We’ve all been there – left on hold for what feels like hours or facing the bored, distracted expression of a sales associated in a big box store.
What if, in a parallel universe, that errant customer service specialist or lethargic sales associate made the connection that not only do they sell a service or product – they are the service or product and customer service or “sales” is just part and parcel of the whole picture? How often do employees figure out that they themselves are a product? Am I talking pieces parts? No. Scenario: a person who works in the sales or the food service industry runs into a regular customer outside of work and hears them exclaim, “Hey, I stopped by to see you the other day but you weren’t there!” Did the customer say they stopped by for a burger or beer? That may have been the outcome of their excursion, however, the customer’s first objective was to stop by and have a chat, get the employee’s opinion on a product, or just see how the employee was fairing because they’ve actually gotten to know the employee and they associate the employee (product) with the business (brand). You – the employee, manager, or owner – are the product. The business – whether it is yours or someone else’s – is the brand. That relationship, if executed properly and fostered wisely, can take on all form of listening, engaging, and monitoring of a customer’s needs. Every customer experience with you as the product has the potential to bring in future customers.
Consider this; a friend relayed a conversation between themselves and a local grocery store manager. The subject was idea of providing fresh gluten-free items in their bakery. My friend asked if the grocer carried home-made gluten free items at a particular location. The grocer’s response: there’s no call for it in the area. I know this store, I shop in this store weekly and I am someone who purchases gluten-free items. There is a “health food” section of the store. On one shelf there are gluten–free breads which are simply awful. To be honest, I doubt the items are restocked every month, let alone every week. On the other side of the aisle, in a frozen food case, another selection of gluten-free breads can be found. These items fly off the shelves. It can be hard to know when the bread is brought in so rarely does it make through the week. Knowing this as a customer with a particular need, my question became how is the grocery measuring customer demand for the products? Are they waiting for people to ask at the customer service desk or the bakery counter? Many shoppers scour the shelves looking for what they need without saying a word or seeking out an employee if they don’t find what they are looking for. If they don’t see the product or a sign, they simply move on. Out of the thousands of people who pass through this store in a week, what fraction of shoppers actually take it upon themselves to seek out a manager or talk to product line representative to express their dissatisfaction with the lack of variety or the absence of a product?
Now let’s add to what the store does know about its customers and how it engages with them. This store has a gas savings card which means it has a customer data base already established. The store sends out weekly savings fliers to all residence in the area which would include its entire customer data base and all potential customers. This store also has a stagnant Facebook page and a Twitter account. In order for the store to be more effective in meeting customer needs, it could use various online channels to monitor current trends in food products, identify the demands of specific demographics, and meet the nutritional needs of busy families thereby enabling the store to stay one step ahead of the competition. Digital tools such as a Facebook poll asking customers which current brands or products they prefer or potential brands they would like to see or a short tweet requesting information on the allergy and intolerance needs of its followers would complement the real-time employee who engages a customer after offering a sample of home-made bread and being turned down with the words “I can’t do gluten” to find out what the customer does need. Both areas – digital and in person – bring in more sales when the customer shares their experience with friends. These offerings also creates goodwill, show that a company is reaching customers where they exist, and brings that customer back to the real “product” the employee who engaged them (digitally or in person), expressed concern and met their needs potentially resulting in lasting customer loyalty.
This store has tremendous potential for growth throughout the region but it needs to engage customers where they exist – in the real and cyber world. The store (brand) needs to show customers, through their management and employees (product), they are actively listening, care about the response, and are willing to engage the customer where the customer exists, not just at the point of sale. The store then needs to monitor customer response where and as it happens and they must monitor not only trends, but the cultural, regional, and health needs of existing and potential new customers.
Pro-active listening, engagement, and monitoring from a social media and customer needs perspective is far superior then leaving customers saying, “Do you hear me? Do you care?”