Architecture & Customer Service?

Does architecture influence the creativity, flexibility or skills of shop owners when it comes to solving problems for customers?
This question came to my mind after a curious customer service experience in Helsinki.

Now, Finnish customer service has a reputation of being at times a little “underwhelming”, but that is not the point I want to make here (I have had good customer service, too, no offence intended).

”It’s not possible” architecture…

itäkeskusI used to go to a shoe repair located in a large shopping center in our vicinity, like the one in the picture. It has always been plain sailing to drop and pick up shoes here. Also this time, when I asked the professional in charge (emphasis is on “professional”), whether they could repair the open seams, he said yes. He then examined the inside of the shoe and found that a layer between the foot-bed and the insole had been walked “to pieces”. It was a thin layer of some hard cardboard material or something. So he pointed that out and said (in Finnish): ”Se on tuhottu, ei voi korjata”. (This is destroyed, it cannot be repaired).
As it was just a thin layer that resembled a piece of leather and it wasn’t even glued or otherwise attached to the sole, I asked (in Finnish, but for the sake of simplicity, here only the English version): ” You can’t just replace it with leather or something?

”Se ei ole mahdollista.” (It’s not possible). Well, I kind of didn’t understand why not as it looked perfectly simple, so I suggested: “Couldn’t you just take some leather of the same thickness or something?”
This is when professional pride set in. Mumbling something like “he was the professional, not me” and clearly indicating that I crossed a line by not accepting his judgment, he went to a drawer, fetched a relatively thin piece of leather and threw it in front of me. “Miten nahka voi olla järkevä? Tässä tarvitaan kova materiaali, se on erikoispahvi, nahka ei ole riittävästi paksu.” (How is leather going to be reasonable here? You need hard material, this is special cardboard, leather is not strong enough).

I refrained from arguing that there are different types of leather and that this thin leather is typically used when fixing something on the inside which cannot take up too much space and I asked instead (despite feeling clearly that he considered me to be very “unreasonable”): “Okay, can you put some of the cardboard in then? (Assuming that one could just order those inlays and I was willing to wait for it). Standard answer: “Ei ole mahdollista.” (That’s not possible). “Why not?” I asked. It really didn’t seem to me like a difficult task.

“Me korjataan kenkiä, emme rakenta kenkiä.” (We repair shoes, we don’t build them, in a tone indicating that I was pretty stupid to not understand this). At least I was smart enough to conclude that this material is only available for shoe repairs who also build shoes. Making sure that I understood correctly I asked: “You don’t have the right material?” “Jo.” Yes. So I stood there and finally said: “Well, I guess I have to throw the shoes away then”, and I started to pack them back into the bag. Then he said (realizing he wouldn’t make any money with me anyway): ”Jos haluat korjata ne, pitää mennä E…n suutarille. (If you want to repair this, you have to go to E… shoe repair).”

”E… shoerepair?” I asked, feeling some hope again. “Jo, he rakentavat myös kenkiä.” (Yes, they also build shoes).
Sharp as a razor I concluded that they would have the necessary material and I was of course eager to learn about the location of the shop: “And that shop would be where?” I asked. “Se on E…lla, se on kaupunki alue. Pitää vaan katsoa hinta. (It is in E…, that’s a part of the city. You might want to check the price, though.).

Well, I left, pondering this strange experience. Reasonable customer service in my opinion would have looked like this:
“Sorry Ma’am, I can fix this and this, but I cannot help you with this, as I don’t have the right materials. You may want to try E… shoe repair, they might have. You find them at xy street in E…” Even in Finnish, this would have taken no more than 1 minute and everybody would have been happy.

Instead I got: it’s not possible – which was in a sense correct as “he didn’t have the right material”, Finns being like computers sometimes giving “yes and no” answer related to ”technical evidence only”. Let’s just ignore that “it’s not possible” and “I can’t do it” is not the same in the ear of a customer. I only found out through my questions that “it-was-generally-possible-but-not-in-this-shoe-shop”, which anyway earned me a “how-dare-you-doubt-my-judgement” reaction. Doubting a professional’s judgment in Finland is like committing social suicide. The title of “ammattilainen” is a holy grail. It’s typical in discussions that people, when offering an opinion, announce first that “they are not ammattilainen”, when they are not.

”We will find a solution” architecture…

suutari smallAnyway, I went to the other shoe repair and the first thing that called my attention was the location (hence this post). This shop was located in a very beautiful building. Now, the service was still very Finnish (no smile, a few grunted yes and no’s), but when it came to the problem of the crumbled inner shoe layer, he looked at it and stated:

“We don’t have the exact right material here, but we’ll find a solution”. Today I am going to pick up the shoes (and find out about the price, too). 🙂

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