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What Messages Do You Send to Your Customers?

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

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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?

Do You Build the Right Messages for Your Customers?

Posted on : 18-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Uncategorized

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I had a great experience returning an item to Lowes last week. The cashier made if fast and was very friendly. She even noticed, without me saying, the color difference which was the reason for the return. Even with that great experience I left with a different message and it is something that can help other companies too. Like many retailers, the service desk is located by the front of the store. It is fairly open area, so it is easy for Customers to see behind the counter. I am always fascinated by hand written signs behind service counters. They usually are something about the policy. In this particular location the sign was signed by the Loss Prevention department, so of course, I had to read it! I did take a picture but it was too blurry to share. Basically the message was to the service team. It was a reminder of a policy about Customer or employees trying to exit through the entrance. I immediately thought about all the times I exited through the entrance. 9 times out of 10 it was because I forgot something in the car. No the 1 out of 10 was not theft! It was because they did not have what I was looking for so I was leaving. Anyway the sign tell the service personnel if anyone tries to exit through that door, you are to immediately stop what you are doing, including helping other Customers and confront the person using the wrong exit and guide them to the other exit by the cash registers.

I should be clear that I understand the need for loss prevention, and years ago even did it. There are benefits for Customers in keeping costs low. That being said, telling a service agent to break away from the Customer they are helping to help the loss prevention team, is ridiculous. It is not the Customers fault that the loss prevention team is not able to watch the door properly. I also do not think it is a good practice to dictate what doors a Customer must use.

In this new world of @YourService it is important to know the message you are sending to your own employees and Customers. Their interactions are what define your brand. This handwritten memo is an example of this message. Have you seen message like this? As a Customer how do they make you feel?

Its All About the Grill

Posted on : 13-07-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Personal

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I am probably not too different from most men, I really enjoy grilling.  But like most of my life there seems to be a story behind it.  So a number of years ago I purchased a grill.  It never really worked right.  When I noticed the trouble I played around with it but it never cooked properly.  I did not replace it because I did not feel like spending the money.  Believe it or not, the grill just sat unused for a a few years.  As we were doing some spring spruce up of the shrubs my wife noticed something.  There were a number of birds chirping.  After looking everywhere, she finally realized they were in the grill.  Yes a family of birds somehow set up their own condo inside the grill.  Needless to say we were not going to be cooking on that grill again.

When Father’s Day arrived I received some new grill equipment and I was told to go pick out my grill.  I really wanted to go out and buy a cool grill.  I love some of those big ones with stone side (I wish, as you read that, I could add sound effects from the show Home Improvement).  At the same time I could never justify the expense for a really cool grill.  Any chance to justify that was blown since I have not cooked on the grill for 5 or 6 years.   Last week one of my team members, George , told me about a grill that had charcoal and gas as part of the same grill.  I had to look into that.  Well on July 4 (yes I know a very strange day to buy a grill), I decided it was time to have a cookout.

I immediately went to the computer and read numerous reviews on the Char-Griller Duo, starting with Amazon and then shifting to many other review sites on the net.  I think I tend to shop like many people, first finding out what others think on a product.  I then started to compare prices.  I found Lowes had the grill for $299.  I was all set.  I then had to decide how to get it home.  So I drove over to Lowes and started to decide the best way to do it.  I decided not to take advantage of the free assembly, and I just picked up the grill.  Hey the box said easy assembly, I can do that.  Actually the assembly was easy, but time consuming for 1 person.  So that night we ate on the grill.  Now I did not pick up  a new gas tank because I had the one from the last grill, and it still had gas.  So I hooked it up and started to cook.  Just like the last grill it was taking a long time.  Based on this the next day I went to get a new tank.  What I did not realize was there was free tank exchange when you bought the grill.  Lowes was great about it and swapped a new tank.  While I was there I picked up the smoker attachment to add to my grill (insert Home Improvement noises here).  When I went home I attached the smoker attachment.  This was a little harder than the grill assembly and should have been done with multiple people.  Anyway once that was done I tried the new propane tank.  Wow now that is the way a gas grill should light up!  So that night I cooked on the charcoal side.  It was a first for me and I love the fact that I have the option.  Gas for ease and charcoal for taste.  What a fun concept for a grill.

The only trouble I had with this grill experience was the knob for the side burner was cracked.  It still worked, more of just a nuisance.  I shot off an email to Char-Griller, truthfully expecting them to ask for all kinds of info or refer me to call in.  I realized today I did not hear back, and I was wondering if I would have to call or something else to obtain the part.  Instead I came home to Fed-Ex package at the door.  I am always so appreciative of companies that make it easy.  Email is my preferred method to communicate and I had the part in a timely manner with no questions or verifications.  Very pleased Customer.  The grill is one of the best purchases I have had in the past few years.