The disappearing customer service desk

09Nov09

Some stores have a dedicated “customer service” desk to handle things like returns and exchanges. When nobody has a transaction like that, the register just functions like any other checkout lane. Other stores do away with the notion entirely, and let any register handle special transactions. But is getting rid of the customer service desk really a good idea?

Normally, I’d say yeah, it’s better for shoppers if they can go to any register to do a return. However, my experience last weekend in a clothing store changed my mind. I went in there to exchange a shirt that was defective, and saw huge lines at all the checkout areas. Surely, I figured, they had some area dedicated to returns and exchanges. So I asked an employee, and she told me I’d have to wait in the same humongous line as people who were making regular purchases.

Well, the wait ended up being pretty short, since the checkout people were quite efficient. But I still felt snubbed that I had to wait in line again due to the store’s own screwup with quality control. All else equal, if you’re going to eliminate the customer service desk, you should at least designate a triage area for returns and exchanges during really busy periods. It doesn’t have to be fancy: just choose one or two checkout lanes and instruct the staff to call out for returns before they take regular sales transactions. That way, customers won’t feel like you’re penalizing them for having the misfortune of getting a defective product.