Unsung Heroes of Customer Service

HappyWomanSmHow much time do we spend complaining about poor customer service? How often do we fail to notice those times when somebody goes out of the way to make sure we are served well? How often do we encounter those unsung heroes of customer service who will not rest until we are properly and thoroughly taken care of?

While standing in line at that bastion of Canadian retail, Canadian Tire, my impatience meter was blinking yellow and headed toward red as I was next in line waiting to check out at. My arms were full since I had come in for one item and of course picked up another. The clerk seemed to be just endlessly chatting away with her customer.Canadian_Tire_LogoSm

There’s nothing wrong with being friendly in customer service but holding up the line just to carry on a seemingly irrelevant conversation sets my teeth on edge. Yes, I’m not as patient as I could be. I am not a good shopper. I just like to get in and out without talking to salespersons and with minimal fuss and bother.

In fact for this foray I had armed myself by going online to find the item I was looking for, a collapsible ottoman – not to put my feet up on but to hold some acoustical foam to put a microphone inside for audio recording. I found it – right in aisle 7 where the corporate website told me it would be and there was indeed one left in stock. I was pretty impressed by this use of internal company data that normally is neither shared nor sharable.

I’ve seen this attempted by other retailers but not a system that actually works (Home Depot’s website is impossible to find anything on let alone whether it is in stock). Knowing the product is there and where to find it in the store reduces my shopping anxiety while reducing the need for direct personnel intervention in the store for simple tasks like finding an item.

While I was there I also looked for a new blender as mine was getting ready to shatter into small plastic shards sooner rather than later. So, I found one – it was listed as on sale – $30 off of the original $80. The only problem was I wasn’t sure if the one on the shelf was the one on sale because of the way it was arranged. So I took it up front with me and figured I would make a purchasing decision when I found out how much it actually did cost.

Finally I got to the front of the line and the clerk actually turned out to be very nice and efficient with my order. In fact she rang it all up before I realized that the blender was not the model on sale and it was priced at $100 – way more than I wanted to pay.

When I told the clerk I didn’t want the item she insisted on running a price check and called to the stockperson in the back. By this time a line had started piling up behind me. As much as I hate being made to wait by one of “those people” who can’t manage to figure out the process for paying for a purchase, I hate even more being the person making others wait when I cause a problem myself.

So instead of holding up the queue the clerk asked if it was OK to put my stuff aside so she could ring through the long-suffering customers behind me. While doing this she was conversing with the stock person and trying to figure out what the deal was with my blender. Finally, she confirmed it was indeed the $100 blender and was not on sale for another two weeks. Then she surprised me by asking if I wanted it for the future sale price.

This is very astute salesmanship because at this point any other store would just say sorry and cause me to leave the without any further ado – and missing out on the $100 revenues. In fact this is a major issue that many businesses don’t even perceive. When you have a customer ready to buy and turn him away you have just lost esteem his eyes.

A customer comes to buy because you have the solution to a problem. If you do not solve that problem for him you are now associated with the pain of failure – now he has to go somewhere else to solve the problem. If you can come up with a solution, somehow, some way, so the customer leaves happy you have deepened your relationship with him.

If they had not come up with the discount offer I would have left Canadian Tire knowing I would have to trudge off somewhere else – more time and effort on my part. I would not have left upset or angry, but with a sense of futility or moderate disappointment. I would not have come back for that item though and I would be somewhat less likely to look for Canadian Tire as a solution to future problems.

While all this was going on the clerk was diligently working the line down and she took me back into the queue after I made my decision. I decided to accept their offer – even though it would cost me more than I had planned. I was struck by the professional and customer-oriented way she and the stockperson had dealt with my situation. I never was made to feel like I was a problem, I felt like they were trying to work together to solve a problem for me and were determined not to let me out the store without a blender.

By that time though she had traded off with another clerk to go on break and took off too quickly for me to thank her personally for the work she did. So often when a hiccup occurs in dealing with customers things don’t turn out well and the customer walks away disgruntled. Here is a 90-plus year old Canadian icon with its funny Canadian Tire money still in circulation that is making real inroads in servicing customers. From data-mining their inventory info to personal service in an impersonal environment I’ll be much more likely to return to Canadian Tire in the future. And I’ll be more understanding of chatty clerks.

Larry Earnhart
Alchemy Business Consulting
January 16, 2015

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Logo credit: “Canadian Tire Logo” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Canadian_Tire_Logo.svg#mediaviewer/File:Canadian_Tire_Logo.svg

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