I’m always curiously surprised by the lack of information that the average store attendant has about the products in their store. Rare is the occasion when an attendant can answer my question with authority. Typically, they resort to reading the label on the product or running away to ask someone else. Sometimes, I end up informing them about how their product works. Irony, it seems, is completely lost on the average shop attendant. Recently, however, I encountered a new low to this unfortunate tendency.

Walking into a long established bag and luggage store, I inquired of the young attendant the size of the laptop that would fit into a specific computer bag. “What size is your computer?”, he asked. I told him that I had a 15-inch MacBook Pro. He flipped through the information tags – which I had already inspected without luck – hemmed and hawed a while, and then replied, somewhat insouciantly, “14 inches lang”. His flippant response notwithstanding, the answer struck me as odd because of the strange selection of laptop size used for the design of the bag (typical laptops come in 13, 15.4, or 17 inches). But the bag also appeared to be the same size as my previous bags. Without my laptop handy to test the bag, however, I thanked him and walked out.

The following day I was back in the same mall, this time armed with my 15-inch MBP. I decided to stop in again at the bag store. The same attendant was there and seemed to recognize me. I explained that I had my laptop with me this time, and asked him to humor me as I tried to fit it into the bag. He reminded me that the bag only fit 14-inch laptops. “Ok”, I replied, and then dropped my laptop into the bag’s sleeve. Perfect fit. What could I say? I eyed the attendant suspiciously. “But it won’t close up, sir.” Really? Ziiiip. After a short pause he said, “But it will make everything else very tight and you won’t be able to fit anything else in.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! He was actually trying to talk me out of buying this bag. The laptop fit perfectly. And there was plenty of room to spare for extra books, folders, notepads, a small jetliner, or whatever I needed for a day at the office. It’s one thing to not be able to recall every bit of information about your inventory. It’s quite another to argue with a customer when the customer has proven that your information is faulty, and is still willing to purchase the product!

At this point, I was finished communicating with the attendant. “Basta,” I said, “I’ll get it na lang”, and shooed him away. In this case, the quality of the product trumped the poor customer service. This hasn’t always been the case, however. I’ve walked out of stores without buying a product only to go two stalls down to purchase the same item from another vendor (at a slightly higher price) because he was able to speak intelligently about his products. The question is, why would a store owner not invest time in training his sales reps on the products or services he or she is selling?

There are a plethora of creative ways to train your staff. Whether through role playing games, assigned homework, pop quizzes, or performance evaluations, the point is that managers need to mentor their teams. After all, I don’t blame the attendant. This store obviously suffered from a breakdown in one of their key disciplines. Maybe they lacked a targeted training system to address employee knowledge and skills. Maybe there was poor communication between the product placement and sales teams. Or maybe the attendant had just been dumped by his girlfriend and he was lashing out at anyone that he encountered. Regardless of where the system broke down, the root of the problem can usually be found in an otherwise engaged and proactive leadership.

Is your leadership engaged and proactive?

Laptop bag in question with 15-inch MacBook Pro, folders with files, two black notebooks, and two books. Everything fits nicely and there's still plenty of room!

Laptop bag in question with 15-inch MacBook Pro, folders with files, two black notebooks, and two books. Everything fits nicely and there’s still plenty of room!