Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bad Service Rant

A little background:
I worked retail for over a decade; I totally understand what it's like to have an irrational, ill-informed, or just confused client. It is very common for customers to come in looking for a product without any regard to whether it's the right product for their skin or concern. Maybe they'd heard about it in a magazine, or perhaps a friend suggested it. It was my job to help meet the client's needs; to offer the customer information in a way that is informative but not adversarial.

I also know what it's like to be on the other side of that equation; to have a sales person who only wants to sell me the newest product or her favorite shade. I've been serviced (notice I don't say "helped") by makeup artists that seem to think that the best way to sell something is to insult me into submission. For anyone that has read my bio, I refer to myself as an "anti-diva" and this is why.

The other day, I stopped at my local Sephora to get samples of a couple of foundations that I'm considering. I am not a sample whore; I would never ask for something that I didn't have full intention of purchasing. I spend literally hundreds of dollars a year on foundations alone. I'm pale, dry and sensitive; with these factors as considerations, few products make the cut. If a company has a generous sampling policy, I have decided that I should take advantage of it. I know I will buy if I like it, so why should I feel embarrassed to ask, right?

If you are a regular follower you'll know, I took a short cruise to the Bahamas in April. I was as vigilant as ever with my facial sunscreen. Not so much with my body. Consequently, my body is a good 3-4 shades darker than my face. When I asked the associate for a sample, I requested the lightest shade available- I have NEVER, EVER, in almost 20 (yikes!) years of wearing makeup, tried a shade that was too pale- I always wear the lightest shade, and most aren't light enough.

When the associate went to pull the samples, she discovered that one of the formulas that I requested was sold out in the fairest shade, and offered me the next deepest choice. I told her not to worry about it, because I knew it wouldn't work and I didn't want to waste the sample.

She said:
"Really? Because right now your face is way lighter than your body. I mean, it looks like you have white paint on it."

Nice. Professional.

I let her know that I realized that my body was darker, since I had allowed my body to tan (stupid anyway!) but had protected my face. Now, I have been doing makeup professionally for longer than this girl has been out of Elementary School. Personally, I would never suggest using foundation to deepen skin tone, that's what bronzer is for!

Though I had just been insulted, I still didn't want to come across as nasty, so instead of saying "Listen, I do makeup for magazine covers for a living, and you work part-time at Sephora" I just explained that I choose not to wear a darker foundation- that even if you blend perfectly, it will become blotchy and uneven looking as it wears throughout the day.

This made her launch into a lecture about the importance of good skin care (which I actually pay very much attention to, thankyouverymuch!) She mentioned that people with oily skin often use products that are too harsh. This strips the skin, which in turn leads to more oil production; that, according to her, was what was making my makeup fade. All true, but totally irrelevant since I actually have dry skin. She may have known this had she asked me a single question about my routine or preferences. When I informed her that I am actually quite dry she did a total 360 and told me that the makeup I was testing was not formulated for dry skin (which she was wrong about, BTW) and that the dryness of my skin would cause my makeup to fade. Then she started in about a primer, which, of course, I already use.

At this point, she rather abruptly apologized for her bluntness, explaining that it was the end of the night and that she didn't really have time to beat around the bush. She semi-jokingly mentioned that in the morning she could afford to spend an hour trying to talk someone into what she thought was the right product. Highly annoyed and ready to leave, I told her not to worry about her rush. "I'm actually a professional makeup artist, so I would have known anyway..." I thanked her and left, rolling my eyes.

Does it seem to anyone else that the makeup artist population boasts more than it's fair share of know-it-all divas? One of the primary reasons I do makeup for a living is because I like to make people feel better about themselves. We live in a vain society and, love it or hate it, the way we feel is hugely influenced by how we look (or at least, how we perceive that we look.)

I have been on the other side of the counter, so to speak. I have had many a client that made choices that I felt were flat-out wrong. I've helped Ivory women that insist on buying Ebony foundation, and more than one great-granny who still wears the same exact bright frosty coral lipstick from when she started wearing makeup- in 1952! Of course, as a professional, I would always make suggestions and try to steer them in the right direction. Many times it went well- the client would look in the mirror and say "I love it- you really know what you're talking about!" Sometimes it didn't take though, and I'd just have to accept it, and take comfort knowing that at least my client was happy.

I am not so full of myself that I would rule out the idea that the associate that helped me could have seen something that I, looking at myself day in and out, may have missed. I simply don't know why so many makeup artists have gotten the impression that insulting their client is the best way of asserting knowledge. Honestly, it's a shame- the associate that helped me had most of her facts straight, but since she took no time to get to know my concerns or preferences, most of what she told me was irrelevant. I can promise all of my readers two things:

1) Even if I don't buy the foundations I sampled (which I very well may), I will be back to that Sephora to shop in the near future.

2) If that particular associate offers help me, my answer will always be "just looking". There are helpful, friendly associates that I will seek out, but frankly, if she's my only choice, I would rather the cashier get credit for my sale.

I share this story partly to rant- but also to let you know that this happens to everyone. The next time you're at a makeup counter and the associate starts playing holier-than-thou, remember my plight and take heart.


It's Me said...

Unfortunately, not only does it happen to everyone, it happens everywhere. I personally don't believe in using the term "professional make up artist," as a rule there's no license for it, no required schooling unless you're doing it in a salon, and -my favorite part- NO RULES. Facial shapes, bone structure, eye shapes, skin tone, hair color, eye color.... Each thing plays an important role in make up. Everyone is an individual, and when shopping (even at a beauty megastore such as Sephora) should be treated as such. What works for one person, may not work for the next.

I wish sales associates would understand they'd get more of a sale if they paid attention to the consumer, than the sale. Apparently they miss me at Ulta for my ability to do this.... Plus, do they even get commission at Sephora? You don't at Ulta.... The only places I know that do are cosmetic counters and free-standing brand stores! So why do they behave in such a way?

Unknown said...


While I'm not sure if Sephora is on commission, just about every retail outlet has some type of goal system- some companies are harder on associates in regards to goals than others, I know some places that will actually fire someone who fails to meet their goals consistently.

As a former manager and trainer, I do think that goals are necessary for personal development but I also think goals should be more behaviorally oriented and less about the dollar amount the employee sells. If good customer service is the goal, the dollars will follow along with happy and loyal clients!

P said...

It's something about the industry. As a cosmetologist, though I'm trained in makeup, skincare, and nails, my main focus in the salon is hair. But regardless of the service, I've seen many people who feel that this is the best way to get through to a client, but as an observer and a client. And it's something I could never understand, as I've rarely seen it work. I mean, we're taught to be honest and to try to give the best information we can, but also to be gentle and always always always kind. Always use positive words, or at least shoot for neutral. Give your opinion, and if they don't take it, do what they'd like. If you have some kind of moral or professional stance against it, you can refuse the service, but that's usually only when there's some sort of danger(personal harm, hair frying, etc) at risk. Have I given ugly haircuts before? Ohmigod, yes. But It's not my hair. They LOVED it in the end, because I didn't try to take over their vision and tell them how bad it looks on them until they cave. And you know what? They came back again and again, until one day, they trusted me to change it.

Though we view ourselves as artists, most of our clients see us as tools for their own art, not the other way around. And more people should respect that.

I'm sorry, that was a long and mildly unrelated rant. :P

Unknown said...


I loved your mini-rant, and I don't think it's unrelated at all!

You're absolutely right about the dichotomy of being an artist whose main function is primarily to service other people.

As hard as it can be to stomach sometimes, we do need to respect that and, as you point out, see it as an the honor that someone else trusts us enough to help create a vehicle of their own personal expressiveness.

Truly a brilliant comment, I hope to see more in the future from you!

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