Can Your Service Compete with This? I Sure Hope So!

By Jim Moody, CAE
CSA President

I recently suffered through my annual bad service experience at a well-known, big-box store where employees (if you can find one) wear orange.

It reminded me how difficult it is to be all things to all people. It is tough to offer a zillion SKUs, be a low price leader and provide great service all at the same time. Sometimes I think big boxes can’t even get two of the three.

So here’s my story. I needed a hosemobile. My old one sprang a leak, and Peachtree City frowns upon leaving your garden hose lying out in your front yard. So off I went early Saturday morning. Keep in mind that it’s spring – prime garden season. I’m not the only person looking to do yard work. But when I drive up, is the garden center entrance from the parking lot open? Nope. Not really a big deal to walk through the store, but it was a harbinger of things to come.

It was a bit overcast, and it was only 8:30 am, so there was not a lot of natural light. I walked out into the garden center to find my hosemobile. Were there any lights on? Nope. Not only was it aggravating, but it was a safety issue as well. Fortunately, I was able to find what I needed and head to the cash register.

So I get to the register and choose not to check myself out because I don’t want to lift the hosemobile up onto the scanner. There is one regular checkout open, and I head that way. Clearly they were not expecting me because two of the checkout clerks were embroiled in a heated discussion. When they finally realized I was there, they chose to argue about who had to go through the effort of checking me out. Did either of them greet me? Make me feel like anything other than a grand imposition on their time? Nope. The fact is that neither of them even said a word to me. One just got out her scanner, scanned my merchandise and stood there watching me swipe my card.

Once the receipt printed, did she thank me for shopping there or give me any hint of a smile? Nope.

I walked away pretty aggravated about the whole experience. On the other hand, I was thankful that our members who depend on selling a lot of retail don’t have to work incredibly hard to compete with this kind of service. (Disclaimer: We don’t have a member who offers consumer-oriented retail anywhere near us. I would gladly have driven 15 or 20 miles to patronize a member.)

We know that most people assume big boxes are going to be cheaper (though we also recognize that’s often not the case). We also know that the vast majority of our members who have consumer retail can’t match the variety of SKU’s that the boxes offer. Service is the low-hanging fruit and ought to be your strategy in most cases.

So, how good are you on service? I hear people pay lip service to “our people” and “service” all the time, but I wonder if there’s more to it than lip service. Just like safety, service starts at the top. Do you as an owner or senior manager exude a service personality? And when you hire, do you do a lot of probing on whether the person you are interviewing has the capacity to provide good service?

You can teach service to a point, but some people are just naturally more service oriented than others. It’s much easier to coach people who have a heart for it. They just see things that others don’t see.

I saw an example of this a couple of weeks ago, and it made me so proud to be a part of this industry. Our newest Next Gen Leadership group was meeting for the first time, and we were in Natchez, Miss. Natchez is bus-tour central in the springtime when everything is in bloom and all the big antebellum mansions are open, and our hotel was full of elderly people … lots of canes and walkers.

While we were meeting, a storm came up out of nowhere. The wind was a good 50 mph. It ripped a couple of roofs off in town. We looked out the window and saw two ladies holding on to each other as they were exposed up on the levee across the street. Without even thinking about it, every guy in our group stood up and ran for the door to go out and assist these two women who were obviously in distress. While the hotel lobby was full of people – not all of them elderly – no one else attempted to help.

One of our guys got out before the door was forced shut by the wind. He rescued the ladies while others ran to another door that faced a slightly different angle. They leaned on the door and held it open for the ladies and our hero.

I’m convinced that these ladies would have been seriously injured had we not helped. They would have been blown over, risking a broken hip or shoulder.

You can’t teach that kind of service. It just comes naturally, or not at all. These are the kind of people you want to hire.

Heaven help you if you get caught in a strong wind outside Home Depot. Don’t count on me being there to help. I’ll be getting my next hosemobile online.