I remember when the Gap clothing store opened its first shop in my city. There was a lot of excitement about this place. People told a lot of stories about the experience of shopping there. They’re obsessed with customer service! The clerks wore headsets and radios so they could talk to each other! They’ve got a strict policy of greeting absolutely everyone within seconds of walking in through the door! Employees could be fired if they didn’t ask people if they needed help!
Among my age cohort – old enough to be shopping for our own clothes but too young to appreciate customer service – there was The Gap Game. It was legend. To win The Gap Game, you had to go into a Gap store and touch all walls before one of the shop clerks asked if they could help you.
Many tried. Few won. We accused those who claimed to have won of being liars.
For a while after the store opened, the customer service was indeed incredible. It was difficult to elbow your way through the crowds and touch each wall before being greeted by a beleaguered employee. Then, slowly, it became just like every other clothes store in the mall.
The practice of talking to everyone who came in through the doors burned out the store employees rather quickly. They had to spend finite energy greeting and helping absolutely everyone, even when it was brutally obvious that the person was not there to buy or even browse. The people who were there to buy didn’t feel as though they were special or being taken care of (two things you want your audience to feel). It didn’t help that most of the employees were also typical mall-store workers, mostly made up of teens and young adults fitting a paycheque into their course schedules. They didn’t really care if the person needed help. The external motivation of a boss telling them they had to greet even the junior-high brats trying to touch all four walls quickly wore off once they realized that the managers either weren’t paying attention or didn’t really care themselves.
That’s the problem when communication strategies are applied too broadly: in an effort to reach everyone, we dilute our message and fry out the people spreading it. We place our attention on reaching a large number of people instead of reaching the right people. And when there are so many message flying across everyone’s sphere of attention, making communication a numbers game – We will say hi to every potential customer! We will reach every reader! Our videos are for everybody under the age of 45! – is a recipe for obscurity.
Now that I’m older, I crave the kind of customer service that led to the legend of The Gap Game. I’ve come to expect this service whether I’m out shopping for jeans or attending conference talks. I expect presentations to be relevant to the audience and tailored for their particular needs. I someone help me find what I need quickly and efficiently. That’s rarely found in mass-market clothing stores or in most scatter-shot, appeal-to-everyone messaging efforts. But when I find customer service like that, I’m willing to spend more money, more time, and more attention on it, regardless whether I’m looking for information, inspiration, or a great pair of jeans.
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