The Little Stuff Redux
Earlier this week, I wrote about the opportunities in addressing the sources of customer dissatisfaction. On Friday, APs Technology Writer, May Wong, published a report citing difference in the service levels between Circuit City and Best Buy. The report was insightful and absolutely reinforced the points I was making earlier in the week. I’m including some quotes and commentary below.
This customer’s past experiences have let him to solid opinions of the two retailers. Who do you think he recommends to his friends and family?
Ralph Devoe’s hunt for a new computer monitor didn’t include a stop at Circuit City, even though one of its stores was only a few doors down from the Best Buy where he went shopping this week. “They often don’t have what I want,” the retired physicist said. “And Best Buy just seems a little better. The salespeople actually know what they’re doing.”
Having a large inventory selection and “knowledgeable associates” are really important, but they are big and potentially costly things from an operational stand point. In my earlier post, I focused on the smaller sources of dissatisfaction, like how the customer is treated in the store. The following really drives that point home:
For sure, bargains and good rebates could be found at the stores of either chain — an important draw for the price-conscious American public.
But other times, it’s as basic as how a store feels, how the products and aisles are laid out, how the workers there treat you.
A friendly greeter is stationed just inside Best Buy’s front door.
“How’s it going? Welcome to Best Buy,” he repeats.
Within a minute of browsing in a section, a Best Buy associate swings by to offer assistance. The staffer casually dispenses product info or comparisons, and just as quickly lays back if you decline the help.
A visit to Palo Alto’s Best Buy and Circuit City to pick up a component-video cable illustrates the differences.
At the Circuit City, it took some effort to find a store employee to ask where to find the cables — and the red-shirted employee who was tracked down misdirected this shopper to cables for TVs.
At Best Buy, the greeter at the door quickly responded with a more specific question, “What kind of component video?” By asking, he learned the cable’s purpose was for a game console and pointed to the video game section.
The desired Sony-branded cables were sold out, but the Best Buy associate did double check the store inventory.
That kind of attention to detail goes a long way in a shopper’s experience.
I also talked about ensuring that your interactive displays are always functioning. Ms. Wong points out this difference between the two retailers:
At another Best Buy in Sunnyvale, for instance, the music MP3 players on display were in good working order, and a patron could test the controls and use headphones to listen to them. By contrast, the Palo Alto Circuit City’s portable players — with the exception of a separate display for Microsoft Corp.’s Zune player — were not powered and lacked headphones so a shopper couldn’t get a good test run of the devices. Product information placards were also missing from some models.
The bad news for Circuit City is that this “little stuff” is rampant throughout its stores and it all adds up to a pretty crappy experience for customers. Both companies recently reported results for the previous year and the differences were like night and day. I am not an analyst and I can’t tell you to what degree Circuit City’s continued lagging performance is attributable to the sources of dissatisfaction in their stores, but my gut tells me that it is a significant cause.
The good news is that these problems can be overcome and for the most part, the solution doesn’t involve a big capital investment. What it does require is much more valuable, and perhaps more scarce, than money. It requires people that care. Store associates that take the time to look for things that aren’t right with their store and fix them. Support associates that are not only responsive to the needs of the people in the store, but are proactively looking for ways to improve the operation so that the store associates can focus on the customer and not the infrastucture.