Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Guest blog: Carol Roth on how Trader Joe's gets customer service right

It is a true privilege to have Carol Roth - a nationally-known business consultant who has helped companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 literally raise billions of dollars, grow, and get closer to their customers - share her thoughts about customer experience in this guest blog, which sprang from a recent conversation we had about one of our favorite stores. If you haven't seen Carol's razor-sharp wit and cutting edge business startup advice, you are really missing something: visit her online at www.carolroth.com.

If you follow me a bit, you may know that I love food and I love shopping. But when the two are combined into a task called grocery shopping, well frankly, that never really ranked high on my favorites list. That was until I was introduced to Trader Joe’s.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby or have never ventured into one, it is a small footprint specialty grocery store. Their products are mostly their own label, sourced throughout the world, from wood-fired frozen pizzas to 73% Belgian dark chocolate nonpareils (they have lots of healthy stuff too, but I prefer the carb and sugar categories). But it is not their yummy offerings or even their natural ingredient focus that sets them apart. It is the customer experience.

While it can be intimidating to go into a different style of grocery store, the Trader Joe’s staff is beyond friendly. I have been to stores in at least five states and have found at every one that the staff says hello and offers help if you look confused or lost. If you need to find a product, they won’t just point somewhere, they will walk you to the actual product. You don’t even have to empty your shopping cart- they do it for you as they scan. The cashiers always seem ecstatic to be there; they are knowledgeable about their products and will comment on their favorite items from your order or make suggestions on other products you might want to try as they bag your selections.

These little gestures all add up to an enjoyable experience for something that, let’s face it, is really just a chore. And Trader Joe’s creates a premium shopping experience without premium prices (their prices are actually very good). I will contrast this with other premium natural grocery stores that have a god-awful customer experience. I won’t name names (*coughWholeFoodscough*), but there is one specialty store that is incredibly expensive, yet its staff always makes you feel as though they are doing you a favor by letting you shop there. This particular store has employees who are more focused on restocking shelves than helping customers. Often, I can’t even get to the shelves because the employees are blocking them (sorry to be in your way, Mr. Stockboy- as a customer, I hope I am not inconveniencing you by trying to purchase groceries) and once, an employee dropped several 16 oz. bottles of Metromint water on my foot because he was more concerned about restocking than letting me through the aisle.

Trader Joe’s proves that any business can make a customer feel special and create a great experience, regardless of industry, focus or price points. As we continue through the most competitive time for business in history, customer service will become even more important as a point of differentiation. Who knew that you could find great lessons in customer service by visiting a grocery store?

Note from Rich: Carol speaks for many of us. My sweetie and I just went to a Trader Joe's in the Philadelphia area, and people couldn't be nicer - from the woman stocking the shelves, who stopped what she was doing to explain the intricacies of the Kalamata olive oil we were buying, to the checkout clerk who cheerily asked about us as we were going through the line.

And sadly, my experiences with Whole Foods could probably fill another blog. Here's one: years ago I used to love their peanut butter (nowadays I'm allergic to peanuts, go figure). And I would visit one store on business trips and find them sold out. So they would tell me to call two days ahead next time. Which I did. Only to discover next time that, oh, now I'm supposed to call *more* than two days ahead. Not that they cared.

So ... what are *you* doing to brand your customer experience, and get everyone on board with delivering it?


Anonymous said...

I have observed though, that the staff at Whole Foods generally has more and better tattoos than the staff at Trader Joes.

Barbara said...

I would be interested to know what kind of training Trader Joe's does to create that kind of environment.