24 January 2013

“Did you find everything okay?”

It’s a question consumers hear on a daily basis, whether they’re at a grocery store, electronics store, sporting goods store or basically any kind of retail outlet.  Sometimes our answer is ‘yes’ and other times ‘no,’ but what never seems to change is the outcome from this little encounter.  Anyone reading this blog probably already understands why – because it’s not a service question, it’s a marketing statement.

(photo - cashier and customer "Did you find everything okay?")Much like “Welcome!” from greeters at many mega stores, this simple line is meant to project a customer-first attitude amongst a store’s employees (and at no additional cost!,) however, unlike a throwaway greeting, this question represents a much greater missed opportunity.

It is not that the asker (often a cashier) is disingenuous when asking this question, but rather the question itself is problematic and their training does not enable them to deal with the voices of customers they receive.  It is an avenue for feedback, but it almost always leads to a dead end.

The most immediate problem with this question is that it’s vague and open to multiple interpretations by different customers.  One of the main principles of asking good questions is making sure the respondent actually knows what’s being asked.

The first possibility that springs to my mind is, “Was the process of finding specific product groups and making selections easily accomplished?” This can be broken down in at least three ways as follows:
  • “Was our inventory organization logical to you?” 
  • “Was our inventory accessible to you?”  and 
  • “Did we provide enough information to help you decide?”  
There are likely more ways to break down the process of shopping, but it’s worth noting that an online store like Amazon, which has begun to enter the grocery business in some cities, can easily meet these needs without much extra effort through their existing online interface.  This makes it all the more important for today’s brick and mortar grocery stories to satisfy in these areas.

Another way to interpret the question is, “Do we carry the specific items you’re looking for?”  – either by item type or item brand. This is an issue of supply management and no amount of friendly customer service is going to help the customer get what they want on that current trip.

There might, however, be an easy and visible method for customer requisitions, which would not only please a customer but also guarantee a return visit when their item arrives.  This is often possible at electronics stores (although the process is far from visible or easy) but is rarely possible in grocery stores.  When a customer’s favorite brand of mustard or bread goes missing and they ask an employee why they no longer carry that item, they’re often met with an “I don’t know” which is neither helpful nor informative. The excruciating weakness of that response is that it could be!

Even when store representatives ask meaningful questions and their customers provide informative answers, they’re rarely trained with the necessary tools or provided a response channel to turn that voice of customer into helpful information.

Every time the question is asked, a store is in position to receive useful feedback, both positive and negative, yet that information goes nowhere; it gets stuck with a clerk who doesn’t know who to give it to or a manager who doesn’t want to receive it. “Did you find everything okay?” is a façade of customer-first thinking, and fortunately there’re ways to improve it.

An easy start is to ask better questions, and to make sure your representatives know how to respond when the customer's answer is “no.”  A working response channel from customer to representative to management is important, however this is dependent on a customer’s time, mood and memory and may lead to skewed results.

For instance, feedback on message boards tends to occur more when something has gone wrong, rather than when something has gone right.  Questionnaires sent out by grocery stores tend to be focused on their own product or process rather than the customer’s experience (or their desired shopping outcome), and by the time customers receive them, they may not remember all of the relevant details from their shopping encounter.  Furthermore, even if a customer did have difficulty searching through a store’s shelves and a cashier was able to help them, what good would it do if the customer had already waited in line and was about to pay (as they often are when the question is asked)?

For these reasons, going to the gemba is the most effective way to find customers’ needs in order to improve their shopping experience.  True customer-first thinking means discovering if they “found everything okay” (and everything it entails) before they check out of your store.

Ken Mazur

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2 comments:

  1. The question is meant to find out if the customer wants to buy something else, so that the clerk ca go get it. Problem is that at the register, it is long past the point where I was open to buying it, and now I am going somewhere else to buy it. But it has become so commonplace that it no longer means anything, sort of like "how are you?" I get tired of the question. I get tired of hearing the clerk ask it of the person in front of me, and the person behind me.

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  2. They started this I think in the last 10 years because I lived in Europe from 1995 - 2006. When I returned I was bombarded with this annoying question. Its almost as if all the retailers got together and figured out the most annoying question they could possibly ask a consumer.

    I know they are only doing their jobs but when I'm confronted with this question I either ignore it (assuming they are not really expecting and answer, or politely state that I find the question annoying and they shouldn't take it personal.

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