They say that a customer who has a good experience will tell two people while a customer who has a bad experience will tell ten. I want everybody to tell everything. is a 100% independent site

Sunday, July 21, 2013

As originally appeared in The Telegram June 17, 2013

Although customer service or lack thereof has been a primary focus of mine, there is plenty more to talk about in terms of consumer awareness.  Whether you've checked the flyers and made a list or you’re just stopping for in for a couple of items, one place where you can see some interesting trends and increase your consumer savvy is at your local grocery store.

Anyone who has ever been subjected to the madness of a grocery store on the Thursday night before a long weekend can probably imagine being somewhat baffled in deciding whether to buy the tin milk marked 4 for 5 dollars with a starburst SALE sticker, versus the one with a regular price of $1.25 a pop. The sale sign designed to make you think you are getting a deal when you are actually paying the same as always.

Add to this the odd trend I have been hearing about lately, where an in-store sign advertises (hopefully in error!) the same or an even higher price than normal. Sometimes it seems a wonder that anyone can be sure they are getting a break at all.

In the last month, pictures have been brought to my attention showing Vachon cakes that were regularly $2.50 advertised for $2.99. Vienna sausages on sale for 6 cents more per can than their regular price. And let’s not forget the fantastic “flyer savings!” on a $4.99 bottle of lotion – marked down to the low, low price of $5.99. Hopefully, these were just oversights that make for some good consumer humour, but there is definitely something serious going on when it comes to what Consumerist calls the dreaded “grocery shrink ray”

We all know the story: meat prices going up. Produce prices going up. Most any price you can think of, going up. But as prices rise, something odd is happening to some packaged foods. They are mysteriously shrinking. This is due to a practice whereby items are reduced in size but sold for the same old price. I have encountered this on a number of occasions here in St. John’s. Take, for example, the 1.75 litre of orange juice that used to be 1.89 litres but still costs $3.99. I also used to pay $11.99 for a 6.6-pound bag of dog food. The first time I noticed this change, I had just paid a sale price of $9.99 for what I thought was the same amount of food, but when I got home found 0.6 pounds of kibble missing. Not as good a sale as I thought, and guess what? Now the 6-pound bag is back at its “regular” price of $11.99.

Another way that you might be tempted by a sale-that’s-not-really-a-sale is the 10-for-10 dollars tactic. In this manner, you could be enticed to purchase 10 of an item, even though you would normally buy only 2 or 3 of the same item. This might not be such a big deal with non-perishable items that you can stock up on, but maybe not so great for those who can’t pass up a deal and end up wondering what to do with the additional 9 packages of frozen green peas. Good news, though: when the sign says 10-for-10, the same price is usually applied no matter how many units you buy.  Would you have bought 10 if a 1-for-1 dollar sale were advertised?

Luckily, there are some consumer safeguards in place. First of all, should you find yourself bamboozled by the neon yellow signs, take a moment to look at the less conspicuous shelf label. You will generally find a unit price for the product in small print. Checking this price will tell you how much the product costs per unit, for example, per 100 millilitres or per litre for larger items. By looking at this information, you can make a more informed decision about the value you are getting for your money.

Finally, once you have navigated your way to the checkout with your purchases, you may find yourself availing of the consumer empowerment offered in the voluntary Scanning Price Accuracy Code. This code allows a customer to make a claim for reimbursement when the scanned price of a non-price ticketed item scans for a higher price than posted. In eligible cases, the lower price will be honoured and the retailer will give the product to the customer for free where the product cost less than $10. In the case of a higher-priced item, the customer will be given a $10 discount on the correct price. There are caveats, of course -- I have posted a link at my blog to the full text of the code at the Retail Council of Canada’s website. All of the national chain supermarkets in this province are signatories to this practice, so keep an eye out for scanner errors and don’t forget to mention the scanning code of practice to your cashier if something rings up wrong.

Do you think that voluntary practices such as the listing of unit prices and consumer protection such as the Scanning Price Accuracy Code should become mandatory? What tips do you have for becoming a more informed customer? Join me in the conversation about incorrect labeling, pricing errors and of course, customer service @ishopandtell on twitter, or send me an email with your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

As originally appeared in The Telegram June 11, 2013

I was happy to receive a few more messages in the past couple of weeks from customers who wanted to share their good service and bad service stories. I also heard some customer pet peeves and managed to get myself out to dinner with a dear friend, were we found a heartening practice in a local restaurant that I am happy to share with readers here.

First of all, back to one of my favourite topics: weddings. Christine, who goes by @Christine_V_C on Twitter, sent me an email relaying the excellent experience she had at her sister’s wedding at Clovelly. A real impression was made by staff there, who added an unexpected personal touch by giving the children in the bridal party fancy fluted glasses for their juice to make sure they wouldn’t feel left out during the toasts. The staff also went out of their way to ensure that non-alcoholic drinks were discreetly poured for the bride, so as not to ruin the big surprise announcement of her pregnancy planned for later in the evening. I thought that these small details were wonderful examples of making a client and their guests feel truly special on their big day.

On the other hand, reader Vivian shared some of her own pet peeves in an email, answering a question that I asked recently about whether my expectations for customer service were too high. She said that folks in the industry should be more thoughtful and consistent in thanking their customers, and that more attention should be paid to the length of line ups, especially when staff members are clearly available in the store.  She gave an example from an experience she had at Piper’s, where a single cashier was left to take care of of a particularly long line of frustrated customers.

Vivian writes:

The other staff ignored the long line and kept on with their other work. Finally, I asked for more cashiers to come to the checkouts and then they did. Some of the other customers were very grateful to me for speaking up”.

While it’s great that staff came to the rescue when asked, it’s unfortunate that initiative wasn’t taken to clear things up in the first place. She also noted something that I have often thought about-- it does seem that many people take issue with the level of service they’re receiving, but so very few people actually speak out. I’m glad to hear that someone else is of the same mind as me when it comes to making our customer needs and expectations known.

Speaking of speaking up: as I mentioned above, I was out for supper with a friend this week where we proved that making your concerns known can indeed make a difference. You see, sometimes we receive great service and it is memorable, like Christine mentioned in her email. In my opinion, something that can be even better than a good experience is a bad experience made right. And this is exactly what happened to my friend and I at Gracie Joe’s.

We decided to go for an early supper last week and I suggested Gracie Joe’s. The relaxed atmosphere was lovely. My soup and salad was delicious, but my friend had less luck. After her first menu choice was unavailable, she ordered fish cakes. Unfortunately, her order of pan-fried fish cakes was served cold.  When the waitress arrived at our table for the standard check-in, my friend told her the problem with her meal. Immediately an apology was offered, the plate was taken away, and a new one was brought back, again with an apology. This was the bare minimum that I would expect in any situation where a diner’s food was incorrectly prepared. But the waitress went for more than just the bare minimum - my friend’s meal would be complimentary. Not just the fish cakes, but the whole meal. We made no request for this and it was not required; it was a sincere attempt to make up for their mistake in preparing the order. Now that is what you call good service!

But, of course, if a bad experience made right is good, a bad experience ignored is definitely worse. Compare my experience to the complaint I saw on Twitter last week, where a follower’s little son got sick all over his dinner at a local restaurant. In this case, the staff offered nothing and the customer left feeling slighted. I’m not saying that every mishap should be recompensed with a freebie, but there’s some consideration to be given to the fact that in one of these cases, the patrons left happy while the other patron told over 2000 locals on Twitter about having received the “worst service EVER”. The outcome could have been more positive if just a little extra attention had been given to an uncomfortable customer. Hopefully the owner, who is now aware of the situation, sets a higher expectation for staff in dealing with such incidents in the future.

Thanks to all those who sent stories, pet peeves and suggestions this week. I’d love to hear more thoughts on customer service in all kinds of local businesses. As always, if you’ve had an unforgettably good or memorably bad customer experience, please share by tweeting @ishopandtell or get in touch via email.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

As originally appeared in The Telegram - May 20, 2013

Having been lucky enough to have enough younger cousins to keep me in babysitting through my teenage years, a job as a waitress in an Irish hotel at the age of 19 was to be my first attempt at surviving on my own income. At the time, Ireland had a booming economy and needed workers. And how better to bolster its hospitality industry than to hire a whole slew of friendly Newfoundlanders, regardless of their experience?
Upon arriving at the hotel that was to be my workplace and home for a year, I met with Frances, the general manager. Although I’d seen her smiling as she greeted guests in the foyer, she was somewhat intimidating once inside her office and sitting behind a huge timber desk. She asked for my CV. but I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what a CV was. She asked about my work experience and I told her honestly that this was my first job. She scrunched her nose and tilted her head to one side, looking at me over her dark-rimmed glasses. I quickly told her that although I’d never actually worked in a restaurant, I sure liked to eat in restaurants, and while eating in all of the finest establishments in town and around the bay, I sure noticed when service was lacking. What a relief when she unscrunched her face and straightened her head; certainly, she agreed, much about good service is involves avoiding doing things that you yourself would find annoying as a customer.

I made my share of mistakes working at that hotel, and I learned from them. Like the night I checked on the same table so many times during a dinner service that they insisted I sit and taste their dessert. Lesson: there is such a thing as being too friendly. But between that first job and the lessons I’ve learned both at work and as a customer since then, I can mention a few behaviours that many people might agree are among their customer service pet peeves.  
Not acknowledging people. I do not believe that customer service has to mean standing in wait with a maniacal grin. As a customer, however, I want to receive some signal that the person behind the counter is aware of my presence. A smile is the easiest way to do this, but it could be as simple as a nod in my direction to let me know that I’ll be able to get someone’s attention if I need it. Customers can also improve their experience by simply reciprocating. When I worked in retail, I would approach customers by saying “How are you today?” and would often be met with “No, thank you!” It seems that forced corporate politeness has driven many people to a point where every greeting is assumed to be scripted. This is especially sad here in NL, where we used to have an inherent knowledge that the answer to “how are ya?” is “how are you?” Let’s bring that back.
Bellyaching I don’t know what’s worse: hearing a cashier at the grocery store complaining to her coworker about a contrary manager or a bad schedule for the weekend; or hearing a customer whining about something totally out of the control of the business. When an employee speaks ill of their job or their employer, it makes them both look bad and it makes customers uncomfortable. When trucks don’t come in because 100-km/hr winter winds stopped the ferry crossing, there is no point in loudly complaining about the lack of fresh produce, at least not to the poor girl in customer service. Just buy your frozen broccoli and move on.
Not knowing and not bothering to find out. Nobody expects every employee of every establishment to know everything about their products and services, but it’s unacceptable when they don’t even bother to try. While it is any customer-service-oriented position’s job to make sure that a customer gets an answer to a reasonable question, this point is especially important in food service, where allergies and sensitivities need to be considered. The good thing is that it is easier and easier for customers to be prepared by doing some research ahead of time, such as reading reviews and information online and asking questions on forums like Twitter. This way, you will be better informed and you’ll know which competitors to visit in case you do happen to get the dreaded, “I dunno”.
Although I’m sure there are countless other pet peeves, imagine the result if just these three were eradicated. See how many of them you notice when you’re out and about this week and let me know what you find, if you like. I’m interested to hear about your pet peeves and things that customers can also do to help in getting rid of them. Or do you think my expectations are too high? Drop me a line @ishopandtell on Twitter, or send me an email.
Janet Kelly

Sunday, June 30, 2013

As originally appeared in The Telegram on May 13, 2013

It is said that a customer who has a good experience will tell two people about it, while a customer who has a bad experience will tell ten. I want everybody to tell everything, and over the past four years, I’ve been helping consumers from this province do just that, as @ishopandtell on twitter as well as on my blog.

Having worked in many service-oriented jobs over the past decade and a half, I can say that I have indeed experienced the good and the bad on both sides of the counter. From the call centres to the coffee shops, the restaurants to the retail stores, the hotels, the museum, and the salon, to name a few, I always prided myself on providing service with a smile, and with my customer in mind. And although it has been a while since I worked on the front lines, I still get my back up when I hear about or witness rudeness and indifference in the industry.  It bothers me even more to think about the people who truly do their best for their customers every day, yet hear little praise.  I hope that by spreading the word, not only will people be warned about the outrageously bad, but those who are going above and beyond will also be recognized for their efforts and others inspired to follow suit.

Since broaching the topic of customer service in 2009, I've relayed over five thousand local tweets on the subject, ranging from the good to the bad to the downright ridiculous. From unexpected sincerity in the drive-thru, to a chronically understaffed big box store, to the time an upstairs toilet overflowed onto a table for two, there has been no shortage of commentary to be found about real-life consumer experiences in Newfoundland and Labrador. And while complaints and pet peeves admittedly comprise the majority of anecdotes that I read, I like to think of it this way: before my loyal followers started telling all, shout-outs to customer service super stars were an even smaller minority than they are now. My goal was simply to get people talking, because regardless of whether an experience is positive or negative, the power of word-of-mouth cannot be denied.

Even Nielsen, a global company that collects and measures information on consumer behaviour, found last year that “recommendations from friends” is considered by consumers to be among the most credible forms of advertising.

And it makes sense! Just think about the last time someone told you about the rude service at a particular spot – it didn’t exactly inspire you to go there, did it? Then think about how many times you’ve recommended a business or service to a friend because of just one exceptional experience. The fact is a single impression, good or bad, can be everything.

Case in point:

I've never been to Gracie Joe's before, but I have been asking anyone who mentions lunch whether or not they've been there. All because of a tweeted picture of a monogrammed latte with an accompanying mention of their great service. I don’t have anything to gain in saying so, it just happens to be on my mind. I want to go there for no other reason than: I heard it was awesome. How many times has that happened to you?

Conversely, I haven't eaten a gold-flecked chocolate g√Ęteau in over a year because of the indelicate handling of so-called "study hall" clientele at Coffee Matters last spring. For no other reason than the proverbial bad taste left by what I assume was a temporary lapse in judgment. Yes, they were swift and reasonable in their offering of “humble pie”, but their apology is certainly not the first thing to pop into my mind when I think of that particular establishment. 

But does the blame for a bad service experience lie solely on the service provider? They do call it a customer relationship, after all, and it can take more than forced corporate politeness to make it work.

We’ve all heard “the customer is always right”, but could it be that there is such a thing as a bad customer? I sure think so, but in case you need convincing: consider the guy on his Blackberry who snaps, "double double" and flicks his paypass without otherwise acknowledging the human being behind the counter at the coffee shop. How about that woman who rolls up to the express lane with a week's worth of groceries, oblivious (or not) to the glares of her queue-mates and to the frustration of the cashier who doesn't feel empowered by her employer to direct the offender to a standard checkout line. Who among us hasn't left their 6-garment-maximum on the hangers in the fitting room; admit it, at least once?

Just a little something to talk about.

Besides the ongoing customer service conversation, if you have been trying to figure out the best place to get a hair cut, where to take your boss for lunch, where to find good summer tires, or any other local product or service, you can view all my tweets and retweets, as well as my blog, by googling @ishopandtell – you don’t even need to sign up. If you are already on Twitter, there are many people waiting to hear your stories, so keep me in mind when you are ready to shop and tell.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Scanner Price Accuracy

I hope to soon begin reposting my articles from The Telegram here. In the meantime, here is the link I promised to the voluntary code that I mentioned in today's column. Check out the Retail Council of Canada or the competition bureau for the full text of the code.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wedding Dress Shopping in St. John's and Area

No time like the present! I say this knowing that I haven’t even sent out thank you cards yet. Call it what you will, at least I still intend to send them. I was surprised to learn that many don’t. Not that I do,in general, but a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and they can be expensive to attend. Plus, it just feels unfinished to me unless we’ve “talked” about it with all of our guests (god knows we didn’t get to talk to them at the wedding itself, not even some who came from out of town).

But that is not the point of this post.

The point of this post is twofold. One: to assist @BogTrotterGirl with scoping out bridal salons here in St. John’s and area, and two: to get started on my wedding/vendor recap, because it seems like a waste to have done all the research and planning and gone through the frustration of not finding enough local content and inspiration without passing some of it along. Giving back a little Google karma.

So, here is what I personally found when shopping for a wedding dress. Shopping for a wedding dress is a unique experience, because you generally end up having the full customer experience with only one shop. I can’t advise on how alterations went for any of these (except the Bridal Salon) because I was lucky enough to buy my perfect dress right off the rack. Also, I’m not affiliated with any of these vendors. They’re just lucky (or unlucky) that I was able to link to them online for you.

Model Shop (St. John’s)

I went to the Model Shop many times and at different times of day, because I work downtown and they don’t require you to make an appointment. They have a good selection of dresses so it’s a good place to start to get a feel for the shape and style of dress you want. If you’re going to the Bridal Salon, it’s across the street, so drop in before your appointment to make sure you have all your bases covered. Note that they generally only have 1 or 2 bridal consultants working at any given time, so be prepared to wait. I suggest avoiding it on the weekends, if at all possible. There should never be 6 or more brides-to-be in one room! I had no problem getting assistance with fitting rooms (except on the weekends – again, avoid!) and the salespeople were not pushy at all. Seriously, I went there like 20 times and never felt uncomfortable.

Bridal Salon (St. John’s)

Meh. I spent a lot of time preparing for my adventure to the Bridal Salon, because it’s supposed to be the “best” bridal place around, with all the designer gowns. I pored over styles and, as suggested on their website, sent the consultant pictures of what I was interested in, with comments and all. So, I was surprised and annoyed when I met my consultant and she said, “do you have any idea what you’re looking for?”, then proceeded to bring me the exact opposite of what I’d requested, and in styles that were completely wrong for my body shape/type. With all the implied exclusivity, it would have been nice to have been prepared for as an individual client, you know?

Formal Sales and Rentals also had a good selection of dresses, with the bonus of having a lot more space than the Model Shop. This was where I ultimately bought the dress (you can see pictures at They were good in that I was able to take my dress home if I wished, or leave it there in storage. Steaming of my dress the week before the wedding was complimentary and everyone I worked with there was friendly enough. They were flexible in price (within reason - asking for tax in is a good place to start). My issue with them was the fact that even though I bought an expensive dress there and they knew that I had a need for accessories and bridesmaids dresses,they would not measure my bridesmaids for dresses without a fee of $20 per girl (which would be deducted from any purchase, but if you decide not to buy there, you lose the fee). This really irked me, because we could have had any seamstress or tailor do measurements for $5-$10 a pop. Just an unnecessary additional charge that actually worked to ensure that I would not be purchasing any other wedding items from them.

From the beginning of my dress hunt, I had my eye on the Watters Wtoo collection. I was not interested in making the big trip to TO for my dress and sadly, no shops in NL carried that line... that is, until Ever After opened and I had already purchased my dress. Oh well. This is a gorgeous little shop with a real boutique feel and excellent selection of gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses and accessories. My girlfriends and I felt so relaxed and excited to be shopping there, thanks to the attentive (but not too pushy) owner. Well worth the visit!

Bridal Suite (Carbonear)

This was the first place I went to try on dresses (well, the first place after I went to some lady’s house in Airport Heights thinking I’d find a perfectly cromulent second-hand gown before realizing that I’m not Kate Moss and therefore “vintage” and “sophisticated” pieces do not quite flow off of my bone rack the same way they would on a more willowy physique).

This is where my bridesmaids’ dresses were ordered from. The customer service was excellent, with Lori responding to emails and taking the time to work with us in the shop. The dresses also arrived about 6 weeks earlier than promised. Unfortunately, they fell down in the alterations department (which I understand are outsourced to a local independent seamstress); they did not go as well as hoped. I would send a warning to anyone considering purchasing a dress here or anywhere that it be a priority to have the seamstress who is working on your dress do your measurements. In this case, the shop did the measurements and sent the dresses out, so the seamstress had no context for the alterations, resulting in a poor fit. I really believe if we'd taken the dresses out for alterations ourselves, we would not have had the fit issues.

Croix Hill Bridal (Spaniard’s Bay)

I only went here long enough to see that most of the dresses were for a younger and more trend-oriented bride than I. The interaction was short, as I only tried on one style, but the salesperson was very helpful in suggesting other shops to check out and in showing me their catalogues of accessories and other dresses. Lots of more budget-priced options here!

If anyone has questions or comments on the various bridal shops in St. John's and area,please feel free to post! I'd also be happy to answer any questions about my dress shopping experience if this gloss is not enough!

- Janet

PS: some helpful hints for wedding dress shopping:

  • Don’t get caught up in a particular style until you’ve tried them on. I ended up in a princess gown. That was... unexpected, to say the least.
  • Allow lots of time and patience - especially when shopping on the weekends. Fill up your water bottle and take some deep breaths. Frustration is going to get you nowhere.
  • Try it on with similar shoes to the ones you will wear on the day. Of course, you are going to look great when standing on the platform in the store - it makes you look 6 inches taller than you are! Standing flat on the floor with appropriate shoes will give you a more accurate view.
  • Get your picture taken: front view, back view, side view.Wedding gown sales are generally final - this means you want to be positive that it looks good from all angles!
  • Bring a friend. Then revisit alone or with a different friend before you buy. My girlfriend wept when I walked out of the dressing room with the dress on. I still didn't believe her. When I brought a different friend a few days later and she wept too, I knew it was the one.