Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Customer Service Lessons

I LOVE Black Friday shopping! It is not the deals or the stuff or the doorbusters that make me feel great. It is the mother-daughter time I get with my girls as we make our annual pilgrimage to the stores, ending with a great breakfast at our favorite breakfast restaurant.

This year, with many stores opening at midnight and 1:00 a.m., the crowds were not a thick by the time we ventured out at 5:00 a.m. So I had plenty of time to do some simple observing while I stood by the parked cart, waiting for my daughter to search the shelves for a particular item. I share these observations for the benefit of business owners and customer service managers who may want to see how their own customer service training measures up.

Our first stop was a major toy store and the staff was super impressive! Staffers were stationed at points inside the store and we had access to an employee any time we had a question. We found these employees to be well informed, knowledgeable about the store layout and very helpful. In looking for a Buzz Lightyear item, we found an area of nothing but Toy Story items but the item we wanted wasn't there. A store employee, who was within ten feet of the area, told my daughter, "That item may also be in our Disney aisle (and she gave instruction on where that aisle was), but they will be bringing more inventory out to the shelves in about five minutes" so we made sure to hang close to see if her item was brought out. It was.

At our second store, a department store specializing in mostly clothing, we were looking for a certain football jersey for an 8 year old girl. The employee we asked (again, lots of employees within eyesight at all times!), the employee wasn't sure where these jersey's might be, but she located another employee for us, who walked us to the display where the jersey's were hanging. At the checkout we learned it was the first day for one of the two ladies manning the cash register. The store had hired additional staff just for the sole purpose of bagging merchandise for the cashiers, which helped the cashier get folks checked out faster which resulted in faster moving lines.

The third store was not as impressive. It's a huge national chain that carries everything from groceries to clothes to car repairs. In looking for another Toy Story item, my daughter is informed by an employee, "I don't know where they might be." Pointing to the long line at the register in the hardware department which was next to toys, she said, "You need to go ask the lady in hardware. She might know where they are." My daughter looked at the long line at the checkout and said, "I can't butt in line to ask a hardware cashier where the toys should be. Let's go."

This was such a contrast to our first two experiences where, at the first store, the staffers were well informed about the inventory and the store layout, and at the second store, even though the staffer was not sure where the item was, she personally handed us to another employee who walked with us to the display. But the third store? We were pretty much told, "I've no idea. Go ask someone else."

I do not fault the employees of the third store. What this business owner's eye saw was a lack of management care and interest to see that the employees were well informed and knowledgeable about their department, their inventory and their store layout on what is heralded as the biggest shopping day of the year. A good manager and management team takes the time and makes the investment to have employees who are ready to assist the customer, especially in this economy when everyone is fighting for the same dollar.

What I hope is taken from this article is that those in charge of training new staff and those in charge of major sales promotions and those over customer service functions will see that managers can not just hire someone and say "Ok, go help the customer." The employee needs the tools, the empowerment and the knowledge to be able to do that.

And that takes an investment of time and training, and a level of care on the part of management.

So decide today ..... will your business hand walk a customer through the problem solving process? Or will it be one of those "I've no idea ... ask someone else" stores?

It seems like a no-brainer to me.

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