Just over a year ago, I would walk into a big box home improvement retailer to pick up supplies for a project and, instead of seeing sales associates eager to assist me with my home improvement questions, I saw tumbleweeds. Okay, so I didn’t actually see tumbleweeds but I also didn’t typically see any sales associates either.
Fast forward to the present. I walk in the main entrance and I’m greeted, almost accosted, by a small team of employees who are more than eager to assist me in finding whatever I need. It’s actually quite overwhelming. I haven’t even had a chance to notice that I grabbed the one shopping cart with the noisiest wheels on the planet—and I am expected to quickly transition to sharing my shopping list with a small group of strangers in orange aprons.
As much as I’m happy to see the return of customer service as a strategy for combating the current economic crisis, it all seems a little disingenuous…and a bit humorous. Imagine, sitting in a board room trying to come up with innovative ideas to increase same store sales and to improve overall customer retention. Someone suggests adding a Wal Mart-esque greeter at the store entrance. Brilliant! Especially since Wal Mart has been doing it since at least the turn of the century and because the drop in retail sales means they’re going to have to operate on a skeleton payroll to compensate for operating at nonexistent sales revenue and smaller margins.
In the case of the unnamed retailer above, I know the focus on customer service also probably has a lot to do with a change in senior management. But I can’t help but think the economy has also played a part.
Once we climb out of the mess we’re in, I hope businesses will remember to value their customers as much as they value Kaizen strategies, market share, and quarterly earnings. How long will the return of customer service last? I’m guessing supplies are limited. So enjoy it while you can.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).