Harper Grey: Walk a Mile


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

Monday’s article on customer service pointed out how important it is to have well thought out, intentional and genuine service. Lots of companies try to fake it, lots more just ignore it. But poor customer service isn’t just about rude employees and bad return policies. Sometimes a store’s integrated business practices can get in the way of providing a positive experience for shoppers.

My husband dropped off his dry cleaning last Friday afternoon. He was given a receipt and told to pick the items up on Saturday. The receipt noted, “Pick Up Saturday 5:30 pm.” Saturday afternoon, we were out running errands and my husband remembered that he needed to pick up his shirts. He pulled out the receipt and said, “Oh, this says 5:30. Let’s hang out in town for awhile until it’s time.” At 5:15, we figured it was close enough to the pick-up time, and drove to the cleaner’s. To find it closed. Apparently, they close at 3:00 on Saturday.

On Monday, when he returned, he mentioned to the owner that he had been there Saturday at 5:15. “Oh, we close at 3:00,” she said. Yes, we had become aware of that. But why did his pick-up receipt say to come at 5:30? The owner kind of mumbled, “Hmmm… I don’t know…” and wandered to the back to get the shirts. The receipt stapled to the shirts also showed a pick-up time of 5:30 Saturday. My husband pointed this out. “If you close at 3:00, why does the receipt tell me to pick up at 5:30?” The woman just shrugged and walked away.

The owner should have apologized for my husband’s inconvenience. But there’s a bigger issue here than just poor customer service. The receipt should not have given a pick-up time that was later than the operating hours. Monday-Friday, the shop is open until 7:30 pm. Whoever programmed the system to print out pick-up slips had failed to change the pick-up time for the Saturday receipts. Apparently, the shop owner thought this was not that big a deal. But if she had stopped to consider how inconvenienced her customers felt, she may have corrected the issue.

While you can’t avoid every potential mistake that causes your customers grief, you can certainly fix issues when they’re pointed out. And you can conduct some research to place yourself in your customers’ shoes. A few questions to ponder:

Are Your Instructions/Signs Accurate?

At my local Costco, there is often confusion at the food service area. There are signs at the counter that say “Order Here” and “Pick Up.” One might think that customers would order at one area, then pick up their food at the other. Nope. Instead, employees take customers’ orders at the “Order Here” register, then go get the food items while the customers stay put. To further confusion, at the main check stand areas where customers pay for their Costco merchandise, there are signs advertising that customers can purchase their hot dogs and pizza there, then take their receipts to the food service window to pick up their food. Customers assume that, having already paid for their food, they should just proceed to the “Pick Up” area, only to stand and wait without being helped. Then they’re told to stand in the line with everyone else.

Are Your Posted Store Hours and Information Correct, both Onsite and Online?

I was shopping for a bike a few weeks ago and found a shop online. I wrote down the address listed on the shop’s website and drove there, only to find a sign in the window stating that they had moved 10 miles away. Inconvenient. Another store had a disconnected phone number on their website. I knew they were open for business, because I had been there the day before. Keep your info updated.

Is Your Store Set Up for Customer Ease?

Last week, I wrote about the difficulty I encountered in the infants’ clothing department at a large store. I couldn’t navigate through the racks with a stroller. Obviously, the majority of shoppers in that department have babies (and strollers). Management should walk through the area with a stroller when performing layout changes to ensure that customers can navigate easily. (See my article on store layouts.)

One of the bike shops I visited last week had just received a bunch of new bikes and had set them up in a special display at the front of the store. The display looked great, but it actually caused some problems. I decided to test ride a bike and headed for the door, wheeling the bike alongside. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get through the door with the bike—the new display blocked the door from opening fully. The sales clerk had to move five bikes from the display in order to get the door open for us. The shop has customers conducting test rides all day long; not being able to get a bike out the door is a real problem.

Are You Inconveniencing Shoppers Before They Even Get In the Door?

There’s nothing more annoying than pulling into a parking lot only to find that all the nearby spaces are blocked with shopping carts. This always seems to happen to me when it’s raining. As a customer, I have a choice: park my car in the aisle, get out, move the cart and then park. Or, park farther away and walk through the rain. Either way, I’m all wet. And unhappy. If your store has shopping carts, provide enough cart corrals that shoppers will be inclined to park their carts there instead of leaving them in the parking spaces. And send an employee out on a regular basis to collect carts and bring them back inside the store.

A busy deli near my office has a double-door entrance, but one door is broken and has a tiny handwritten sign that tells customers to use the other door. During lunchtime, foot traffic backs up as people try to open the broken door only to find it locked. In the meantime, they’re blocking other customers who are trying to get in and out through one small door. The door has been broken for at least a year. Fix it already.

It can be difficult to see your business through your customers’ eyes. If you can’t find any problems, ask a friend to come through and critique your store. Even better, survey your customers and ask them it there’s anything about their shopping experience that has bothered or inconvenienced them. It will be well worth your time and effort.

A Wharton study showed that 31% of dissatisfied shoppers who suffered from poor service told friends and family about their experience. 8% of those people told someone else, and another 8% told two people. However, 6% told six or more people.

The Wharton researchers estimate that, for every 100 customers who have a bad experience, a store may lose between 32% and 36% of current or potential customers. (1)

1. “The Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study 2006” Wharton and The Verde Group.