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A Tale of Two Customers

Posted by David A. Couper, MA on August 28, 2014 9:30 AM

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Since I have been doing work on my house and yard, the home improvement store has become a regular haunt. But, on one day, I had two very different experiences as a customer. It was interesting to see how two competitors could be so different and what impact their culture had on their outcomes. 

Home Depot

Home Depot was full of construction guys and the place was like that-a little dusty and dirty. I went to the Customer Service first of all. I wanted to have some plants delivered to my house, as the car was too small to transport them. The Customer Associate explained that I just needed to bring what I wanted delivered to her. So I loaded up my cart and took it to her. She rang it up and arranged the delivery time. Then I explained I wanted grass, mulch and some tall palm trees (this is California, remember). Not a problem. She picked up her walkie-talkie, called her colleague in the plant department and told him to snag me some palms. She then went online and ordered me sod – the technical term – and the mulch. Done! I then asked her about a vanity. She called another colleague who came over. She told me that the one I wanted wasn’t available in stock but I could special order something, which unfortunately would take too long. Everybody was friendly, happy and service-oriented. Everything was delivered as they said it would be. The Customer Associate also called to tell me that the load would come in two separate lots.

Lowes

As Home Depot didn’t have a vanity I liked in stock, I went to a Lowes.

First impressions were good. It was well laid out, clean and bright. As I walked into the store I was excited to see what was there. In the bathroom section, after three minutes of searching, I had found what I wanted. The vanity was the right style and price, and all I needed to do was pay for it and have it delivered. Easy!

The Bathrooms Customer Associate was helping another customer buy a showerhead. When I arrived, he continued to serve the showerhead customer. After a few minutes, I rang the handy bell for service. Nothing happened. The showerhead purchasing continued. The Customer Associate continued to not notice me. I asked another passing Customer Associate if they could help me. No, they could not because they were not in the bathroom department. I rang the bell a few more times and nothing happened. Showerhead purchasing continued to unfold. I asked the Bathrooms Associate – I had dropped the Customer title at this point, as it seemed inaccurate - if there was anyone to help. No, because the other Associate was at lunch. I went to Customer Service. But the nice woman told me that she couldn’t order me a vanity. She actually thought it was a funny idea because she explained patiently to me that customer service was about taking money, not ordering products or even serving customers. I wondered why it was called Customer Service – maybe it should have been called Taking Money Service. I asked about the manager but that person was on the phone. I went back to the bathroom center and found showerhead purchasing was still continuing. Another woman came to the area to buy a toilet. She waited. Finally the showerhead conversation was over, although no head was purchased. The associate served the woman who came after me. I explained that I was there first, but the associate continued with toilet serving. After that deal was done, the Associate came to me. 20 minutes after I first arrived, I got the vanity ordered. It took about 3 minutes to complete the transaction. It was scheduled to be delivered on Monday. It was delivered on Tuesday. 

So, what’s the point? The point is not which DIY Chain is better than another as I have only been to two stores out of many. The point is what did the Customer Associates do or not do that made such a difference. Or even better how were they being?

Engagement

In Home Depot, the employees were engaged. They seemed to be interested in the customers and in finding answers to their questions. Each Associate had written his or her name on his work overalls and some had decorated them. In some ways, this small thing showed that they were part of the chain and were committed to being there. They communicated with me and made me feel welcome. They also apologized to people who were waiting, answered questions while doing other tasks and kept things positive.

Empowerment

They were able to work with other parts of the store to find answers and make decisions. They didn’t need to call a supervisor and could work across departments. The employees had walkie-talkies so they could communicate with their colleagues.

Service Consciousness

They wanted to help customers find answers to their problems. They also took the time to call me to let me know information about the delivery.

Engagement, empowerment and service:  the keys to a good customer experience.

 

 

 

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