Customer Service: The Art of Work and the Value of Effort


I am frustrated. I spent my day bouncing from one store to another where the clerks were either unable or disinterested in selling me the goods I wanted to buy.  When you work in a bed store, then it should not be difficult to explain the difference between two expensive Tempurpedic pillows. When you work in a music store, then you should know the difference between two bass effect pedals, or at least be able to find the boxes for the units within 25 minutes. When you work in a movie theatre box office, then I would hope you could process 4 customers before I could enter a longer line-up at the self-service kiosks. Uggh why has customer service gone to pieces?

I know the rap: why bother when you make a little more than minimum wage without giant commission incentives, Dude? My answer to this: you should bother because that is exactly what you are being paid for. How will you ever raise your work status if you take no care in doing the job you are currently emplyed to do? Have we lost the ability to have pride in our work? I do not care what the work is, but everyone’s work matters, everyone’s work is valuable. I can tell you that when a clerk offers me intelligent conversation about the product I am looking at, then I will almost always buy it. I do not want rambling conversation, but rather, I want to see that the seller knows the product and might even like it enough to become an evangelist. Yes, I will put up with bad service, but only if the product is already so good that the end service is not critical: I can already feel human caring in the product, so the final experience will not deter me unless it is downright rude. But still…if I get a bad vibe from a salesclerk, then I can usually opt to buy online, and will. Of course, the service I received from Vistek put me permanently off Phase One’ s brilliant digital backs and cameras, so there are exceptions.


So why do we not care? I will assert that youth have lost the understanding that there is great value in doing your job with brilliance and attentiveness. When I washed cars, when I worked as a desk clerk for Island Tourism, when I take photographs for a client [no matter the client’s budget], when I teach my students…I care deeply about whether my delivery matches and surpasses the expectations of the client every single time. Actually, the simpler the job, the more important it is to show exemplary skill in delivering the product and a positive experience to the client.

Might I assert that we have lost the inherent beauty of our work, because we only see it as a way to make money. Money has no beauty or value beyond what it can buy. What it no longer buys is service, nor more than cheaply made products made for the people who care little about legacy or quality. Shopping gods are minor deities, and their pleasures are cheap and short-lived.  Uggh. Anyway, I bought nothing, and Sleep Country and Steve’s Music have both lost about $300 each today. Go figure…that is about two days worth of a clerk’s salary in each store. But who would care about that, right?

On a positive note, I absolutely loved Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The story was compelling, the visuals were lush, and the axe moves will cost me many toes and fingers once I receive the first of my axes from Base Camp X. My work for Paderno is slowly coming to a close. I have shot 12 hero shots so far over a period of 6 days. I am really working hard to ensure each shot is unique, but coherent as a whole.

Strangely enough…I feel like my technique is starting to extend beyond my Canon 1DmkIII body. I never really thought that would happen, but my lighting techniques, lenses and vision seem to be weighed down by the limits of the 10mp sensor. Tough situation. I expect to be able to use the body for another season without any serious issues, but I will need to consider what my next step forward should be. I do know that I bought the Canon for about $6000, and it is worth about $1000 four years later on the market. The Canon takes the same photographs, but I do not. It is an interesting dilemma. Unless Hasselblad can come out with a sub-$10,000 digital back [and they might], then I would be buying another Canon pro-body next year. Rentals are a possibility, too, and after my positive experience with Headshots Rentals, I may keep that in mind. I just hate the stress of knowing that if the rental goes awry, then I can owe upwards of $16,000 in a heartbeat.

So the photographs today? Well, the final two images are examples of what an 8×10 crop of the Canon and the Hasselblad bodies deliver with an 80mm CFe lens. The first image is using a rented CFV-39 back on the 501 C/M, while the second one is using the Canon body with the same lens. Obviously you need to understand that they are both the same crop size at 8×10 inches from the maximum file with the same lens. On a small product box will you see the difference? Not immediately. So why bother? Customer service to my client. If I can do better, then I must. I want to be the best photographer I can be beyond money, beyond “good enough”, and beyond what is the lowest expectation. So why can the clerks at your average store not even put in the effort to engage with me on a human level when the effort I put into the perfection of a raspberry on a product’s box is exponential compared to the effort they put into selling the product my photo is used to sell. One guy could not even find the box!

Oh, and the headshots…I spent 30 minutes working on headshot lighting with the Canon 50mm f.1.2 lens. It is a superb lens for very specific uses, so I wanted to work with that and get a better sense of how to take intense, perfect portraits. If I cannot direct myself, then how can I work with others. Mingus insisted on a few candids, so I took him up, too. He is a natural. Yes, my portrait looks slightly intense and serious, but that makes sense when one is alone working on how to improve the lighting and focus for a simple portrait. I ended up being quite content with the final product; I should have offered myself an espresso and a few jokes to lighten the mood, but my self-service was exemplary.


2 responses to “Customer Service: The Art of Work and the Value of Effort

  1. Hey there. As a clerk at Steve’s, I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but I would love to correct your math. You say that $300 would be two days salary for a clerk, but I really need to say that you are wrong about that. We make approximately $145 every two days, based on minimum wage. The 1% commission that we get on that $300 sale would have amounted to $3, taxable, so yeah. I’m not saying that it’s “cool” or “right” that you had a bad experience, but sometimes a little patience is needed on everyone’s behalf.

    I’ve been in the situation before where you can’t find a box for something, because someone else has moved it, etc. In those situations, I’ve offered to continue searching for the customer OR talk to management regarding a price drop OR offer to hold on to or ship the box/packaging when found OR hold onto the goods for the customer until it can all be found. 90% of the time, that’s enough to make someone happy. I’m sorry that whoever helped you didn’t go that extra step. Most of us would.

    • Thanks for taking the time to write, Andrew. My math often needs correction, so no offence taken.
      I also understand that many clerks do work hard for little money. In my experience on that day
      with that clerk at Steve’s and a few other places in Toronto that was not the case, and I was frustrated.
      In my case, the clerk gave up on the search and went for a coffee run hoping the warehouse guys and
      another clerk would sort it out, so after waiting patiently and nicely for 45 minutes I ended up being
      relieved Steve’s does not take AMEX.
      Regardless, you are quite right about it being a two-sided affair, and I applaud that you took more effort
      to write the blog than I received at the store. Take care, and many thanks.

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