Tag Archives: retail

Why I’m a Rude Shopper

I can’t remember the last time a Kroger cashier thanked me first. They’ve reduced the number of staffed checkout lines and replaced them with mostly self check-out, which is a topic for another post about stealing. So there is at least 60% less human interaction than there was fifteen years ago, and today’s interactions tend to be robotic and thankless.

Many Kroger stores have a great organic section and the prices are very competitive, so I tolerate it. Publix has an abysmal organic section with a few overpriced, bruised Fujis and some wilted lettuce for $6, but better customer service. I’d rather go to Kroger and pay less for better produce with a subpar checkout experience than get gouged at Publix for a mealy apple with a smile.

woman with basket facing produce aisle

This may seem contradictory to the point of this post, but stay with me. In the end, I want value, and I’ve become accustomed to poor service because I live in this world. But I do one thing, which may make me seem rude, because I’m holding out for something better.

One woman who works the mailroom at my building doesn’t even say hello when a resident walks in. She just waits for you to ask for your package, then silently skulks off to fetch it. She hates her job. (She is the only bad egg there – the rest of the staff is pretty pleasant, and the manager is a real gem.) But interacting with her leaves a film of bad juju on you for at least an hour.

boxes and packages stacked on shelf
Hey Chewy!

This is the opposite of customer delight. Remember my post about the clunky way that customers have to sign up for a Target RedCard? Similarly, in order to cancel your LA Fitness membership, you need to log in to LAFitness.com then print and either mail or bring in a cancellation form Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM, when most people are at work. Here’s Step 1 after clicking on the form. It contains nothing more than your name and ID. You don’t even sign it. I enjoyed the irony of the third “choice”: you have to mail a hard copy but they cannot confirm receipt of said form unless you have an email address. Then why can’t it all be done via email? Of course it could. Nice retention model: inconvenience. The customer-last nature of that policy alone would compel me to cancel if I didn’t already have a bunch of reasons. (I haven’t been a member for years, I just return to this example because it’s so often salient when I talk about customer service.)

Make Eye Contact and Say Hello

It’s all too common that during a store checkout or badge swiping at a gym, the cashier or greeter senses your presence without looking up. Items are scanned or a key fob is swiped. There’s no eye contact or greeting. And there’s no “thank-you” afterward, unless it comes from the customer. Of course some businesses have excellent customer service, and Stan Phelps has collected some fantastic purple goldfish examples, but it seems to be increasingly rare.

out of focus business people waiting in lineOver time, the effect of being shuffled through impersonal assembly line transactions has a negative impact on all of us. And when a cashier at Whole Foods actually says hello, smiles, and thanks you, you don’t mind paying for the experience. Note: Whole Foods is only Whole Paycheck if you shop the aisles and buy pre-prepared foods.

The difference made by a cashier or server who makes eye contact, offers a greeting, and thanks me first upon payment is a contrast to most transactions. We’ve come to expect the exchange of money for goods to be mechanical. Where the customer is seen as polite by offering thanks first. (If the salesperson did something to help you, like finding your blouse size, of course thanking them first makes sense, because it’s for a specific action. But for the transaction itself, no.) The person taking the money should thank the customer first. And the customer should say, “you’re welcome, and thank you.” The order matters. Maybe this is why we love to shop online: although the thank-you page is automated, at least it happens in the right sequence.

Thank you for shopping with us today, [smile], we appreciate your business.

You’re welcome, and I look forward to returning.

I would like to close this with a strong statement like, “This is how you stay in business.” But that would be a lie, because tons of retailers and stores don’t train their employees to interact with gratitude and politeness, and these businesses are well in the black. Maybe our widespread addiction to phone checking, which really equals checking out of the present moment, has created a status quo in which rudeness is acceptable. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, I’m holding out – I don’t thank first when I hand over money.

Book Review: “Delight Your Customers” by Steve Curtin

Steve Curtin’s Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary is about taking customer service from ordinary to extraordinary. The emphasis is on employees’ understanding of the difference between job function and job essence. It’s a good read for marketers, because we can help shape policies and culture for customer-facing team members.

Delight Your Customer book cover
Steve Curtin focuses on the difference between job function and job essence

Here are the service employee basics, according to Curtin:

Ordinary Service
Job functions: “The duties or tasks associated with a job role.”

“…job function is necessary—even critical (i.e., the shopping carts must be retrieved from the parking lot…)—but it does not represent the totality of an employee’s job role!… The other half…often neglected, is job essence. His highest priority at work is to create promoters.”

  • Job knowledge and skills
  • Typical customer service: “routine, expected, and ordinary”
  • Results-oriented: policies, procedures, checklists
Extraordinary Service
“Job essence: An employee’s highest priority at work (i.e., to create delighted customers!)”
  • Motivation (understanding why one performs job functions)
  • Reflected in employees’ personality, creativity, unique flair
  • Lasting positive impressions on customers

Teaching the importance of job essence can really make a difference in your employees’ attitudes, which you need to optimize for a great customer experience. Most people (in any job) don’t answer this question correctly: “What do you do?” They’ll talk about job function: “I collect shopping carts from the parking lot.” But they should talk about job essence: “I make sure every customer has a wonderful shopping experience, starting with their first impression.”

Bon Qui Qui is funny because it’s true.

Eye Contact

I quit going to LA Fitness for a few reasons, but the lack of customer service was a big one. For years, the greeter sensed my presence without looking up from her phone, held out her hand for my card, swiped it, and handed it back silently. It’s the case at most grocery stores, too. Over time, the effect of being shuffled along through impersonal assembly line transactions has a negative impact on our society. The difference made by a friendly Publix cashier who makes eye contact, offers a greeting, and thanks me first is a stark contrast to most transactions. We’ve come to expect the exchange of money for goods to be a robotic, thankless necessity. It shouldn’t be.

“Thank You” (for taking my money)

One of Curtin’s best observations is about the order in which thanks are given at time of payment. Do you find yourself thanking the cashier for taking your money before she thanks you? Does she even say the words “thank you”?

woman cashier taking customer credit cardIn our efforts to be polite or politically correct, we’ve become self-effacing toward workers in service jobs. We have established a pattern of not expecting to be thanked first for our business. This is a problem. Granted, plenty of customers are rude and service people deserve courtesy and respect. But the customer deserves the primary thanking. Curtin gets it and has helpful ideas about ways to motivate employees to provide great service.

Grab your copy here:

For all the lamenting of the loss of human connection due to technology, let’s remember the simple opportunities for positive impressions absent from mechanized transactions in too many brick and mortar stores.

When’s the last time you received excellent customer service?

Book reviewed:
Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Watch: Delight Your Customers Book Trailer

Updated 11/1/16

Serenbe- Buckhead Betty Turns Green

The Nest

The Nest Serenbe

I had my first Serenbe experience last week, attending the opening of a Lew Oliver housing development called The Nest.

The cottages are fully self-sustaining and use solar panels.  The tour we took inside the model Nest reminded me of a prairie cottage with slanted roofs- with more children than bedrooms and I kept thinking about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood shack, but turned modern and green.  The theme kept reappearing- this place aims to depart from society and civilization as we know it; as we suffer it.  Pollution and gluttony and filth of urban life.  Lack of recycling bins.  Etc.  I think it’s all meant to be a giant circle- agricultural revolution –> industrial revolution –> mass commercialization and consumerism –> wealth established by few –> culture dictates the trendiness of (once counter-culture) green living –> the affluent afford to abandon the dirty consumerist city and move to Stepfordbe where eggs are fresh and granite is passe.  The trend is remarkably cyclical…

Stepfordbe

Serenbe road

Chef’s nickname for Serenbe was apt.  Idyllic and pristine, set 25 miles south of Atlanta in a rural area, Serenbe is a sustainable, green community that appears to be like any other small farm town from the outside.  But inside the two square miles, neatly laid roads and brand new buildings with a couple shops, bakeries, and restaurants are populated by some hybrid form of a Lululemon Buckhead Betty turned Berkeley, CA and transplanted into Georgia.  They are thin, wealthy proprietors of upcycled furniture shops featured in Architectural Digest, and clothing/jewelry boutiques, whose 450% markups on Turkish costume jewelry and tattered, mis-sized frocks caused me to actually LOL.  (Note: My uncontrollable spurt of laughter at the $250 price tag on a ring I swear I bought at Claire’s in seventh grade would have been gauche only if said blonde storeowner and her small, dark, frumpy assistant had been fully checked in. Instead, my overt, indelicate reaction practically whizzed over their wined- / pilled-out heads.)  I was overall amused.

For the serious inquiring reader: Here is an urbanexus blog post about Serenbe with more pix and info.

The Hil

The Hil served one of the five best restaurant meals I have ever eaten.  Impeccable service.  Ingredients are local and organic- they even have a small farm and garden outside the place, where I was forced to “pet” (read: gawk/coo over) the picturesque livestock by my animal-loving cohorts.  When a three-inch spider was discovered in my nest (hair on head), and the donkeys, though cute, depressed me at their lack of water or caretakers anywhere to be found, I simply wanted to eat indoors and stop interacting with my dinner, so to speak.

Maybe this return to simpler life is too abrupt.  It is certainly for the elite.  Re: poor city people eat cheap unhealthy food –> obesity, and being green is expensive (at least in Atlanta, we must pay to recycle, only some afford Whole Foods vs. McDonalds).  Except for public transportation vs. driving your own car– this is an inexpensive way to be green, accessible to all, but still stigmatized and arguably culturally humiliating, as Ludacris memorably explains in Crash.  I think everyone in Serenbe drove…

Watch the clip- “You Don’t Like Hockey” –Crash