Shopping Really Doesn’t Have To Be Painful

By on December 6, 2012
Painful Shopping Experience

This is that time of year when we get super immersed in shopping, spending hours upon hours foraging through retail jungles buying gifts. And all too often the shopping experiences we have are far from pleasant. Recently, I asked an employee of a large home improvement store for help in finding a certain kind of light fixture. After giving me a barely disguised scowl, he told his buddy to whom he was talking on a cell phone, “Wait a second; I have to answer some guy’s question.”

And then sometimes, but all too seldom, we have retail shopping experiences that are so audaciously great that they become an indelible model of what shopping should be like.

About two years ago during this holiday season, my wife, Dolores, and I had this kind of experience. We drove up to a local grocery store a couple minutes after seven in the evening to buy some flowers for a dinner party we were having the next day. Dolores walked up to the door, tried to open it and found it locked. A store employee saw her, opened the door, and asked, “What is it you want? We close at seven.” Dolores replied, “Oh, we just missed. We wanted flowers for our dinner party.” The employee replied, “Our registers are locked for the night. Come in and pick out the flowers you would have gotten. They’re on us … and they’ll look great on your dinner table.”

We were both, frankly, stunned. Wow, was this unusual behavior! This store manager’s behavior was not only unusual; it was the kind of behavior that creates indelible impressions. You know, the kind of experience you just can’t forget. The kind of experience that is so powerful that it colors all of your future impressions of the place at which it occurred. For Dolores and me, this store – this organization – remains imbedded in our minds as the epitome of great customer service … the epitome of an organization that thinks of customers (like Dolores and me) first and of itself second. Today, we shop in this store, even while they don’t carry all the items found in a typical full service supermarket, just because we really like the way they treat customers.

And what words best describe their treatment of customers? It’s the words “focus” and “engagement.” Yes, “focus” and “engagement” are the single, best descriptors of the behavior we have seen over and over again in this store’s employees. In addition to the words “focus” and “engagement,” what other words come to mind when reflecting on the way their employees act? Immediately words like “energetic,” “happy,” and “enthusiastic” come to mind. It’s just a fun place to be in.

You get the picture. This is just a great place in which to go shopping. Who wouldn’t want to be around folks who are energetic, enthusiastic, happy and very focused on making your shopping experience an extremely positive one? All of us would. We all enjoy buying from these kind of people. Energetic, enthusiastic, happy, focused, and engaged retail employees drive sales.

You and I as customers know when “focus” and “engagement” are missing. Think of the last time you asked a clerk in a store for help and felt that you were an intruder, that they found your request annoying, that they clearly didn’t care if your experience in the store that paid their salary was good or not. I’ll never forget, after being the recipient of particularly rude service from the employee of a large retail drugstore and asking her if she ever said “Thank you” to customers, being told, “’Thank you’ is printed on your receipt.”

We’ve all had experiences like this. We know the kind of impressions they make. Bad impressions are, like very good impressions, indelible. They stick with us. Research has shown that these bad impressions are typically told by their recipients, better described as victims, to twenty other people, on the average. And because these victims of unfocused and disengaged employees don’t have to shop at this store, they won’t in the future. They’ll go to a competitor.

In today’s economy, especially, no company can afford to have these kind of profit-killing experiences happening over and over again to its customers. Not if they intend to stay in business.

Right now, there’s a management process coupled with employee engagement resources that can transform any workplace, including retail. It’s called “Lean” management and is being used with great success in a wide variety of workplaces ranging from manufacturing plants to hospital emergency rooms to corporate offices. The intense focus and engagement with serving the customer that drove a grocery store employee to say to Dolores, “Come in and pick out the flowers you would have gotten. They’re on us … and they’ll look great on your dinner table” is exactly the kind of focus and engagement that are driven by Lean management and Lean work processes. I’ll be discussing this in more detail in future blog contributions.

If you’d like to talk about how Lean could be put to work for your company right now, please call me anytime at 314-303-0612 and let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

One Comment

  1. Barry

    January 3, 2013 at 10:12 am

    I understand you don’t want to do a commercial for a retail entity, but it would be great to know which store provided such outstanding service. We should make it a habit to support businesses that provide not only good products, but excellent service.

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