, she’ll continue to cut and style hair.)  The Platinum Stylist is maintaining her association with precious metals by calling her company Gold Soul, and you can read about it and the services it offers here.  Its focus will be on helping and motivating people to provide exceptional customer service — something that the Platinum Stylist does as a matter of course.

I wanted to give Alyssa a shout-out and a plug because she practices what she preaches when it comes to going the extra mile and because I think anybody who has the guts and moxie to start and run their own business deserves a boost and a pat on the back.  Entrepreneurs who believe in what they can offer make the capitalist world go round.  I also think, though, that Alyssa and Gold Soul, with their emphasis on service and quality, have identified something important that is increasingly lacking in modern commerce.  With goods and products becoming more and more commoditized and “self-serve” the new normal, it’s pretty rare to have any kind of positive service experience these days.  And yet, don’t we find instances where we have received fine personal service far more satisfying than the now-standard fare of sterile, rushed, generic treatment?

ashanti20gold20dish20late2019th20centuryMy conversation with Alyssa and Gold Soul’s website remind me once again of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a hugely influential book for me that I wrote about in one of my very first postings for the Webner family blog, more than seven years ago.  The author, Robert Pirsig, posited that “quality” was a kind of innate characteristic that people could recognize in just about anything — be it art, writing, or hair styling — even if they hadn’t been trained in art criticism or didn’t hold a Ph.D in literature.  The core concepts of “quality,” such as care and attention to detail, come shining through.

Although I’ve not seen one of Alyssa’s Gold Soul presentations, I have no hesitation in saying that I am completely confident that they are great.  She’s just that kind of person.  If you work for a business that is looking to up its game in the customer service department, it would be worth your while to give Alyssa and Gold Soul a call.