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What Messages Do You Send to Your Customers?

Posted on : 21-03-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

Tags: , ,


Business, as well as people, are constantly sending messages to others without realizing it. These subtle messages send clear information, at least in the eyes of others. For many businesses this is what defines your brand to the Customer. There are tons of examples of this in businesses large and small. That receipt checker many companies have does not send a message of security or low cost, but instead it tells every Customer that you do not trust them. Some messages can also be positive, such as the greeter that used to say hi when you entered Walmart. Often this person was older or had a handicap, but they were usually very cheery and they sent a message that Walmart was part of the community. Of course taking them away, as Walmart has done, also sends a clear message. In my upcoming book @YourService I share many observations regarding brands we all know and love (or hate). Often I do not mention the specific brand, but you may recognize them from the stories I share. One of the brands I talk about but do not disclose by name is Lowes, but after reading this post on the Consumerist and my own subtle example from this week, I decided it might be helpful for businesses to learn from them. In the Consumerist post the Customer, Paula, ordered a dishwasher from Lowes.com. As with many Internet orders, the website posts a delivery date. It turns out that the delivery date they post is not to the Customer but to the local store. Why would a Customer care about that date? They want the product in their home!

Overall I love both Home Depot and Lowes. It is this love that causes me to want to see both organizations create the right Customer experience. In general I feel Home Depot faltered under former CEO Bob Nardelli. Under his leadership the stores were not as helpful and obviously focused on costs for Home Depot instead of the Customer. Under Frank Blake, the current Home Depot CEO, they seem to be working to correct that. I will continue to watch with interest. During the Bob Nardelli time, Lowes did an excellent job at filling the gap and creating the right experience, but a few recent subtle examples, make me wonder if they are not going in the opposite direction. In the book I talk about two experiences at Lowes where I wonder if self service has gone a little too far. One example is the cashier asking me to go to the other end of the store to get a new item because the one I had did not have a UPC. Why should the Customer have to do that? Of course I did, without even questioning. In another story I talk about the store only having self checkouts open and watching an older Customer struggling to use it. Should companies force self service? It is interesting that many supermarket chains are starting to get rid of self checkouts, preferring the opportunity to interact with their Customers. I personally like self checkouts for certain items and small quantities, but there are times I would prefer a cashier.

Earlier this week I was in Lowes and once again the only lane open was self checkout. I was purchasing about 20 little bags of bolts and washers. Have you ever done this in self checkout? First to prevent a Customer from accidentally or purposely not counting items, you are not permitted to enter a quantity. So I scanned each one, but of course the scale did not know I put the item in the bag since each item weighed virtually nothing, so it kept prompting the cashier to log in. This happened more often than I can remember during one transaction. This typically would have been a quick in an out with a cashier but due to their system it was a lengthy process. The person watching over the area was great at helping but did not enter any of the items. Tiny bags with UPC codes never easily scan. While I was struggling through this process I watched people walking up with carts of doors and wood, asking the person they are with how they could do self checkout with such bulky items. I finally made it through the process and paid. One cool part about Lowes is if you are a Lowes credit card holder, you receive an automatic 5% discount. So I used my Lowes card. After swiping the card I put it back in my wallet but then their system asked me to enter the last 4 digits of the card. Do you know why that is done? I am guessing that those who created the Lowes self checkout experience do not know either. This was started years ago because unscrupulous people would change the data on the magnetic strip of cards to reflect stolen card information. In a self checkout situation if I were using a card with stolen data, I would know the right digits to enter. Overall a very silly addition to the Customer experience. If you ever want to have fun with a self checkout get a lot of tiny bags of items!

Now let’s compare this to a self checkout experience this week at Home Depot. I ran in to buy a few small thing plus while I was there I decided to but one large deck board. Since I bought more than planned, I did not have a cart. There was a small line at the regular checkout and no one at self checkout, so even with the bulky board, I went there. As I walked up, the cashier walked over to me to scan the board even before I made it to the checkout. He then went on and scanned each item that was in my hand. I put the items in a bag, swiped my Home Depot card and a receipt printed. It did not ask me to type last 4 or even sign.

The process at Home Depot made me feel like my time was valued in every aspect of the experience. It was well thought out from the wireless scanner from the cashier to not weighing items scanned by him. He never had to log into the machine I was at. I also was not forced into the self checkout area, it was my choice. I would hope that the decision not to have cashiers available at Lowes was a local management decision (although poor one) as opposed to a corporate one. Of course the poor design of the user flow is corporate, so a bean counter there may be making the decision to force self checkout too. Either way, decisions companies make like these, impact decisions Customers make on where to shop. If I ever need items that I prefer not to take through self checkout, I know where I will shop. They sent me the message loud and clear! What are subtle messages businesses send to you?