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March 2017

Retail Competency – Two views from the customer side

By | Competencies in the Real World | One Comment

Competency is not an abstract concept. In the everyday world, competency shows up daily in situations where snap judgements are made, values are considered, and the resulting behaviour can make or break a successful business transaction. Here’s a tale of two opposite experiences, told by Dana Stoesz, Director of Customer Care, Research & IT for Entegrys.

I recently took my toddler to a restaurant for lunch. We avoid gluten as a family, and this particular restaurant had several gluten-free lunch options. Our server took the time to explain the menu to me and even pointed out that some of the kids’ meals could be adapted to be gluten-free. She listened with interest as I talked about what it’s like to be gluten free as a family. In the end, we decided on a sandwich—a rare treat for someone who is gluten intolerant.

When I asked where they bought it, our server said this particular gluten-free loaf was carried by a local grocery store. She wrote down the name for me and explained how they store it to serve it at its tastiest. When she learned I had to leave shortly, she quickly brought me the bill and processed my payment on the spot. On my way out, I stopped by the kitchen to pass on a message to the manager about Krysti-Anna’s extremely pleasant and helpful service.

Later that day, I stopped at a bulk food store to purchase some gluten-free flour, sold in bulk, that was on sale at 50% off. Only at home did I realize that I had paid much more than the tagged price, so I called the store. The clerk listened, checked into it, and then assured me I had been charged the correct price. After asking a few more questions, I learned that it was indeed incorrectly tagged by the store. The clerk passed me on to a supervisor, “Jeff,” who was hesitant but agreed I should pay the accurate sale price. He said to bring the flour back in before their sale was over for a refund.

I returned to the store on the last day of the sale. Unfortunately, Jeff’s wasn’t working that day. The clerk on duty listened to my refund request and referred me to her supervisor who checked the price on the bulk bin, which had since been corrected. I told him that Jeff said he’d leave a note about the price and the situation. I don’t know the note was ever found. The supervisor did try to phone Jeff and apparently didn’t reach him, so he brought yet another supervisor from the back. They deliberated for several minutes while I waited. Finally, the second supervisor informed me that the prices are handed down from head office and listed correctly in their flyer, and that Jeff didn’t have the authority to tell me that I could receive the price it was tagged at when I bought it. I asked to return the untouched bag of flour for a refund, but he refused.

Typically, this would have been understandable, given it was a bulk item, but under the circumstances it felt inappropriate. I asked if he would be willing to lose a customer over a few dollars. Apparently he was, and I left. At home, I found the store’s website and wrote a note to their head office explaining that I would be looking elsewhere for my gluten-free flour needs, since apparently customers are paying for pricing mistakes at their store.

A woman at the store’s head office responded by email first thing the next day, saying that she was sorry to hear about my negative experience, she would contact the storeowner, and someone would contact me. She did reach the owner, who, as an apology, promised to leave me a small gift card at the front of the store that I could pick up next time I came in. The owner also committed to doing some customer service training with her staff.

So I will go back, if only to claim my gift card and satisfy a sense of justice. But whether I continue shopping there will depend on the outcome of their customer service training. In this case, they were given a second chance by their senior management, who had a good sense of healthy customer relations.

But the health-food store experience reminded me of the great power that frontline staff have in shaping the attitudes, and the loyalty, of their customers. It appears our restaurant server already understands this principle and has decided to use her influence to generate a flock of faithful customers in her workplace. She’ll be happy at work, and her customers will be too.