Great Service Starts When the Customer Walks In

(image courtesy of Moleskine)

THE SCENE: Your Average Neighborhood Art Store
THE PROTAGONIST: Your Average Customer
THE CUSTOMER’S RESULT: “Wow, I don’t think I’ll ever go there again.”

How often have you walked into a store, found something on sale with a “can’t say no” price, walked up to the cash register intending to buy, and then found out that the price was wrong and that the special didn’t apply to that item? Did you still buy the item, or did you walk out empty handed?

The hallmark of great service (not just good service) is the willingness to acknowledge the customer’s request and find the right solution that fits that customer, not just the one size fits all of a policy that doesn’t really make anyone happy.

The Search for a Great Sketchbook

Today I went to Aaron Brothers intending to buy a new Moleskine Unlined Notebook (or maybe a lined one – I hadn’t decided yet) and found a big fat 50% OFF sticker next to the product I thought I would buy. So I took two, went up to the register, and … was promptly disappointed when the cashier rang up the items and they were selling at the regular price.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “this price doesn’t seem right. I thought I saw a half-off price on the shelf.” So I led the clerk to the shelf, expecting her to confirm that the item was indeed 50% off. She looked at the shelf, at the sticker, and at the Stock Keeping Unit number (SKU, of course) associated with the notebook. She read the SKU to herself and walked back to the cash register.

Once the cashier reached the register, she informed me that the display was wrong – there was no sale on that item – and that the price shown on the register was correct.

The Service Catalyst

At this point the cashier had at least a few choices:

  1. Give me the 50% discount – this is what I hoped for and what would have resulted in a WOW experience – Moleskine products are hardly ever discounted and this seemed like a fantastic price.
  2. Offer to ask her manager whether she could offer me a discount – this is what I expected and is typical procedure in a store like this, giving the manager and the employee the opportunity to help me (but probably not the motivation)
  3. Just say “Sorry, that’s the price” and continue on with her day.

Any other flavor of “Next Customer” could have sufficed here – not a great experience, but

She chose “Sorry, that’s the price today – the sale applied to the other item” and I wasn’t sure what to do. Was I a bad customer for asking? Is the price wrong for all of the items on that row? Why isn’t she removing the wrong price tag or restocking the items in a less confusing place?”

So I left the store. They lost a sale. And I won’t be going back soon because I can buy that item in lots of places. I asked for the sale on my terms based on what was in the store and they told me they made a mistake, and didn’t do anything to try to keep me as a customer.

Remember, new customers are much harder to get and sell to than existing customers.

This store visit could have gone very differently. When I asked for the discount, the cashier could have given it to me and figured out a way to make it work – I drive by this particular store several times a week and I am sure that if I shopped there more often the store would have recouped the $10-12 it stood to lose in this single transaction very quickly. The cashier could have also asked me about what I intended to draw in the notebook, and taken my name and number to let me know the next time this product went on sale. Or … any one of a number of options.

A great service experience would have resulted in my saying “I love that store and I always want to shop there because the employees like their product, want to serve customers, and take an interest in me and how I use their products.” I hope the next time I go back to that store they’ve fixed the price stickers and encourage their employees to reach out to customers who use their product.

And one more thing – one of the reasons I expected great service from this store was that they carried the quality product I wanted. When you associate yourself with a great brand you take on the great power and responsibility of that brand (sorry, Stan Lee) – your service experience should not only maintain the brands in your store but also enhance the customer experience at the same time.


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