These Things Shouldn’t Happen, But They Do: Losing Focus and Losing Customers

By on July 3, 2013
Losing Focus and Losing Customers

About a week ago, my daughter was checking out at a local grocery store. Being waste conscious, she handed the person bagging her groceries a fabric bag she’d brought into the store. Her checker took a look at the bag, noted that it bore the logo of a competing grocery chain, and asked Sarah, “Why are you here?” Sarah didn’t really know what she meant and gave her a quizzical look. To clarify the point she was trying to make, the checker grabbed the handle of the bag, shook it, and in an angry tone of voice said again, “Why are you here?

Although Sarah said nothing in response to this rather bizarre behavior, what she thought was predictable: I certainly don’t need to be here. In fact, I don’t want to be here.

What would trigger this kind of behavior? Why would an employee make comments to a customer that are so obviously annoying? I wish that my own experience as a customer would have led me to conclude that my daughter’s experience was highly atypical. It hasn’t been. On the contrary, I’ve personally observed behaviors that were so perfectly negative that if a person had tried to script them, they couldn’t have been any better, er, I mean worse.

For example, I was checking out at my local big box drug store and, as is commonplace in this store, the checker appeared to be oblivious of my presence. This time my patience wore thin and I asked her, “Do you ever say ‘thank you’?” Without a pause, she replied, “It’s printed on the receipt.” Her response was so immediate that I’ve got to assume she’d said it a number of times.

For example, I stood next to a clerk in a large home improvement store wanting to ask a question about a product. He was talking on a cell phone. I could hear everything he was saying, something about some girl he’d dated. I waited. He talked. After a couple of minutes, with an aggravated look on his face, he said to his buddy on the phone, “Wait a second, there’s a guy here who I think wants to talk with me.” With a somewhat exasperated look on his face, he asked me, “What do you want?” I just barely held back from saying, “I want out of here.”

For example, my wife and I were checking out at our local grocery store. As she often does, Dolores asked the checker, “How are you doing?” His response: “Five minutes and I’m out of here.” Dolores and I wondered if we should be there and concluded that we probably shouldn’t but would because the store was conveniently located.

Compare these examples of totally abysmal customer service with the experiences Dolores and I routinely enjoy at what’s become our favorite grocery store. Picture this. We’re being checked out. The checker notices a couple of chocolate bars that we’re buying and, with a smile on her face, says, “I just love chocolate with sea salt. Isn’t it delicious!” She added, “You know, the chocolate with raspberries is also very good. Next time you’re in you should try it.” We will. Her friendly smile and enthusiasm were quite infectious.

Focus on Serving the Customer

What contrasting experiences! Just what is it that causes one employee to say, “Five minutes and I’m out of here” and the other, “The chocolate with raspberries is also very good. Next time you’re in you should try it.” Becoming very curious about what could possibly cause employees in our favorite grocery store to act the way they do, I asked the store manager how it happened that they had such great, customer-friendly employees.

His answer got right to the heart of the matter. “We tell our employees that their first responsibility, whatever their job in the store, is to be salespeople, that we need to work together as a team to make sure all of our customers have fun in our store.” I asked him how he found employees who could create this kind of an environment. He replied, “We hire people who like people.

And, of course, there’s more to it than just hiring people who like people. It’s obvious that this store’s incredibly productive and, I’m sure, profitable work environment is maintained and enhanced because the ways in which the store’s management team encourages high degrees of employee engagement coupled with an intense focus on serving the customer.

Engagement and focus. That’s really what it’s all about when it comes to creating productive and profitable workplaces. And what a difference they make. For example, Gallup’s 2012 study, “State of the American Workplace” revealed that companies in the top quartile regarding employee engagement compared to those in the bottom quartile, experience 21% higher productivity and 22% higher profitability.

Want to know how we can help your company develop a cadre of employees who are highly engaged in their work and focused on continuous improvement? We have training and consulting services that you can put to work in your company right now that will drive engagement and focus. Call me at 314-303-0612 and let’s discuss. I’d much appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and review how we can support your drive to higher degrees of productivity and profitability.

Now, I’m heading down the street to buy one of those chocolate bars with raspberries. It was the smile on the checker’s face that made it impossible for me to forget what she suggested.

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.

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