Retail Customer Experience: Why good customer service is like billiards
By Bob Phibbs, president and CEO, The Retail Doctor & Associates
Through a special arrangement, presented here for
discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience,
a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping
Ever played pool? It starts off with all the balls together. The cue ball
comes along to break them up, they scatter and the game commences. That’s
what I expect in a retail store. In fact it’s one of my pet peeves when employees
stay clustered, like a beehive daring someone to come in and be stung.
I went into a Home Depot recently in one of the most torrential rains I’ve
ever been though, looking for a particular panel I’d seen over the weekend
to build a backsplash. The place was dead and devoid of customers.
I returned to the display, discovered that it only had 10 pieces, and began
searching for someone to check back stock as I needed a total of 18 pieces.
I looked around to the left and saw nothing but empty work desks. Then to
the right. No one was there either. The computers were on and stuff was stacked
in front like someone had been there.
I went around to the right, then left, then to the right and discovered
three male employees standing around a workstation desk and a fourth employee
sitting back in her chair. She was chatting about the lack of customers,
I came within 10-feet of the desk and they kept talking. She remained tilted
back in the chair and looking at me. No one said a word.
“Excuse me,” I said, “can I get some help?”
The woman without moving said, “What are you looking for?”
“There’s something over here…”
She jumped in, “Well what is it?”
In frustration I blurted out, “If you would get off your butt, I could
She got up and moved towards me and I led her back to the display. As I
explained what I needed I felt bad and said, “Sorry I didn’t mean to say
She replied, “That’s okay, people don’t always get what we’re saying.”
I don’t think she got my problem. It’s not up to the customer to respond
correctly. They should have broken up, one of them come over and offered
to assist me. Instead they clung together making the customer uncomfortable,
trying to spit out the correct name of the product.
When I was starting in retail, I had done the same thing. I was just out
of high school working at the Nunn Bush Shoe Shop. I was talking to my boss
behind the counter while a customer looked through all the shoe displays.
Instead of breaking and talking to him to assess his needs, we kept right
Finally, the customer came up to us and asked, “Is this all you have?” I
guess I was feeling my oats that day when I said, “No, we have three floors
above us — we want people to guess what we have.” The customer said, “Next
time take your bad mood out on somebody else!”
I truly had been a jerk that day and it wasn’t until later that I realized
why and how. I think it started by allowing there to be a wall between myself
and the customer. I think I considered myself as the great resource — people
would ask for my help. But that incident stayed with me for a long time as
an example of how not to behave behind the counter.
A few days before the rainy day incident when I was at the same Home Depot,
I had looked at an appliance. The guy (who was part of the gang of four this
past Friday) had offered to print out the sell sheet for me. When I asked, “Should
I buy this from you or online?” he replied, “I’d appreciate it if you’d buy
from me so I could keep my job.” After this past experience, I’m looking
anywhere but Home Depot.
Discussion Questions: Is associate congregation a significant inhibitor
to customer service at the store level? Given the natural tendency to socialize
and even the positive impacts of collaboration, what can store managers
do to encourage employees to provide greater individualized attention at
the store level?