Convenience Store Food Service Consultant- Dean Dirks: News, Articles, Events

November 7, 2008

Never Let the Customer Leave Unhappy

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , , , , — deandirks @ 10:15 pm

 In this economy, retailers can’t control gas margins, cigarette legislation, credit card rates, minimum wage increases and lack of customers’ disposable income, to name a few things.

What retailers can control is customer service. I started working in my father’s grocery stores at 8 years of age. My father never heard of inventory turns, category management, merchandising or most of the complex retail tools we use every day.

What he did know was customer service. My father, who was German, didn’t understand gray areas. These were his non-negotiable principles:

1. We were required to look customers in the eye and greet them as they entered the store.
2. If a customer was looking for a product, we asked the customer if she needed help and walked her to the product.
3. If a customer asked for a product that was out on the shelf, we looked for it in the backroom.
4. We apologized for any inconveniences and offered solutions. For example: “We are out of chicken broth but I can order some for you on Wednesday and hold it for you.”
5. When we rang the customer out, you looked the customer in the eye and earnestly said “Thank you.” My father would lose his German temper if you said, “have a nice day.”
6. My father adamantly believed “Thank You” expressed to the customer our appreciation for their business.
7. You didn’t ask to carry customer’s groceries out; you grabbed the bags and headed out the door.
8. His final law was never let a customer leave the store unhappy. I remember him refunding money, giving away products, giving kid’s candy, whatever he had to do to make the customer happy.

I visit quick-service restaurants (QSRs) all the time to keep updated on the industry. Here are some of customer service highlights I observed over the last couple of weeks:

1. At the front counter of a Subway, an employee didn’t greet or offer to help me. He just stood and looked at me until I ordered. After I ordered, he acted like he was doing me a favor to make my sandwich.
2. I drove through a McDonald’s drive thru and ordered a Coke. The employee handed it to me and I said, “thanks,” she said “no problem.”
3. At Wendy’s, I ordered a cheeseburger without lettuce in the drive-thru. As I pulled away, I noticed it had lettuce. I had to stop my car, go inside, wait in line, and ask an employee to make me a new burger. I saw him go over and scrape the lettuce off. I told him I hated lettuce on a burger. He proceeded to argue with me that the bun was perfectly fine. He didn’t apologize or offer to refund my money.
4. I ordered fries at Burger King and when I started eating them, they were greasy and cold. I asked for a fresh order. The employee told me they were fine and said if I wanted some fresh ones it would be a 15 minute wait. I was on my way to the movies so I left without eating the fries or getting a refund.

I could go on and on about the poor customer service I have received and I am sure you have had similar experiences.

But there is hope; I was in a Taco Bell last week with my son. They made a mistake on our order and it took a great deal of time to get the order corrected. The assistant manager delivered the order to our table, apologized for the wait, said the order was free and handed my son a bag of churros for the inconvenience.

Where am I going to dine? Subway, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, or Taco Bell? They are all furiously competing for my dollar and one assistant manager won my business based on my father’s simple principle I learned at age 8: “Never let the customer leave unhappy.”

This is November’s article I wrote for csnews.com; it can also be found here: http://www.csnews.com/csn/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003886076

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1 Comment »

  1. After posting a comment on Dean’s article related to fresh foods in convenience stores, I was forwarded to the main page where this article was posted. The article is relevant to my posted comment, so I’ll paste it in here too. I hope you find it helpful in provoking thought that will result in a larger and happier customer base. Thank you for your great thought and writing Dean! Troy

    Great Service + Great Products = Great Profits!

    How long will patrons continue searching for the best or at least their desired product if they feel manipulated or under served?

    I’m very excited about the fresh food growth in Convenience Stores. 90% of the fresh product offerings currently in convenience and grocery stores do not suit my healthy minds requirements, but it’s certainly a growing segment that I’ve been spending more and more of my food dollars on in recent years. Offering a fresh product set is a very complex endeavor especially due to the extremely limited shelf life, but it can also be very rewarding especially in building a loyal customer base.

    Although there are forecasting tools available, buyer behavior is not completely predictable due to the extreme differences in some very relevant variables effecting the specific market of each store location. A couple of examples are shopping trends for a particular region and the buyers perceived value of a given product offering at the point of purchase.

    Now, back to the point of my comment…

    Buyers will buy and re-buy, but the re-buy will only occur if their need is not only satisfied, but as long as they are continually satisfied. Spoilage is a part of COGS(cost of goods sold); retail price, at least over time, must be large enough to capture margin above and beyond all costs. Of course the golden ticket is total net margin, so keep in mind that the total margin realized from all sales to a customer is key.

    Some consumers are interested in products that are simply tasty, others are interested in those that are simply healthy, others are shopping only based on price, others are interested in convenience and others have higher requirements consisting of all four motivations mentioned.

    So, my point is that you must satisfy your specific customers needs every time. There’s no better way to kill a re-buy than with a bad product or no product. If you have to pick between the two, I’d personally suggest offering no product. Spoilage is quite likely a lower expense than loosing a single customer.

    Well…good luck to all of you out there working hard to make a good living and even more to those of you that work hard in trying to make others lives better at the same time!

    By the way…the “manipulated” comment in the opening of my comment is related to delivering a product that seems like what the shopper is looking for, but it’s undercover garbage. This note is particularly related to healthy food options. Today, there are too many pretenders out there; there are many products that are presented as 100% healthy, but they are truly not. This may not be a deal breaker for most shoppers today, but it will be an increasingly important variable with time as shoppers become more educated and demanding.

    Comment by Troy Skeen — November 12, 2008 @ 4:23 pm


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