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All posts in Customer Service

I hate grocery shopping

I know it probably sounds contradictory since I’m a shopper insights specialist.  But like many shoppers I’ve interviewed through shop-alongs, focus groups, and quant studies over the years — those with and without kids, full-time jobs or not – I consider grocery shopping a chore.

shopping cart in snowTo make it more bearable, I’ve got a ‘system’ for this weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) task…

  1. Create meal plan  — CREATIVE
  2. Search for new recipes (and cuisines) to try – FUN
  3. Make a shopping list including non-food items needed – RELATIVELY PAINLESS
  4. Figure out where I need to go and hit the road – JUST PLAIN ‘UGH’

Problem is, this is never a one-stop shopping experience.

In a typical week, my itinerary might look something like this…

–       Costco for personal care/household supplies and stocking up on a good deal (Where else can you buy three racks of ribs for $35?)

–       Whole Foods or farmer’s market for organic fresh produce, meat/poultry, eggs and dairy

–       Trader Joe’s for my cookie butter fix and kale spinach Greek yogurt dip

–       Roundy’s for fresh baked bread, condiments, and baking supplies

So, in order to complete my mission, I need to shop FOUR different stores.  Bottom line is, it’s inconvenient and time consuming.

There is, however, one exception – a visit that seems ‘fun’ every time.

I visit Trader Joe’s knowing exactly what I need to buy. Yet I still find something new that grabs my attention, causes me to linger and often results in an unexpected purchase. 

All I have to do is spend a minute looking at something when an employee appears to offer their assistance.  This usually leads to my asking a question like, “Have you tried these black bean quinoa chips?”

Then they’ll open the package and offer me a sample.  YUM!  I’ve just found my new snack.

In a store filled with ‘private label’ products, they sure know how to make shopping an adventure for me, every time.  And I find myself talking about my Trader Joe’s visits a lot.  (I can’t tell you how many people I’ve turned into “cookie butter fans.”)

Given my positive experiences at Trader Joe’s, I wonder…how can my other “chore stores” transform me into a curious and engaged shopper?

According to Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe’s, companies should focus on culture and then build a strategy.

“Culture is the DNA of a company.  A successful company culture includes living the company’s core values and offering a consistent experience.”

This starts with happy employees.  Happy employees feel valued, embrace your company’s core beliefs and are enthusiastic about their job.  This translates to happy customers.

In practice…

  • Train employees to recognize and address shoppers’ needs and preferences
  • Give them the freedom to make product recommendations and offer samples
  • Encourage them to create a dialogue with customers that provides an ongoing source of feedback for improvements/innovation

Front-line employees are your brand

Many companies pour millions of dollars into advertising campaigns and brand identity projects, yet seem to forget that the way that the front-line staff interacts with the customer can undo years of marketing in an instant.

Managers need to take seriously the idea that a customer or prospect will form an opinion about your brand based on their experience interacting with the company much faster than they ever will from advertising.  And it will be much more strongly held.  Once this notion is accepted, hiring, training, and process decisions need to change to make sure the front-line staffers are up to the demands of the position.

I ‘m sure we all have customer service horror stories.  My point in writing this post isn’t to bash anyone or to vent over some perceived slight.  It is to point out the tremendous damage that can be done by just one careless, apathetic, or rude employee.

My experience with a major airline serves as an example of the long term financial cost of shabby treatment.  Through most of the 1990’s, I was working in consulting positons that required a fair amount of travel.  Like most business travelers, I was pretty loyal to a single airline for the miles.

I decided to use some of the miles I had accumulated to take a trip.  I got to the airport and found that I was assigned a center seat all the way in the back.  When I inquired with the gate agent about the possibility of getting a different seat, the response was “for what you paid for that ticket, you’re lucky to have any seat at all.”


What did I do?

I started flying another airline.  In the 8 or 9 years (and several hundred thousand miles) since that incident, I haven’t spent another dime to fly with that carrier.  I don’t plan to anytime soon, either.  Now I own a business and have staff that travels – but not on that airline.

It’s pretty easy to see how that incident cost the business well over a million dollars in the long run.

To be completely fair, there were plenty of other things to be unhappy about with that company’s service and that incident alone didn’t drive me away.  What it did do, though, was cause me to become much less forgiving of the other issues.

This happens every day in businesses large and small.

How much do you invest in the people who deal directly with the customer?  Do you even know what a customer’s real experience with your front line staff is?  Does your front-line staff have the skill and the authority to make the right decisions for your brand?