By Jessie Stones
It’s Saturday afternoon at Le Chateau and the lineup at the check-out counter stretches all the way down to the back of the store. Suddenly, a pair of hot pink nylon stretch pants are thrown in the face of a teenaged clerk.
“I don’t like them,” a breathless red-faced woman huffs. “I want a refund.”
The woman has no receipt, no reason for returning the pants and take-no-prisoners glint in her eye. This could shape up to be a disastrous afternoon.
If the clerk’s been through reenactments of similar scenarios in workshops put on by Kim Ades, she has learned enough effective customer service tactics to take on an army of irate K-mart shoppers.
Ades runs UPward Motion, a consulting and training company that focuses on youth and uses theatre to recreate conflicts in the workplace. She took her presentation to Ryerson last week, leading workshops at the school of retail management.
“Everything that I teach has to be fun,” the 31-year-old Ades says. “It seems students don’t have that much interest in school anymore.”
She says participants aren’t likely to find her workshops embarrassing because she and her troupe of actors work hard to recreate life.
They interview employees before workshops to gather information about the everyday conflicts they encounter.
“The first thing they’re hit with is a re-enactment of what happened to them last week,” she says. “They’re automatically involved.”
Donna Smith, director of Ryerson’s school of retail management, came across Ade’s service at a human resources industry event and was intrigued by UPward Motion’s demonstration.
“She really gets the group involved,” Smith says. “Learning it from a book just isn’t enough.”
The retail management students go through customer service simulations and learn problem solving strategies they will ultimately use in the workforce.
“Retail is a people business,” Smith says. “Interpersonal skills are paramount.”
Ades says participants often get very involved, becoming frustrated and annoyed when the actors don’t back down from fights. It’s easy to say what should be done, she says, “But when you’re in the situation, it’s a whole different story.”
Ades, a mother of two, has a psychology degree and a Masters degree in business from Ottawa University. She also teaches at Centennial College in the corporate training department.
Ades was the shy girl in high school when she became student council class representative and was chosen for a leadership conference.
“Everything was based on games,” she says. “It was full of life, I wanted to recreate that feeling in a learning environment.”