How much good service can a shopper expect from a retail worker making $15 an hour? The answer depends on the worker’s experience.

This is what shoppers will likely learn as more retailers raise their workers’ wages. Most recently, Amazon said it will hike its minimum wage to $15, following increases by Target, Walmart, Costco and others that are pushing their pay north of $10. (The federal minimum wage is $7.25.) Among the motivations for the hikes, retailers have said, is attracting and retaining the best talent as well as improving customer service.

But delivering better service really depends on the level of employee experience retailers already have, let alone can attract. And that can be a challenging task, as low unemployment rates, combined with seasonal holiday hiring, is making good talent harder to find.

Shoppers evidently do not have high hopes. According to a 2016 survey by COLLOQUY, which asked 1,500 consumers if they would expect better customer service if the minimum wage were raised to $15 an hour:

  • 59% said they should expect better service and overall experience.
  • However, 69% said they don’t believe they would receive better service.

Yes, improving the customer experience starts with well-compensated employees, but it requires an adherence to operational principals that extend beyond pay.

Stuck In the Middle

Central to whether pay increases result in better service is how those raises are being applied. Under the new pay structures retailers are announcing, inexperienced workers might make the same as those with a few years of practical service skills.

Economists told the Washington Post that despite requirements that employers pay more than the federal minimum wage in 29 states, those increases are not resulting in higher wages for mid-level workers.

“Poor wage growth has persisted even as we’ve hit 4% unemployment, and that’s particularly true for workers in the middle,” Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank, told the Washington Post.

Those middle workers are more likely to know how to troubleshoot…