On customer service & running shoes

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running shoes

I recently discovered the track at Thomas Jefferson Park (which I had somehow failed to visit for the past two years, despite living within a 10-minute walk from it). I did a type of “ladder” speed workout, a series of seven sprints with a short break between each  — 1 lap, rest, 2 laps, rest, 3 laps, rest, 4 laps, rest, 3 laps rest, 2 laps rest, 1 lap, rest. (The idea is to try to be as consistent as possible, despite the variations in distance.)

After I finished, a man stopped me to ask about my shoes — a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (the funny looking toe shoes meant to mimic barefoot running). I’m pretty used to getting questions when I wear them, but the conversation turned out to be a lot more engaging than usual on that particular day.

A few weeks ago, I started working at the ASICS store that just opened in Meatpacking. There are three of us who are considered “running specialists,” and we try to help answer more of the running-specific technical questions. There’s a high concentration of tourists in the area, and the type of customers that come in span a broad range in terms of running experience:

  • The Spanish woman who had never done a road race and struggled to reach 5 mph on the treadmill but was insistent on going through a very detailed gait analysis and seeing her results on the computer to help decide between two very similar pairs of technical running shoes;
  • The Australian woman who runs 40-50 miles a week and has gotten the new version of ASICS’ DS Trainer shoe for the past the several seasons but struggled to decide on a size 8.5 or 9 and tried on various 8.5s before settling on a particular pair;
  • The mother and daughter who went back and forth on sock colors (the magenta and blue set, or the blue and yellow set?) several times before deciding on blue and yellow after I noticed they already had a magenta pair in a different style.

On paper, my job is to simply sell running shoes and fitness apparel. But there are always little bits and pieces of value you can add on a particular task.

Customer service is about helping people in the decision-making process — whether it’s providing new information or just providing a slightly different perspective. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, “I think that’s a nice color too,” to help someone solidify a decision. And sometimes you just need someone to bring you 10 different pairs of shoes to try on to realize that you actually wanted the first pair you picked up.

Happy to oblige.

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