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Almost Right is Still Wrong

I was going to title this It Isn’t the Thought That Counts or maybe The Road to Retail Ruin is Paved With Good Intentions. You’ll see why momentarily.

Back in 1993 I had to do something incredibly hard. I had to put a dog down. It was our first dog, Sandy. She was a mixed-breed mutt with a little bull terrier in her. She looked a lot like Spuds McKenzie without the eye-patch. She got along great with our kitty, Shadow, but not so great with visitors. When she jumped through a plate glass window by the front door at my uncle who had stopped to visit, it was the beginning of the end.

My current pup Samantha

The last drive we took in my truck was incredibly emotional. I still get choked up thinking about it, but it was the only thing to do with a dog this aggressive and loyal only to us. To make matters worse, Clint Black was singing State of Mind on the radio.

My friend had a similar experience last week. Only in her case, it was a cat, not a dog. She’s not a big fan of dogs (understatement). She took the cat to the vet, said her goodbyes and walked out with tears.

A few days later she got a card in the mail from her veterinarian. It was a sympathy card they use for situations like this. The inside of the card had a printed message that was perfect for the situation. There was also a hand-written note from the vet expressing his sympathy.

Normally this would be one of my They-Get-It type posts where I praise the vet for going above and beyond. In fact, when she showed me the card, I got choked up inside and felt the genuine concern they were trying to share. But then again, being a dog lover, I didn’t notice the one glaring error that made it all wrong.

The front cover of the card was a collage of pictures of pets, all of them … you guessed it … dogs.

If you love dogs, you don’t notice that mistake when they send you this card for putting your cat down. When you dislike dogs, it becomes horribly offensive, like twisting the knife in a wound that still hasn’t fully healed.

I point this out not to scare you away from going the extra mile or doing something surprising and unexpected, but to show you that you have to plan those special moments out to make sure all the details are correct. Being almost right can sometimes be very wrong.

I would venture to guess that the staff at the vet office are probably all dog lovers, and were just as blind to the insensitivity of the card as I was initially. Having an impartial set of eyes might have helped. Understanding that there are more cats than dogs statistically speaking might also have helped.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you the best way to make sure you aren’t offending someone when you’re trying to go the extra mile.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Clint Black’s song talks about how a melody brings back a memory. Talk about a meta experience for me, since that is the song that brings back the memory and changes my state of mind.

Phone Calls That Lose Customers

Earlier this year I joined the many throngs of people who gave up their land line. No “home phone” for me. The one true regret I have is that I hate filling out all those forms where they ask for home, business, and cell numbers. Since I use my cellphone as my home phone and for business, which line should I fill out?

What I don’t miss is the extra bill for the land line, or having to check two voice mails each day.

Image result for on holdThe cellphone has one handy feature that I almost dread using. It tells me how long I have been on the phone, especially how long I have been on hold.

It is amazing to me that in this day and age any phone call would be put on hold for as long as some of my calls have been. I do understand that some tech support places just get a much higher volume of calls than they can find English speakers (and I use that term loosely) to answer the phones.

What I really don’t understand is how long I have been put on hold at retail stores. Not that I won’t shop online, but whenever possible I want to do my shopping in brick & mortar stores. I like going to really cool stores. I like seeing how others operate. I love when local stores are knocking it out of the park. I get some of my best post ideas from shopping trips.

I spend more time on my computer and cellphone looking up phone numbers of stores than looking up products. I know I’m not alone, either.

But yesterday I felt the kind of frustration that drives people to the Internet to do their shopping. I called a store with a simple request to see if they had an item in stock. I even had an item number for them.

First, I had to wade through a lengthy menu that met none of my needs, before I could push zero to talk to a real person.

Then the person who answered was either busy doing something else, in a hurry to do something else, or had just finished her thirteenth cup of coffee. She blurted out her scripted greeting so fast and brusque that I wasn’t even sure I had called the right place. I made my request. Twice, because she was too preoccupied with whatever was on her side of the line to listen to me the first time.

I said, “I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“What did you say?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“Okay, you need to hold.”

(silence)

I looked at my phone, browsed a little Facebook on my computer, looked back at my phone, and then decided to put it on speaker so that I could set it down.

At the 7:32 mark the hurried voice came back on. “What did you need?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock?”

“A what?”

“I have an item number.”

“What is it?”

I won’t bore you with the four times I had to read the number until she got it right. You can probably guess that script.

She put me back on hold. At the 16:42 mark, she came back on the phone. “What is the item?”

I gave her a description only to find out they didn’t have any. Seventeen minutes. I wonder if she went out for one more cup of coffee. I know I drank a Diet Mountain Dew (my “green tea” as I like to call it) during that time.

My best guess is that the person answering the phone in this store isn’t a trained phone operator or call center person. I am also guessing that this person doesn’t have a computer for looking things up near the phone she answered. I am further guessing that she is a manager of some sort and got called to put out several fires during my two lengthy holds. Or if not, she is a sales clerk who was taught (correctly) that the customer in front of you is more important than the customer on the phone. She just wasn’t taught what to do when you have both a customer in front of you and a customer on the phone.

If you find yourself, because of tight staffing or a busy moment in the store, in that latter situation here are some suggestions that would make callers like me less frustrated.

  1. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t have the time to be polite and get a customer’s information from them. It is always better for the call to go to a voice mail than for you to be hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone. If you are hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone, I will assume you are that way all the time.
  2. When you answer the phone, if you know you cannot solve my problem in less than a minute or two, get all the info you can, including my phone number, and promise to call me back. Make sure you or someone else does call me back ASAP (ten minutes or less is ideal). The customer in front of you will be patient enough if they hear you getting the info you need to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
  3. If you have to put me on hold, explain why and how long it might take.
  4. If you can talk to me, stay on the line. Don’t put me on hold while your really slow Windows 95 computer with dial-up looks something up. You put me at ease by staying on the line because the time goes faster, and I can’t look at the clock on my phone telling me how much time I’ve used.

Phone etiquette doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be taught. In a world where finding new customers is more expensive and difficult than ever, it can make all the difference to your bottom line when you know how to answer your phone.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our phones had a built-in timer that started beeping as soon as a hold had lasted longer than a minute. It was an annoying beep, too, so there was extra incentive for my staff to get back to that customer ASAP.

Three Pictures, Three Smiles

It is soooo easy to bash stores and their poor customer service. I am almost afraid to go out any more because every encounter ends up becoming a post about what not to do.

For instance, I could tell you about tonight’s dinner when the waitress brought the check and then disappeared for ten minutes before returning to take my money.

Or I could talk about the manager who totally dressed down a cashier in front of me for doing something that the cashier never did.

Fortunately there have been positive stories like the clerk at Walmart who helped a new mom who had brought her toddler in to get his meds, only to have the little boy vomit all over himself, his mom, and everywhere. This clerk not only helped clean him up, she helped get mom and the boy into the restroom so that mom could clean up, and even went and picked out a new sleeper for the poor little kid so that he could have fresh clothes to go home in.

It not only reminded me that good people will rise above their surroundings*, it also reminded me that you can’t train “caring”, but you darn well better hire for it.

For today’s post I leave you with three pictures that made me smile.

Creative Display or Prank Customer?

Towel Display I found while shopping

It is highly likely that a customer having a little fun probably did this. But it stopped me dead in my tracks and made me actually laugh out loud. What would have been better is if they had Scrabbled the letters so that they spelled words both across and down. Here is the thing … You can do this yourself. You may or may not have the guts to spell out Bad Ass, but if you’re clever enough, you will surprise and delight at least a few observant folk.

When you do little things like this purposefully, these little attentions to detail remind customers that you pay attention to everything.

That builds trust. Trust creates loyalty.

Signs Sell!

Game Department Signage at Hall of Toys

It might be too small to read here, but this sign I found in the game department of Hall of Toys in Battle Creek, Michigan was quite clever. The sign reads …

Empire Building
Build, protect, and rule over a civilization,
agricultural empire, or business venture to
crush the competition and win.

This kind of signage not only makes the department seem more fun, it gives you a better idea of the types of games you’ll find. The more creative you are with your signage, the more likely customers will stop, browse, and buy. Signs are one area where creativity wins. Be useful first, but mix in some clever and creative to surprise and delight your fans.

Displays That Draw Attention

Animal Display at CR Toys

This came from another toy store. It falls into the category of Go Big or Go Home. Connie found a fun way to highlight the variety of animal-themed toys she sells in her Kearney, Nebraska store.

What I like about this display is the height. There is something fun at every level, something surprisingly delightful everywhere you turn. If part of your customer base is children, do what Walt Disney famously did the day before Disney Land opened. Get on your knees and look at it from their perspective. You see the world at different angles. Make sure you have something interesting in your displays from all angles

That’s your feel-good for today. Keep sending me the good, the bad, and the ugly.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *I know it was a clerk rising above her surroundings, because while she was bending over backwards to help this poor mom, I watched several other clerks simply stand by and do nothing at all. Some even left the area so they wouldn’t get tasked with having to help clean up the mess. No, she wasn’t the manager, either. I could write a whole other post on what the manager was doing while all this was going on. I’ll save that cautionary tale for later.

What is Worse Than That? The Lower Bar of Customer Service

This morning my bladder woke me up about twenty minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. (TMI?) I am not a morning person so I was not pleased.

When something like this happens, you only have a few options. Tell your bladder you’ll get up when the alarm goes off and hope you don’t wet the bed. Get up and go, then try to get another fifteen minutes of sleep before the alarm sounds. Get up and start the day twenty minutes earlier than planned. (Or in my case, try to go back to sleep and instead write a blog post in your head.)

Can you think of anything worse for a non-morning person than having their bladder (or their dog or someone honking the horn) wake them up twenty minutes before they planned to get up?

How about going through the checkout with a cart full of groceries, have everything bagged and back in your cart, and then be told the cash register is frozen and you’ll have to go to the next register, and scan it all over again because they haven’t updated their hardware or software since Y2K, and then when you get to the other register the scanner isn’t working there either so you have to cart everything one more time and try a third register?

How about going to the big department store where you have been buying the same turtleneck for the past twenty-three years, getting to the department and finding the place trashed, having to sift through tons of shirts tossed everywhere until you finally find one in your size, going up to the checkout to find there are only two cashiers in a store of 150,000 square feet, and after waiting twenty minutes in line you learn that the shirts are an extra 30% off today only (if you can find another one in that mess in your size by yourself and are willing to wait another 30 minutes to checkout)?

How about reading an ad in Sunday’s paper, seeing an item you have been wanting for a while, and it is now on sale at a price you can afford, heading to the store that afternoon only to find your store never had any in stock in the first place?

How about walking into a store about 20 minutes before closing time and being told by the greeter (and I use that term loosely), “We’re closing soon so if you have a big purchase that is going to be a hassle you need to do it right away,”?

How about holding an item in your hand that is the right size, wanting a second one, and being told by a sales clerk too lazy to look something up, “They don’t make it in that size,”?

How about trying on a shirt, asking for a new size, and when the clerk comes back with the new size, asking if they have any more styles in that size and being told, “I don’t know,” before the clerk walks away never to return?

How about ordering a food item at a fast food restaurant and being told that it is cheaper to get a bunch of other items you don’t want with that item, so that you end up wasting food just to save money?

These are just a handful of situations that cropped up for me in the past few days. I asked the audience at the MAEDA presentation if any of them gave poor customer service, just treated their customers like crap. Not one person raised their hands. Then I asked them if anyone had received poor customer service in the past two weeks. Most every hand went up.

I tell you this to point out what is happening in terms of customer service and how that will affect you and your business.

The good news is that poor customer service is so rampant that it lowers the bar of expectation and makes the service you are striving to give look amazingly good.

The bad news is that as the bar of expectation gets lowered, so does the tolerance of the general public for getting worse and worse service. If you get complacent in the service you offer, you let the other guys win. You let them set the bar. Your slightly better service will seem outdated and expensive.

If you ramp up your service to such an amazingly high level that you surprise and delight customers at every turn, then you reset the bar in your favor and expose your competitors for the non-caring companies that they are.

The minimum would be to …

  • Make sure you have ample supply of anything you advertise on sale.
  • Make sure you have proper signage on the displays of items on sale explaining the deal.
  • Make sure you keep your merchandise neat and tidy and sorted and easy to find.
  • Make sure your hardware and software is up to date and functioning properly everywhere.
  • Make sure you have enough staff to make the shopping experience fun and easy.
  • Make sure your staff are trained to never say, “No.”

If you do the minimum, you’ll get the minimum. The maximum, however, has exponential returns.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, all of those experiences happened in major chain stores, but not all big box discounters. A couple happened in a store that has had a few rounds of closures. A couple happened in stores that should know better. I would like to say that I had some surprise and delight moments, too. Unfortunately, the only surprise was that they didn’t suck as much as I expected. Not exactly reassuring.

PPS Yeah, that’s how my brain works at 5:41am.

How a Simple Coat Check Will Win the Holiday Shoppers

Whoever had the idea of hosting the International Toy Fair in New York City every February ought to be shot! Oh, sure, NYC is a FABULOUS city to visit. I love going there! But February??? Last year the temps were in the 60’s. Unfortunately I missed last year. I was there for 56-below windchill … and twelve inches of snow (three times!) … and rain … and sleet … and slush.

I rarely wear my trench coat around Jackson, but walking the streets of New York in February makes a trench coat a wonderful garment to own.

Fortunately, New York City restaurants are ready for February weather. Every single place I went for dinner in my several visits to the city had a coat check near the front door. It makes sense, too. Space is a premium. Having your coats at the table would not only be a nuisance to manage in your tight confines, it would be in the way of the wait staff and other patrons passing between the shoe-horned tables. Coat checks in a NYC restaurant are a must.

Another place where coat checks would make perfect sense is every retailer north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

My son, walking customers to their cars on a rainy Christmas Eve – another way to show your customers you care!

If your customer is wearing her heavy coat to avoid the chilly air while making her holiday rounds, when she steps into your store she has three options:

  • Continue wearing her coat and hope you have the thermostat set to 60 (which would cause your staff to revolt).
  • Take off her coat and carry it around, keeping her arms occupied and unable to pick up as many items as you would hope.
  • Leave her coat in the car and brave the chilly walk to your front door just to have the convenience of shopping coat-free.

She really has to love your store for that last one to happen, so we’ll consider that person an evangelist. But the other two options are killers for your sales. They either limit her time in the store before she overheats, or limit the amount of items she can juggle up to the register.

Your options are simple …

Either have a personal shopper for everyone that comes through your door so that she can carry her coat while you carry her stuff, or have a coat check to make her shopping more comfortable. Not everyone will take you up on it, but the ripple effect will be enormous.

First, you’re gonna stand out in the crowd. How many retailers care so much about their customers that they would even think to offer a coat check? Even the customers who don’t check their coats will be impressed and may even talk about you to their friends.

Second, you’re gonna get higher tickets. Paco Underhill and anyone who has ever studied retail knows that the longer someone stays in your store the more they are likely to buy. Both Rick Segal and Bob Negan are of the selling mindset that you “show until they say no.”

This is the season to win the hearts of your customers. You don’t do that with sales and discounts. The transactional customers are only loyal to the price. Your relational customers, however, will recognize your caring, and notice that you put their needs above your own. That wins trust. That wins the heart.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It is all about exceeding your customers’ expectations to Surprise and Delight them. Whenever you come up with an amazing idea and someone says, “but no retailer ever does that,” you need to run with it and be the first.

PPS No, we didn’t have a coat check at Toy House. We should have had one, but I didn’t get this idea until our last season. Fortunately for us, we had shopping carts and aisles wide enough to handle them. Most customers put their coats in their carts and resumed shopping. Sometimes, especially in our baby department, they would leave their coats at the desk while they studied crib sets and furniture options. Don’t wait until it is too late to take amazing care of your customers.

More Advertising vs Better Customer Service

Today I spoke to the Marshall Area Economic Development Authority (MAEDA) about Raising the Bar on Customer Service. This is one of my favorite talks because it is filled with ideas you can use right away to start making a difference for your customers and raising the level of their delight to the point that your customers start talking about you.

Isn’t that the true goal of any business—to give your customer such an amazing experience that she can’t wait to tell someone, can’t wait to come back, can’t wait to bring her friends with her?

If that isn’t your Customer Service goal, it should be. It is the only goal that is sustainable long term.

This is me helping Kingman Museum “Raise the Bar”

I spoke to this same group last May about Making Your Ads More Effective, the presentation based on my newest book coming out (soon!) That is another of my favorite topics because it shakes to the core any mistaken beliefs you might have had about advertising, and teaches you how to get people to notice your ads, remember your ads, and act on your ads.

Advertising and Customer Service are two areas where you can stand out the most compared to your competition. But when resources are limited, which should get the majority of your focus?

The dream for any retailer is to have exclusive, high-demand product that no one else sells. You have that and all you have to do is run an ad and start printing money. Unfortunately, the Internet killed that dream for the vast majority of retail. It is highly likely that you won’t have an exclusive on your merchandise ever again, and you likely won’t have the best price in town (not that you should ever want to be the lowest price in town).

The second dream for any retailer is the falsehood perpetuated by the movie Field of Dreams.

If you build it, they won’t come.

You have to build it, talk about it (advertising), and make it spectacular (customer service).

  1. Build it
  2. Talk about it
  3. Make it spectacular

That’s the order the customers see.

But for you, the order should really be …

  1. Build it
  2. Make it spectacular
  3. Talk about it

When you think in those terms, that third element—the talking about it—could be done by you, or better yet, by your customers.

  1. Build it
  2. Make it spectacular
  3. Get your customers to talk about it

Before you spend another dime on advertising, spend the next dime on training your team.

Spend the next dime on figuring out new ways to surprise and delight your customers. The best businesses are fueled by a high level of repeat and referral customers. Repeat business comes from great customer service. Referrals come from surprisingly delightful WOW customer service. Once you have that, then you can spend some money telling the world what you built. Then they will come.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes it is the slower way to build your business, but it is also the stronger way to build it because the customers you win are much more loyal than the customers you buy. Right now you have the advantage of the larger crowds of shoppers for the holiday season to win more customers. Don’t miss this opportunity. You could also think about it in reverse. What happens if you spend a lot of money to attract large crowds before you make it spectacular? They won’t be back, but your advertising money will be down the drain. You’ll have to spend more money to attract more first-timers.

PPS Yes, I do one-on-one business coaching to help you find where you can raise the bar on your customer service. Yes, I do presentations to large groups of businesses like the wonderful crowd today. Yes, I do half-day and full-day workshops that not only talk about the broader picture, but also include in-depth ways to find and train the kind of staff that can consistently offer the experiences that people talk about to their friends. Give me a call or send me an email. Scott Fleming, the MAEDA director said, “I was sad to see your last slide. I really didn’t want this presentation to end.”

What Your Worst Employee Should Be Able to Do

Seth Godin talked about this in his blog today. I wrote about it back in 2009. You know this adage … A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Your chain is your staff. Your chain is the level of customer service your team can bring to the table. Your chain is only as strong as the worst employee on your team.

Stop and think about that for a second. Who is the worst person on your team? That’s the bar right there. Before you fire him and start over (always a realistic option when you have people who are not performing) here is something you can train him to do that will significantly raise your customer service up a few notches.

He needs to be able to get through the day without saying, “No.”

One of my favorite staff trainings was the Dollars on the Table Game

“No,” is a deal killer. It is the one-word sentence that will kill your business (even faster than, “Can I help you?” and, “Did you find everything?”)

It is a word that needs to be stricken from your vocabulary, or at the very least, only offered with a quick modifier. It kills all the mojo.

“Do you have this product?”

“No.” 

End of conversation. End of interaction. End of sale. End of business.

There are millions of products out there. You have 5,000 in your store. The chances are pretty good that your customers will ask you for something you do not have.

How your staff answers goes a long way towards your success. Here are some alternate answers that always work better.

You can ask why. 

“What exactly are you looking for in that product? Why do you want that product? What are hoping that product will do for you? We might have something else that will work.”

You can offer alternatives. 

“We don’t have that item but we do have this other product that I actually like better because…”

You can give explanations.

“We used to carry that product but had too many problems and switched to this other brand.”

“That brand is only mass-produced for large chain stores. Let me show you something of which you probably haven’t heard that does the job equally well.”

You can offer help in finding the item. 

“We don’t carry anything like that. Would you like me to call this other store for you to see if they carry it or anything similar?”

All of those responses are easy enough for any employee to learn. Even your newest hires and seasonal staff can learn these responses quickly and easily. They make your chain stronger because they build relationships rather than shut them down.

Work with your staff to eliminate the word No from your vocabulary. (If they can’t do that, fire them and start over.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is a good staff meeting exercise. Think of all the questions a customer might ask to which you might say No. (Do you price match? Do you offer bundled discounts? Do you give a price break for people who pay cash?) Then come up with alternate answers you can use instead of saying No.

PPS One savvy retailer I know keeps a clipboard up front with a “No List” for every product a customer asks that they don’t have. If the same product comes up time and time again, she figures she needs to look into carrying that product because customers are thinking of her store as a place that would have it.

The Second Worst Question to Ask

Every time I’m at the cash register I get asked the same question and it is driving me nuts! I cringe when I hear it. It is driving me to the point of almost wanting to use the self-serve registers (which I hate with an equal passion to hearing this question.)

You know the question because you have been asked this question, too. And your answer, like my answer, is always the same and matches the same answer given by 99.7% of the people asked.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Image result for grocery checkout beltOf course you say Yes. God forbid you should say No at which the cashier asks what you’re looking for and then holds up the checkout line you had already waited thirteen and a half minutes in to go find someone else to come tell you what you already knew—that they were sold out.

Or worse, you say No and nothing happens. They might offer you a feeble sorry and ask you to try back again later.

Or even worse, you’re walking out of PetSmart and the guy in front of you is asked that question as he is leaving the building! When he replied angrily that no he hadn’t found what he wanted, the clerk told him to, “Okay. Have a nice day!”

Really?

(By the way, that story was sent in by a reader. Feel free to share your good and bad experiences. We can all learn from them.)

At the cash register it is too late to ask that question. You need sales people on the floor working with customers before that question even comes up. If you can’t manage that, at least have someone there to ask that question before the customer gets in line to checkout.

Once a customer has decided to checkout, she is in a hurry to leave. The customer may have leisurely browsed every aisle of the store, but now that she’s at checkout, she’s ready to go, go, go. The only valid product question to ask at checkout is if the customer needs a specific item to complete the sale such as batteries to go with a toy, paint brushes to go with the paint, shoe polish to go with the dress shoes, etc.

A generic, “Did you find everything?” question gets a knee-jerk, reactionary, “Yes,” and no one gets served.

This question ranks up there with “Can I help you?” in the lore of worst questions to ask in retail because the answers are meaningless at best, and defeatist at worst.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. Ask 100 people and you might get one who admits to not finding an item that you actually have. Of course, the other 99 are peeved, as are the 99 people behind them in line who were also in a hurry to checkout. The ROI for asking this question during (or after a la PetSmart) the checkout is negative.

PPS Even if you are asking the question before your customer gets to checkout, there is a better question to ask before the customer gets to checkout …

“Who else is on your list?”

(I learned that question from somebody else. Since I cannot find the source, I’m giving Bob Phibbs the credit for that line. It sounds like something Bob would say.)

Robots Replacing Workers

I’ve been following the minimum wage hike debate for years. As a store owner, minimum wage had a direct impact on our bottom line. I never wanted to pay minimum wage to my team because I never expected minimum work. Yet, in retail, there are only so many dollars to go around. Add more to the payroll and you have to subtract from somewhere else, or grow your business enough to cover the added expense.

One of the arguments often used by those opposed to minimum wage hikes is that it would lead to more automation. I can envision that reality in big corporate chains for two reasons. The first is that many retail corporations don’t do anything to train their employees to maximum effectiveness. The second is that these same corporations also don’t value their employees or expect anything out of them. (Does anyone see the vicious downward cycle in this thought process?)

Robot scanning shelves in a Walmart pharmacy
Picture from Walmart’s blog

The reality of automation is coming to a Walmart near you. Walmart is testing robots in select stores in Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania to help scan and stock shelves.

Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, said that the robots were 50% more productive than their human counterparts but would not replace workers or impact worker headcount.

Are you buying that? Do you really think Walmart is going to invest in robots that are 50% more productive and still pay all the displaced workers at the same time?

Automation is coming to the big stores and it will have a huge effect on their bottom line. First, they get a tax break for investing in capital infrastructure. Second, they get to replace less-efficient employees with robots who have no restrictions on hours worked, overtime, vacation pay, healthcare, etc. That’s a win-win for them.

It can also be a win for you. The more they automate, the more you differentiate. Automation is designed to give a consistent, expected, reliable outcome. It isn’t designed to surprise and delight. (Then again, neither is an untrained team, like what the big corporations are using now.)

Our payroll at Toy House was not only a higher percentage than any of our competitors, it was higher than most independent toy stores. Why?

Amazing customer service from a well-trained staff is the best, most effective form of advertising and marketing you could ever conceive.

What’s more powerful? Me telling you on the radio to shop at Toy House or your best friend telling you why she likes shopping at Toy House? What’s more persuasive? Me on a billboard on your drive home or your co-worker saying you should visit Toy House?

You don’t have the resources to invest in robots like Walmart does. But you do have the resources to invest in training for your staff. You do have the resources to pay your staff more (and expect more out of them in return). You do have the resources to make your customers’ experiences so wonderful they have to tell their friends. Call it your advertising budget if you want. But put your money into your staff. That’s where your ROI will be highest.

Investing in your team will always beat automation and minimum wage hikes. Always.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not sure how to raise the bar on your customer service to the point that people talk? Here are two free resources from my website:

Use those as a starting point for crafting your own training program.

If you need more, I can suggest a few good people to come in and work with you and your staff, including one guy who used to run a pretty cool toy store with a huge payroll.

Services That Set You Apart

I was thumbing through some boxes of Toy House memorabilia in my basement and came across samples of some of the flyers and brochures we handed out in the store. They were all tri-fold flyers and they all had one panel that was exactly the same on each of them. It was the panel that listed all of the “other” services we offered besides just selling stuff.

The list, in case you cannot read/see the picture, included:

  • Free Giftwrapping
  • Layaway
  • Delivery & Assembly
  • UPS Shipping
  • Flag Raising Ceremonies
  • Birthday Club
  • Baby Gift Registry
  • Bike Repair
  • Car Seat Installation
  • Hands-on Displays
  • Special Orders
  • Teacher Loaner Program
  • Friendly Knowledgeable Staff

Somehow I forgot to have on there Game Nights, Story Times, In-Store Events, In-Store Classes, and Personalized Shopping. If I asked my staff, they probably could add a few more things like refreshments during the Christmas season, no-hassle returns, and carry-outs.

I’m sure there are some really special things you do for your customers, too, that set you apart from your competition. In fact, if you really want to do something wild and crazy, start thinking up new things you could do for your customers this holiday season such as:

  • Coat Check
  • Valet Parking
  • Call-Ahead Shopping
  • Event Planning (especially if you sell items used at events)
  • Food and Beverage Service
  • Customizing Product

Brainstorm this with your team. Let them be crazy and off the wall with their ideas. If you ever find yourself saying, “No retailer does that sort of thing,” then your next thought should be, “But what if we did?” Just because no one else does it doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. In fact, those are the best ideas because those are the Services that set you apart from everyone else.

If your shop is in a downtown location where parking is a premium, hire some kids to do valet parking for you on your busy Fridays and Saturdays. Your customers will love it! If you are in a colder part of the country, set aside some space for a coat check. Your customers will shop longer and have more hands free for shopping if they aren’t wearing or lugging around a winter coat.

Customer Service is about meeting and exceeding your customer’s expectations. The more Services you offer, especially the Services “no one does,” the more likely you will exceed her expectations.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Every industry is different. Look at your list of Services. Then think about what Services a customer would expect you to offer. If you don’t offer it, you’re missing out. You need to add it ASAP. Then start brainstorming the fun, unexpected stuff and see what else you can do.

PPS When you get your list, don’t advertise everything on it. Make sure people know that you do the stuff they expect. You can even throw a few fun, unexpected items on your public list. But keep some stuff off your brochures and website so that you can surprise and delight your customers when you do it. This is how you generate Word of Mouth. (Then again, that’s a whole topic all to its own.)