Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Customer Loyalty Story - Once Upon a Time There Was a Grocery Store

How much do you love and adore your favorite grocery store?  I love mine very much, and I have, on many occasions, bragged on that store and complimented employees. I have always received great service and positive experiences there. Today must have been during a full moon because I had the craziest thing happen. This is a story about customer loyalty.

I went to the grocery store this afternoon specifically to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, convincing myself that I would eat nothing but healthy food for a few days. As recommended by health experts, I shopped only the outer walls of the store, avoiding processed foods such as crackers, cookies, cereal, soft drinks, etc.  As I happily proceeded to the produce section, I was already patting myself on the back for the quest that was upon me.

I approached the navel oranges and glanced around for the nearest bag dispenser. I had recently noticed that the bag dispensers had either been relocated or there were fewer of them. But, in this case, all the dispensers were empty. I walked each aisle to be sure. No bags to be found.

A young employee was in the process of slowly opening a box. I asked him where I could find some produce bags. The young man replied, "Our bags were recalled, so we don't have any." I said, "What should I use to bag my produce?" He responded, "We may have some in tomorrow." Tomorrow? Tomorrow? I'm here today.

There were no other employees around so I walked all the way to the front customer service counter, and explained that the produce section was out of bags. The lady working behind that counter said, "I'm so sorry." That was it. So, I decided to try again by saying, "I need to purchase produce today, and there are no bags. Can you get some grocery bags, and I will be glad to take some back to the produce section." She walked from behind the customer service counter to a checkout line, asking me how many bags I needed as she pulled out four bags. "I'm not sure as I just began shopping, but those four you have will be fine."

This employee never once offered extra bags to take to the produce section, nor did she offer to take any there for the use of other customers.  By this time I was pretty irritated. I went back to produce with my four bags and began bagging some navel oranges. I saw the supervisor of produce walk by. I stopped him and relayed the problem to him. He said, "Our bags were recalled, so we are out." I replied, "As you can see there are a lot of customers looking around for produce bags, so, can you bring some back here?"  He did not answer, he walked straight over to the balloons and began filling balloons with helium.You can't make this stuff up. I need to add here that I had been very polite throughout these conversations, but my temperature was rising.

The store is very busy. There are eight other shoppers in produce, and they are all looking around for bags. Two more employees walked through the section and never once offered to help anyone.  I gave one of my bags to someone and let a few people know they could get more bags at the front. Since I was the only one there with bags, it was as if I had found the mystical fountain.

Then, I decided to mutate back into my old manager self. I approached the first young man I had asked for help. He was still working on opening boxes.  Me: "Josh, (not his real name) here's what you need to do right now. Go to the front of the store and bring back a large supply of bags for customers to use for produce until more bags come in. " He promptly left his cartons and did as I said.

Now, what was so hard about that and why, oh why, did a customer have to handle this situation? And, why was it necessary? This is a large, national grocery store chain with an excellent reputation. I'm quite sure they conduct customer service training for employees or I would not usually shop there.

I tell this story because it's a good example of how a business can damage customer loyalty and turn that customer into a "former customer". So, IF there had been just one employee who wanted to help, what could that person have done to make everything alright and assure the customer would remain loyal to the brand? This is it. Get ready. Here it comes.

"Ma'am, I am so sorry. Our bags were recalled just this afternoon, and we are restocking for your convenience right now. I'll have some bags ready in a few minutes. Thanks so much for your patience, May I bring you a courtesy coffee or soft drink?"

I'm still in love! I hear birds chirping, harps playing, and the sweet song of customer service! I've never been so happy to bag up oranges, cabbage, and bananas in my life. I tell all my friends there is nowhere in the world I'd rather buy groceries than this store. I'll be back tomorrow!

Spread the word. It's not too hard to create customer loyalty and raving fans. All you have to do is treat people the way you would like to be treated. Every single time.

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