Columnists

Squirrel Spotting: Own Your Customer Experience

ColumnistsJun 13, 2023

Squirrel Spotting: Own Your Customer Experience

When something goes wrong, fix the problem instead of blaming your employer or a fellow employee, Peter Smith writes.

National Jeweler columnist and jewelry sales expert Peter Smith
Peter Smith is an industry consultant, speaker, sales trainer, and author. He can be reached via email at TheRetailSmiths@gmail.com.
“The goodwill the customers have for the store is largely created or destroyed by the store’s employees. To most customers, the employee is the store.”
 
It’s hard to argue with the logic of that sentiment; it feels relevant, contemporary even. 

It was written in 1946, and I found it in a book I discovered in one of those Little Free Library boxes on my regular walking route. 

The book, “Retail Store Organization” by Preston Robinson and Norris Brisco (how great are those names!), was a terrific find, coming as it did from a small box usually stuffed with books from Ruth Ware, Jodi Picoult, and James Patterson. 

Finding a 77-year-old book on retail in superb condition, with that extra little heft and old-book smell, was a touch of fairy dust. 

I thought about that passage recently when I was waiting to check out at a Nordstrom Rack store. 

Despite the hubbub of music, PA announcements and customer noise, a heated exchange between an obviously agitated customer and a store employee drew my attention. 

As the customer rubbed his head in frustration, the employee asked, loud enough to be heard over all the noise, “Did they call you to say it was ready?” 

I don’t know what happened next as I was summoned to the cashier to pay for my purchase, but the words of the employee stayed with me. 

Did “they” call you, she had asked, as if she worked for someone else and not the store in question. 

I wondered why that employee so readily split from her own employer to side with the aggrieved customer. A case of misplaced empathy, perhaps? 

Or maybe she thought siding with the customer against their common enemy, her employer, was a good way to win him over? 

 Related stories will be right here … 

I had an unrelated but not entirely dissimilar experience after I ordered a pair of readers from Warby Parker a few weeks ago. 

The associate in the store had encouraged me to order the glasses, indicating delivery was currently taking only about three days. 

The emails from Warby Parker began almost as soon as I arrived home from the store, and the tone of the communication was more self-congratulatory than informative. 

By the number of emails sent, you would have thought Warby Parker was tracking the progress of a lone traveler traversing the Silk Road on foot, not delivering a $100 pair of spectacles. 

Unsurprisingly, the glasses didn’t arrive in three days, or four days, or even five days. 

In fact, despite the endless, almost intrusive emails, the glasses never arrived at all, at least not that first pair.

Eventually there was, you guessed it, another email informing me the order was going to be redone (no apology, no explanation, and no concession on future purchases). 

When I inquired as to what happened, expressing surprise that the promised three-day delivery was now up to two weeks and counting, the latest emailer indicated “she,” meaning the in-store associate, should not have communicated three days in the first place, as if that explained everything.  

“Don’t over-communicate what you can’t or didn’t do. Don’t conscript me in hating on your colleagues or your employer; just own the problem.”
 — Peter Smith 

In “The Effortless Experience,” Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick Delsi wrote, “The data tells us that from a customer’s perspective, when something goes wrong, the overriding sentiment is, help me fix it. No need to dazzle me, please just solve the problem and let me get back to what I was doing before.” 

Whether it was the dude in Nordstrom Rack or yours truly with Warby Parker, don’t over-communicate what you can’t or didn’t do. 

Don’t conscript me in hating on your colleagues or your employer; just own the problem. Tell me you’re committed to getting to the bottom of it and do it. 

What customers want more than anything else—more than a litany of emails, more than misguided empathy—is a frictionless experience. 

Make shopping in your store a low-effort experience, and I’m certain customers will enjoy repeat visits. 

It’s not that complicated. 

Happy selling and always great to hear from you at TheRetailSmiths@gmail.com

Peter Smithis an industry consultant, speaker, and sales trainer, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

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