Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One in a row

Bill writes: A woman walks into a store and takes a cart and a shopping basket. This moment is a retail ethnographer’s wet dream. It’s a weird and interesting shopper behavior and may be something big. HUGE. Like………? Maybe it’s that the shopper doesn’t trust the cart to keep the breakables unbroken, so she’s taken the basket as a “side carrier” which will provide a more gentle ride. Hey, there’s an idea here—let’s suggest they put in padded carts. Wait. Better yet—padded compartments within the carts to hold the eggs. But that could lead to walk-offs, with customers conveniently “forgetting” their eggs until after they’ve checked out. That would be bad. Hmm. Maybe it’s that she’s a germaphobe, and thinks the basket is less apt than the cart to have dried snot or microbes of baby poop on it. That’s it! We need entry door shower mists which spray liquefied Purell all over everything that passes by.

And so on.

What’s unknown from this little tableau is whether a shopper who takes a cart and a basket is a party of one or really one representative of unseen millions. Maybe it’s that she’s the only one today, but the trend setter who millions will be copying any day now. Or just maybe, since this is something I happened to witness, she arrived at the store and was meeting her husband back at the meat department.

It’s one of the reasons we like to use in-store video along with ethnographers when we do store studies. It’s good to be able to see things thousands of times in addition to once.
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Who may I say is calling?

Bill writes: When the volume of rings got completely out of hand, I joined those already on the roster of the do-not-call list. It has helped some. But I still get plenty, with caller ID displaying the name of the company, charity, political organization, call center or the mildly intriguing “unknown caller.” I don’t keep a log next to the phone to make sure this is an outfit I’ve recently done business with, and like most everyone else, simply assume the caller is inside the boundary line of legal—however barely.

But I take these calls every time. I’m in the customer experience business and want to hear the script. Most are delivered in that breathless way, a non-stop recitation of the “premise.” Once it’s established they’ve got the right person, there’s no pause—or what could be my one opportunity to get a word in edgewise—like “goodbye.”

These scripts have been tested over time, so the companies know what “works” and what doesn’t “work.” Still, it’s hard to get motivated when the delivery has that rote and robotic thing going on.
It was notable during last year’s political season that the Obama calls, highly scripted to be sure, still seemed…..earnest. And, in a good way, they had an amateurish feeling—however studied they may have been behind the scenes to make sure a dialogue was started and a human interest in the caller seeded.

Maybe there’s a different way for telemarketers to evaluate their outbound call scripts. Instead of using the blunt instrument of compliance—the rote adherence measurement to a set of words by the solicitor—companies should hunt for those associates with lousy compliance scores and high conversions. Perhaps they hold the secret to a new non-scripted “script.” Like the Obama boiler room gang, who raised almost $800 million over the phone.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Keeping the customer

Bill writes: I can’t remember where I heard it first, but an expression I’ve always liked --- it’s used to describe how fast calamity can come – is the one about someone who just “pulls a single thread and the whole sleeve falls off.”

Cut to me at Whole Foods on a recent shopping sojourn. I had a grocery list of more than 50 items, one of which was watercress, that tangy leaf vegetable with the slightly bitter peppery taste that doesn’t have many uses beyond being filler for ladies’ tea sandwiches. With produce as the first department along the perimeter from the store’s entry, it was my first stop. After several futile minutes attempting to find the item, I asked for help. The clerk couldn’t find the watercress either. He went to the back room and looked. Nothing. Sorry, sir. I looked at the rest of my long list and my completely empty cart, and weighed my options. I could continue shopping and then go to a second store for just the watercress, or bail now and get everything done together at a single (other) store. I chose the latter, and with that decision, Whole Foods was out more than $225--what I ended up spending at the competitor.

What the Whole Foods produce guy might have asked is what I needed watercress for. Had he done so, he would have found out that it was to act as nothing more than a garnish for a plate of Super Bowl deviled eggs, a green bed on which to splay and display these old school treats. Then he would have been able to suggest Italian parsley or arugula as worthy substitutes, and I would have stayed at the store.

Is this asking too much of employees? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. Taking an interest in the customer has to go beyond “we’re out of it” or “it’s over there.” Finding out a “why” beyond a “what” is always a reasonable goal.
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Monday, February 2, 2009

Retail charm offensive

Bill writes: In his early stand-up days, Jay Leno used to tell the story of the frustrations of being in line at the supermarket. He waits. And waits. And waits some more. Then it’s his turn, and the checker doesn’t even look up to say hello. She’s got her head down in scanning mode. When it’s time to pay, he – thinking he’s a valued customer at a store where he’s just forked over more than $200 – still doesn’t receive an acknowledgment. Not able to contain his frustration, he says to the checker that a simple thank you would be nice. “Why should I?” she says, scoffing, “it says it right here on the receipt.”

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of cluelessness and rudeness in stores—maybe not quite as bad as the Leno story. I once asked a clerk to help me locate an item that was obviously not in the aisle where I sought his help—he just happened to be the only person anywhere in the store I could find. He stood very still, pivoted his head around to be able to see everything within a three-foot radius of his body, and then proudly proclaimed the item was not there. I suppose it’s not so different from being in a restaurant and asking a passing waitperson for a spoon, only to be told this isn’t their station.

Times are different. There’s a charm offensive going on everywhere. Store traffic is thin—and precious. I get a greeting like royalty as soon as I walk in almost anywhere—even big box stores, where sucking up to customers has never been part of the operational orthodoxy. Employees are now dropping what they’re doing to help and lead and show and answer—and thank. It’s all rather nice, although sometimes a bit desperate—and annoying. I was at Walgreens the other day, needing “navigational remediation” as we sometimes call it in the shopper analytics business. I was taken to the item I sought, and then given a “helpful” two-minute discourse on all the reasons why another brand would be better than my selection.

Oh well. It was better than being taken for granted.
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