About six years ago, when we were in the heyday of the countertop industry, I wrote an article entitled "It's not you; it's the granite," and it was my way of protesting a trend I was seeing. The basic gist of the piece was that the explosive demand for granite countertops was -- in some cases -- causing a decline in customer service. It seemed like the product was literally selling itself at the time, and some shops/showrooms had employees (and even owners) acting like they were doing people some sort of a favor by providing them with granite countertops.I know that seems impossible to picture today, and it certainly wasn't the majority, but in my view, that type of thing really went on from time to time.


Well, the industry certainly hasn't rebounded back to where it was in 2006, but I have seen some glimpses of poor customer service environments in recent weeks. There were really just two incidents, but I still think they bear mentioning. (I should note that neither of these exchanges involved me personally. I am just the reporter, and I do not bring my checkbook to a shop, so it doesn't really matter what happens to me.)

  • In one case, I was waiting in a small showroom, where a pair of (unescorted) homeowners was looking at samples and edge treatments. In the background, two employees were loudly complaining about their work schedules. (Apparently, they had a problem with another employee who didn't have to work evenings or weekends. At least that's the way that the homeowners and I interpreted it.) I know they weren't directly being rude to the customer, but who wants to walk around a showroom with that going on? 
  • In another case, at another showroom, a customer came in with an appointment and told the receptionist that he was there to see his salesman about an in-progress job. After a brief call, she said, "He's not answering." And that seemed to be the end of it. They stared at each other for a few moments before he asked if anyone else could help him. Upon hearing that no one was available, he left. (I wonder how the project turned out.) 

In both cases, I would imagine that the owner/manager would be furious if they knew this sort of thing was going on, but just because the issue isn't being addressed, that doesn't mean it isn't happening. (And as a reporter, it just isn't appropriate for me to deputize myself and tell the owner what I saw. At least that's what they taught me in journalism school.) As our industry is still dealing with a slow-to-rebound economy, shops cannot afford to have a single customer walk out the door because they received inferior customer service. I am always astounded how the weakest link in a company is often the one that makes the most (or first) contact with the actual customers.

Airlines literally pay millions of dollars on marketing and customer service, but anyone who flies on a regular basis has their own set of horror stories on how they were mistreated by customer service people, gate agents, flight attendants, etc. This trend is not at all limited to the airlines. Take a walk into your local Big Box store with a question, and far too often, you will not receive adequate customer service. And as someone who watches a lot of sports on television, I can tell you that the Big Boxes are spending plenty of money on advertising. Yet, when that advertising succeeds in getting the customer to show up at the store, the employees there drop the ball all too frequently. Of course, I am talking about two fairly easy targets here -- airlines and discount stores. In the stone business, we are looking to sell service and quality, and this is why the customer should never know if someone in your shop is having a bad day. Stone is a premium building material, and it is up to you and your employees to position it that way.