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I’m hosting the latest Mentor Hall of Fame Meeting at The Palace hotel on Madison Avenue in New York. We had a few hours of free time yesterday afternoon, and my wife said, “Do you need to buy anything while we’re here?”

“Summer shirts,” I suggested, and we agreed to visit Saks, the huge department store, which is less than a block from the hotel.

We selected a few things on the seventh floor, agreed to split up and then meet on the sixth floor, which has a great layout. You can walk around in a huge circle with a dozen designer collections occupying the circumference. If you see something you like, you can wander farther into the displays. I love the concept, and since I saw only two other customers the entire time, it was a leisurely stroll.

I was carrying a Saks shopping bag filled with those other purchases, which tells you I’m a buyer. I was dressed well and any salesman (they were all male) in the business could tell that I could buy whatever I wished to.

YET NO ONE APPROACHED ME! In an empty store, with people working on commission, I was ignored. Some refused to establish eye contact. Others, talking to each other leaning against display cases, never stopped their chat.

Three-quarters of the way around my circuit, I passed Brioni, and a young man said, “Hello, can I be of help?” I put my bag down, told him what I wanted, and he told me to wait there while he rounded up some shirts from Brioni and Zegna down the hall. At this point my wife arrived, I tried on his suggestions, and all but one—which we both loved—fit.

“Can we order this in his size?” the salesman asked an older colleague standing around. “No, Brioni won’t send more,” he said dismissing us.

“Wait a minute,” I stopped him, “don’t you have other Saks stores that may still have some of these?” My salesman said, “That’s a good idea, let me check the computer.” The older guy just stared at me, as if I were ruining a nice day in the park.

My salesman arranged for that shirt to be shipped directly to me from another store, packed up the others, gave us his card and told us to call him when we needed anything else.

I will.

People ask me where I get my material as a writer and as a consultant. It’s all around us. How would you like to be the men’s department manager, or the general manager, or the product managers for any of those other designers at Saks? Do you think they need to shop their own business on a regular basis? Do you think they need to throw some of that excess overhead out of there and get some people who really want to work on behalf of the organization and themselves?

This is why some shine and some don’t, in business and in life. If you can’t look a customer in the eye and proactively try to help, you’re not going to be successful.

In fact, you may just lose your shirt.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 2

  • April 27, 2010

    Couldn’t agree more. I don’t know if folks just have a sense of entitlement about their jobs and don’t think it matters if there are actual, paying customers (commissions notwithstanding). Perhaps, or maybe they just simply don’t know any better – though your experience with a higher level manager surely would indicate otherwise. Apathy can be contagious.

    These days it seems, true service providers (those who actually do care how their customers are treated) are such a rarity in many circles, that even a modest attempt will get one pretty far. Simple, polite conversation – deviating (gasp!) from recitation of a company script – can go a long way toward humanizing a grossly dehumanized retail environment. Such non-conformists are to be rewarded.

  • Alan Weiss

    April 27, 2010

    Amen to that.

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