Tag Archives: Customer service

Touch Me, Feel Me

I was cleaning out some old stuff on my computer this morning when I came across a receipt for something I had purchased online in 2005. I knew I had been an online shopper for a long time. I can’t recall the last holiday season during which I stepped foot into a retail store. I mean, I don’t like to so shop for anything on the weekend due to crowds and lines so I’m rarely in a physical store between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Given the explosive growth of online commerce, apparently many other folks prefer not to hit the stores either. I mean, the share online represents of global retail sales has almost doubled from 2015 to 2018, and is projected nearly to triple by 2021. It’s booming! That said, online is still less than 15% of retail and will be less than 20% even 5 years from now. There’s a reason for that and it’s not just shipping costs or the difficulty in finding a product.

Most people – almost 75% according to a recent study – visit stores to touch and feel products. If you’re browsing and come across an unfamiliar brand of shoe or clothing, how comfortable are you buying it without examining it for quality and fit? I’m certainly not, and I share that feeling with the vast majority, apparently. Sure, the return process isn’t as difficult as it used to be with many online stores, but who wants to deal with it? I want to see the product, which I can do on or offline, but I also want to feel it, touch it, and check it for quality.

That’s a significant advantage that brick and mortar stores have, one that they should exploit to keep market share. They can merchandise product in a way that online stores can’t. They can use in-store displays. More importantly, as we’ve said many times here on the screed, they can offer a level of personalized customer service that no online store can offer.

Try it yourself. Before you go on a shopping trip, hit the store’s online presence first. See if the two experiences are equal. If the retailer’s physical presence is doing things right, there won’t be a comparison. Shopping for a golf club or a bat or a racquet online at Dick’s Sporting Goods is nothing like going to my local Dick’s store and swinging it. I can browse through a lot more books in a shorter time at my local Barnes and Noble vs. their online store. I’m on my own online. There are pros in golf and tennis to help me in-store.

I don’t think brick and mortar is dead, not by a long shot. I do think stores will fail if they don’t take advantage of the built-in advantages they have. Cutting staff, not investing in merchandising, and simply becoming warehouses where people pick up their online purchases won’t cut it. Does that align with your thinking?.

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Going First Class

I’m going to be on an airplane later this week. I used to travel a lot for my job, often going over 100.000 miles a year. I never tallied up the time that took, but the air portion alone was probably the equivalent of 5 or 6 work weeks aloft. Add in getting to and from the airport plus time at the airport itself and travel was a significant part of my life.

JAL

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One great thing happened to my travel life when I made VP. Suddenly I was allowed to book travel in business or first class. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, it was a little bigger seat and some better food. Today, it’s the difference between leaving the plane with sore knees (from the person in front of you hitting your legs) and hungry vs. arriving relatively intact and ready to do business. Still, if you’re paying your own way or traveling on vacation, why fly first class instead of coach? After all, you get to the same place at the same time and the price difference is extremely significant. My answer is something that I think applies everywhere in business.

The airline business has a system now that packs people into planes in a way that maximizes profit. The seats are closer together and an in-flight meal consists of generally unhealthy snacks (stick to the peanuts, kids). You’re charged for everything from bags to blankets. Flying in first is, in short, a much better experience. You’re paying for better care, not for faster or better transportation. Once again, cost vs. value.

Here is the thing. In the course of maximizing profit, the airlines have relegated the comfort and happiness of the majority of their customers to secondary status. I suspect they’re not alone in this. One supermarket will have people walking throughout the store to help you while another will have you walk to the customer service desk if you need help finding something. Yes, the prices may be a bit lower at the latter but isn’t the former a better experience and worth a small premium? First class vs. coach in terms of the experience. Have you ever bought shoes from Zappo’s? They cost about the same as elsewhere but their customer service and support is legendary and a significant point of differentiation. It’s flying in first vs. coach once again.

Customers don’t forget. Think about the grievances you have with most businesses and I’m willing to bet they’re both relatively petty and related to the business choosing profit over customer happiness. Because I refuse to step foot on one of their planes ever again, I will pay a little more this week not to fly an airline that has treated me and many other customers like crap. I’ll also fork over a few bucks to sit in an exit row because it’s a better experience for my legs but I’m not happy about having to do so when there are open seats that in the old days I could have chosen for nothing but now cost more. The real question for your business is how can you provide that first class experience at a coach price even if the bottom line takes a tiny hit?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Who Is Minding The Store?

I’ve been away on a little trip (which is why no posts so far this week) but I’ve managed to make my return in time for Foodie Friday. As it turns out, I was in one of the world’s great cities for food, New Orleans, and as I was departing I had an experience which prompted today’s screed.

English: Photographic portrait of Leah Chase t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the city’s oldest and finest restaurants is Dooky Chase. The proprietor is Leah Chase and she is the Queen of Creole Cuisine. She has fed presidents and celebrities by the bucketful and she has been honored in every way possible by the food world, rightfully so. The award of which I’m particularly impressed is the “Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans.” It didn’t look as if I’d have time to sample some this trip until I got to the airport with 90 minutes to my flight. As it turns out, there is a Dooky Chase at the airport – fried chicken, here I come!

The place wasn’t particularly crowded and I got seated right away. 5 minutes went by. Then 10. Then 15. No server appeared until about 20 minutes in, when I was asked for a drink order. I was also told they had no bartender so a mixed drink was out. Wine? After a few minutes, the server reappeared and informed me that no one knew where there was a corkscrew so I’d have to drink whatever was open. Whatever was open cost $18 a glass, by the way, something I wasn’t told until I got the bill (with no time to discuss it!).

I placed my order. Now I know that great food is cooked to order so I wasn’t expecting my plate to come out immediately. It’s not KFC, after all. However, as another half an hour went by I was starting to worry about making my flight. The hot, extremely tasty chicken arrived although I ate it so quickly I really couldn’t savor it very much. As it turns out my experience is far from unique. The reviews on Yelp and elsewhere universally praise the food and curse the lousy service. That leads us to today’s business point.

The restaurant is run by Delaware North, a company that runs restaurants at over 300 airports. They also have a division that services arenas. They know an awful lot about hospitality. Mrs. Chase knows an awful lot about food. Somehow, however, 1+1 equals zero here.

I suspect this was done as a licensing deal. The Chases provided the recipes and kitchen expertise and the Delaware Noth folks provided the rest. The real question is who is minding the store? I used to license out marks and content and always was careful to make sure that how “my stuff” was used put us in the best light. I used to buy actual products in stores and not rely on samples to assess quality. I’d view how our material was presented in context when we licensed out footage and/or marks as well. In this case, I wonder if anyone from the Chase organization has not just sampled the food but sat in the restaurant anonymously? There clearly wasn’t enough staff, and the staff that was there was seriously undertrained.

If you rely on others to present your product to the world, remember that it’s your name and your reputation on the door. I wasn’t aware that Delaware North was involved at all until the credit card receipt showed up with Delaware North, not Dooky Chase, on the top. Hopefully, most customers understand the distinction. You might not be so lucky.

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Filed under food, Huh?

Why I Had To Buy The Crackers

This Foodie Friday we have a tale from the aisles of my local Harris Teeter. For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, it operates over 230 stores and 14 fuel centers in seven states and the District of Columbia. They’re originally from North Carolina and their southern hospitality is the story I’d like to hold up to you (or y’all) today as a best practice for any of us in business.

I do my weekly shopping at the HT, generally on Thursdays (extra 5% discount for us old folks!). I was wandering around the deli section trying to find some crackers that were on sale. An HT employee, whose sole responsibility seemed to be to walk around and to look for confused customers, asked me if I was having trouble finding something. I told her I was and what the missing item was. She walked over to the department manager to inquire and he immediately stopped what he was doing, came over, and told me that he had some more of the items in the back. He encouraged me to keep shopping and return to the deli later while he would go get the items.

No more than 5 minutes later, as I was wandering down an adjacent aisle, up walks the manager, 4 boxes of crackers in hand, one of each flavor. Now, you might not remember this, but I’m fairly fanatical about not eating non-whole grains or sugar or simple carbs. Without looking, I took 2 boxes of the crackers from him, thanked him profusely, and carried on. After he had left, I read the labels. These were not generally the sort of crackers I’d buy. However, he had gone to such effort to get them for me that I felt an obligation to do so.

That, my friends, is the reciprocation tendency in action. That, as you may recall,  is the tendency to want to return the favor when someone helps us or gives us something. I gladly bought two boxes of crackers I’ll probably only serve to guests just because the customer service was so excellent. As an aside, it’s a cultural thing in the store. Someone is constantly available to help you and they do so willingly and immediately. The store also does ongoing customer service surveys.

I’ve written about it before and will continue to do so. Customer service is, by my reckoning, the single most important distinguishing factor for most businesses today. Customers expect convenience and speed when they interact with your company, along with a smile. In this case, I bought something I probably would not have as a way to reward that service. What can you be doing to get your customers to do the same?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

The Razzie Goes To…

I went to see a movie Saturday afternoon and ended up seeing a lot more than I had intended. It became a great learning experience about trying to solve one problem and creating a much more severe issue in the process.

The movie itself was fine (“Darkest Hour,” a little long but great performances). It was what I saw going on several times in the lobby which provided the learning experience. Apparently, this theater has a policy that kids under age 17 cannot attend a movie Friday-Sunday after 4pm without an accompanying adult. That’s right – any movie, even a G-rated one. It’s a relatively new policy too since there were several people there who had thought they’d go into one theater while their teen-aged kids went to see something else. They were engaged with the person taking tickets as well as with the customer service desk and someone I assume was a manager. The exchanges weren’t going well.

A few things from which we all can learn. First, this policy is nowhere to be found on the theater’s website or Facebook page. From the comments on the Facebook page, some parents had even dropped off their 15-year-old kids only to be called to come back since they weren’t being admitted to a PG-13 movie. If you’re going to make a change in your policies, make them loudly and often. Obviously, people do check movie times before showing up – how about making sure that every time your theater displays that your new policy does as well? BY the way, there is still no official announcement of this on their Facebook page despite numerous (negative) comments about it.

Second. This theater could not care less about customer service. How do I know? Two ways for starters. The person at the customer service desk was doing anything but serving the customer. They had a “take it or leave it” attitude and when I heard someone say “we won’t be back to this theater” his dismissed it with a “that’s fine.” He also said the policy was a safety issue and when one mom pointed to her three 13-year-old girls, asking if they looked dangerous, his response was “yes.” Really?

The other thing that this theater does it to respond to every Facebook comment, good or bad, with exactly the same cut and paste copy. There is no acknowledgment of the specific issue nor anything beyond a link to their corporate customer service page (they’re part of a chain) which is basically kicking a local issue into a much larger, less likely to be served bin. The funny thing is the copy: We strive to give you the best experience and would like the opportunity to give you a 5-star experience, next time. Not so much, and why would anyone with an issue come back?

I do understand why this policy is in place. The theater has had trouble on Friday and Saturday nights with teenagers acting up: making noise, throwing food, using their phones to take pictures, etc. As with most things, it’s a very small group that causes the problem and the theater’s management has chosen to paint with an extremely wide brush in an attempt to solve it. In the process, they’ve alienated many customers. There is another multiplex showing most of the same movies not very far away. Which would you choose as a parent?

I wonder if they did a cost/benefit analysis? What would it cost to hire extra security on weekends? How about a few more ushers? How many admissions and concession sales are lost to the new policy? Moreover, what is the value of the goodwill seeing the extra security vs. the negative effect of this? What 16-year old wants to be told they need to have Mommy go with them to the movies?

They give out The Razzies to films or acting performances in films considered to be the worst of the year. I’d give this theater one for their “problem-solving” and customer service performances. You?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Most Read Foodie Friday Post Of 2017

It’s only fitting that we end the week of most read posts published in 2017 with the food-themed post that was most read. After all, we end each week with something of that sort and I kind of like ending not just this week but this year with one. This post was published last October and was originally called “They Don’t Make It  Like That Anymore.”  Have a healthy and happy New Year and we’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy!

This Foodie Friday I am going to run the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I’m slowly becoming. Rather than admonishing you all to get off my lawn, I want to share the sentiment I had a week or so ago as I fired up my smoker. My smoker, or as it’s lovingly known, “The Beast”, was made by the New Braunfels Smoker Company at least 20 years ago, How do I know that? Well, that’s today’s food and business thought.

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move. Why was that, especially when I also gave away or junked a Caja China and two other grills? In a sentence:

Because they don’t make them like that anymore.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company was sold to Char-Broil 20 years ago. Almost immediately, the quality of the products went downhill, and this was especially noticeable on the gauge of the steel. The steel was thinner and didn’t hold heat as well. When a rust spot developed, it was difficult to sand and paint it without almost going through the area that has rusted. The products were similar in design and name, but that was about all that was the same. The bbq forums, home to serious meat smoking aficionados like me, were deluged with negative comments and, more importantly to the business, better alternatives to what had been a superior line of smokers.

This is something from which any business can learn. We’re always under pressure to improve our margins. Some folks look to cheaper materials, other to cheaper, less-skilled labor, and still others to cutting customer service. Sometimes we just skimp on quality control. While margins might improve, there is a strong chance that revenues will decline as the customer base figures out that “you’re not making it like that anymore.” As an Apple user, I recently switched to a Chromebook because my Mac OS isn’t as smooth and there are glitches that were never an issue before. For you cooks out there, Pyrex changed their formula and “new” Pyrex is not as good. Recent Craftsman tools, once the industry standard, are now made in China and aren’t nearly as good. I can go on and I’m sure you can as well.

If you’re successful, resist the temptation to cut corners. People notice (so does your staff). Don’t be part of a conversation that claims you don’t make it like that anymore.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

No Waffling Here

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I’d like to have us reflect on that great Southern institution The Waffle House. It seems that one trips over a Waffle House every few miles here in the South and there’s a reason for that. It is a beloved place and not just among the stereotypical audience one might suppose. Watch this clip from his Parts Unknown show in which Anthony Bourdain discovers the wonders of the place and you’ll see how even chefs respect it. As the clip hints, there are few better places for one to land having been a little overserved and possessing an appetite.

Photo courtesy Nick Gray

What can any of us learn from this? A few things, I think. First, consistency. You can say you don’t like the food but you can be sure that whenever or at whichever Waffle House you order it from you’ll get the identical dish. It is consistent beyond belief, including how each dish is plated. That’s hard for a single restaurant to do all the time. To have over 2,000 places doing it is pretty unbelievable.

It is efficient. There is a code for servers and cooks involving placement of jelly packs, butter, and other condiments on the plate that allows cooks to work on many orders simultaneously without messing anything up (check out the photo).

It is clean. One might think that a place open 24 hours a day would begin to get a little worse for wear. Not a Waffle House. They are constantly sweeping and cleaning. I think we’ve all experienced something “off” at less-upscale restaurants. Dirty silverware, food residue on a plate or a grimy floor. Not here. I get that your business might not be serving food, but a sense of order reflected by attention to detail is a trait your customers want, something the constant cleaning provides in this case.

It is transparent. Because the kitchen is open, you can see the wonder of each order being made. It instills a feeling of confidence since the kitchen has nothing to hide. The eggs are fresh (I’m told the chain uses 2% of all the food service eggs in the country), not powdered and the other ingredients are clearly fresh as well.

It is personal. Because every plate is cooked to order, it is made exactly the way the customer wants it.

It isn’t vanilla. What I mean by that is that it has its own style and even its own language. Where else can you go and order something smothered, chunked, covered, diced, and several other ways as one can with Waffle House hash browns?

Finally, it is reliable. It’s always open, so much so that there is an unofficial “FEMA test.” If the local Waffle House is closed, a location is undergoing some sort of disaster which may require FEMA intervention.

Each one of the aforementioned qualities is one our own businesses should possess.  Ideally, they have them all. Does yours?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud