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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