Front Line Wisdom Changes your Customers’ Perceptions

I had my keys. I had my wallet. I had my shopping list.

“Okay, I’m headed to the grocery store. Be back soon!”

“No you won’t.”

That came from my wife’s friend, who was hanging out with us on the back porch.

“They’re remodeling the store. It’ll take you 45 minutes to find anything in there right now.”

I can’t say she didn’t warn me, but I was curious. So I went anyway.

Front Line Wisdom and Customer Perceptions

She was right. It was a madhouse, total chaos. Confused shoppers wandered around, following directions printed on pieces of paper (“Bread is now on aisle 12”) and employees (“cereal is where the magazines used to be”).

And in the midst of all this, a lone manager standing in an aisle. As I passed by with a frustrated look on my face, she nervously approached.

Manager: Are you finding everything okay?
Me (laughing): I bet you’re getting some colorful answers to that question today.
Manager: Oh, I’ve had some Miss Daisy’s chewing me out. This is pretty painful.
Me: So what’s up? Why the remodeling?
Manager: Well, corporate wants all the stores to have the same basic layout, so that’s the main reason we’re doing this right now. We’re also expecting to change our inventory some in the next year or two, so we are trying to get ahead of that.

With that, she handed me a piece of paper that had a directory of some common items, wished me a good day, and went back to helping other shoppers.

I eventually found everything on my list and headed to the checkout lane, where I received the usual greeting.

Cashier: Did you find everything okay today?
Me: It takes some guts to ask that question today!
Cashier (laughing): Yeah, people get pretty worked up. I’ve even had some people start yelling.
Me: So what do you do?
Cashier (shrugs): Well, I just tell them we’re making room for wine. And all of a sudden they stop complaining.

Ahh, yes. The wine. The inventory addition the manager referred to.

Tennessee is one of 14 states that doesn’t allow wine sales in grocery stores, but voters enthusiastically supported a referendum to change that in 2016. And somehow hearing “making room for wine” is more palatable than “planning for inventory additions” – go figure.

The lessons? There are two.

  1. If you’ve got to make a change, especially one that’s going to irritate your customers, try hard to show them why it should matter to them. As a fellow human, I’m sympathetic to the manager getting yelled at because she’s implementing a corporate directive. But as a customer, I don’t care, I just want to be able to find the Cheerios.
  2. Oftentimes the smartest person in the room isn’t the one with the biggest title, or the most responsibility, or the highest pay, or the best education. Push all that to the side and ask yourself, “who spends the most time with my customers?” And when you’re talking shop, make sure that person has a seat at the table.

Of course, there’s an even more obvious lesson too: wine makes everything better.


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