Douglas Madenberg President, RFG
It is with great pleasure that I welcome Brian Numainville as a Principal at The Retail Feedback Group. Brian comes to RFG from Nash Finch Company, where he was Senior Director, Research and Public Relations, and Chair of the NFC Foundation, Nash Finch's charitable giving arm. In his 18-year career at Nash Finch, Brian has been a trusted advisor to chain and independent retailers, helping meet the needs of their customers and employees through survey feedback and qualitative research. His expertise includes survey design and reporting, statistical and market analysis, geographic information systems (GIS), and cause marketing.
Sometimes just a kind observation by one of your employees can turn around a customer's day.
One of my best recent shopping experiences happened at the Fairway supermarket near my office. Having a pretty bad head cold, and with an unseasonable snow in the day's forecast, I trudged through the store buying groceries for the weekend (and some Tylenol).
One of the items I unloaded on the checkout belt was a six-pack of Sam Adams beer. I don't often buy beer at the store these days, so I'm always a little taken aback when a cashier asks for my I.D. Being twice the legal drinking age at this point, I can't help but kid myself and wonder if he or she really can't tell how old I am. (Alas, I know most stores now require their employees to ask everyone).
So on that day when the cashier asked to see my driver's license, I managed to chuckle a bit and hand it to her. She looked at the picture, then my face, then the picture again (OK it's an old mug shot). She handed it back to me and started scanning the other items as I took out my shopping bags and began to fill them.
Then she said, without interrupting her work, "It's almost your birthday."
Her observation struck me as so earnest that it got me out of head-down packing mode. I said, "Yes, I guess it is."
"November is my favorite month for birthdays," she said, still scanning. "Actually, the whole season…December too. It's a nice time of year for a birthday."
Now I was engaged in the conversation. "Mine is always right around Thanksgiving, and the family is usually together. I've always loved that." And she replied, "Yeah mine is the week before Christmas and everyone is in such a good mood." And so we exchanged a few more pleasantries, and by this time she was handing me the receipt to sign.
As I rolled the cart toward the exit, it struck me that I was in a good mood. I think I was actually humming. Still with a cold, still facing the prospect of shoveling the driveway later, and still on my way to a busy day at work. But in a good mood, because of one kind observation from the supermarket cashier. Now that's great service, during the holidays or anytime.
One final thought. Many retailers require their front end personnel to interact with all customers, such as asking if they found everything or thanking them for their purchase. But the above interaction was not guided by a standard or procedure. This cashier seemed to have an innate understanding of how to interact with me. In fact, had she looked at my license and exclaimed "It's your birthday next week!" I would likely have responded with just a few words and hoped that she would continue scanning my items (alright I'm surly before work). Rather, I think she could sense my state of mind and was thoughtful enough to return my ID and continue working before she made the birthday observation. Looking back on the situation, her approach was the most effective way of interacting with one particular customer at one given moment. That can't be mandated or turned into a standard operating procedure. But it separates an excellent retail experience from a satisfactory one.
Welcome clients and guests to our new website. It is Spring of 2011 and wherever you are, you are no doubt living with the realities of an ever-changing climate for the world of retail. Both globally and locally, we are experiencing the impact of consumer trends, economic realities, and technology breakthroughs that impact every facet of our businesses.
Yet while retailers adapt the newest technologies for sourcing and distributing products, for selling via online platforms and from eco-friendly store locations, and for communicating with employees and customers, this basic reality remains unchanged: Any successful retail company must satisfy its customers, one experience at a time.
Shoppers don't talk to an Enterprise Resource Planning system. They may be environmentally conscious, but they are not any more impressed with a LEED certified location if it is out-of-stock on an advertised item. Treat a customer rudely or indifferently and he won't hesitate to eat at the restaurant down the road even if it (gasp!) lacks free Wi-Fi.
Similarly, an employee will not be any more committed simply because she can use a mobile handheld scanner to ring up a customer's purchases. If her supervisor never provides constructive feedback, or if the management team doesn't act consistently with the Value Statement posted in the break room, don't count on a smile when a harried customer needs some assistance.
That is why I love what I do. To me, helping a retailer listen to its customers and employees is akin to tracking the vital signs of a patient. It's easy for this regular feedback to be drowned out by the urgencies of running a store; by the tasks and procedures and meetings and situations that constantly compete for attention. It is tempting to be consumed with monitoring the competition, responding to the latest trends, and to adapting the newest technologies.
Of course these activities are important. But if you really want to assess the underlying health of the company, there is no substitute for regularly listening to voices of customers and employees, the ones that tell you what it's really like to shop and work in your stores on a daily basis. The ones on the front line, interacting with each other face-to-face, one visit at a time.
So, welcome. As we embark on this new and exciting phase of our own growth as The Retail Feedback Group, I look forward to working with you as a client, colleague, or partner. It wouldn't be fitting if I didn't encourage you to provide us with feedback about how RFG can better meet your needs, at the present and in the future. We're listening!
"I'll have 100 coffees to go please," I cheerily announce as I hand a dollar to the clerk behind the counter. "And you can keep the change."
I love the chance to do this and wait for the quizzical reaction from the other side. The opportunity presents itself more often than you'd think, at venues from supermarket bakeries to convenience stores. Sometimes this deal-of-a-lifetime is for coffee, sometimes for a gift shop souvenir. But every time (at least I hope for the retailer) it represents a comically elementary math mistake.
Ah, the misplaced decimal. I remember when I was young, my father loved to spot them. He taught both retail marketing and business math at a local college. How exciting it must have been for those worlds to collide in one entertaining, if not profitable sales promotion! Buy a sandwich and get a (really small?) drink for ".50c" – one half of one cent! You can't beat that, even in today's 500-cent foot-long world of bargains.