Reverse Engineering Great Customer Service

Supermarket Checkout

I have always been a customer focused person and although I don’t necessarily believe in the age old saying “the customer is always right” I do believe that the customers needs should always be met.

So it’s not surprising that a number of years ago I found myself getting incredibly frustrated at what appeared to be a complete lack of customer service that had swept across the country, if not the world. It seemed wherever I went, the people serving me were apathetic, uninterested, miserable or just outright rude. Worse yet it seemed like no one other than myself cared about it.

A trip the the supermarket would end with a checkout operator not even looking up, asking in a monotone robotic voice “Hi, how are you?”

I feel loath to actually put a question mark at the end of that sentence as they weren’t really asking and they certainly didn’t care what my answer was. This was nothing more than a scripted line their boss had made them repeat to every single customer, day in and day out. Of course it lost meaning. Anything does if you say it too many times.

When the supermarkets finally installed self-serve checkouts I was actually relieved. No more did I have to suffer the misery of that checkout person who clearly wasn’t interested in even being there other than for the pay. At least the pre-recorded greeting was pleasant and as it actually was a robot, I didn’t mind that it sounded as such.

Of course, this only helped with the supermarkets, there was still every other business, corporation or whatever that I and everyone else were having to deal with. This is when I started thinking that I really didn’t want to be part of a world where no one cared. I felt like packing up and going to live in a tent out in the bush and growing my own food so I didn’t have to deal with people again.

Thankfully I came up with a different idea. One that was no less crazy. What if I, the customer, reverse engineered the customer service that I always wanted and started giving great customer service to those serving me. At the very least I wouldn’t be contributing to the misery and apathy. So that’s what I did and I have to say, at first, it felt kinda stupid.

I returned to the human checkout and placed my shopping on the belt. Once the person in front was finished the girl began scanning my items and gave me the obligatory “hi how are you?”

I glanced at the girls name tag and then looked straight into her eyes and replied with genuine enthusiasm “I’m going great thanks. How are you Lisa?” Bang! stopped her dead in her tracks. She looked up and made eye contact with me for the first time. I could see her mind was suddenly switched on and all of a sudden before me was an actual human being and not just another robot that had filled her skin moments before.

“Do I know you?” she asked awkwardly. I pointed to her name tag and she suddenly realized how I knew her name and began giggling slightly embarrassed.

She scanned the last item and asked for the money. I gave her my card and went through the process of paying. As she handed back the card I locked eyes with her again and said with absolute sincerity “Thank you. You have a great day.”

Slightly flustered and not really knowing how to respond, Lisa manage a “you too” and gave me a giant smile.

The whole experience put a smile on my face too. Not only had I finally received a good customer experience but I also had the added pleasure of knowing that I made someone smile and that in itself can be a great reward.

I’m not going to lie, it took quite some time before I was comfortable doing this but I have kept it up and received some truly great results. Not always, some people are simply too stuck in their robot world to be pulled out in our short moments together. However, I often find that people now remember me after only one or two visits and often give me the quality service that I always wanted straight away before I even get a chance to say anything. I have also stopped using peoples name the first time I see them as too many gave me creeped out responses.

I have taken it further too and struck up conversations with them and asking their opinions on things. And let’s face it, everyone loves it when somebody else is interested in their opinion. This approach can however backfire if you are in a rush as once the gates are opened sometimes it can be hard to get away.

The concept is to engage with them and treat them like the interesting, living person they are and not like the robot slave so many of us feel they have become. As my mother would always say “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I think as customers we can be moody, miserable, annoying and sometimes just plain rude and never stop to think that these people serving us are people too and suffer all the same foibles as us. It’s very likely that by the time you get to the checkout, you could be the two hundred and thirty seventh non-smiling, frustrated customer in a rush to get out of there, that checkout person has seen today. I don’t know about you but that would make me want to switch over to auto pilot.

So I put forth this challenge; the next time you are at the supermarket, or any shop, or on the phone to a utility supplier or dealing with anyone really, reverse engineer that great customer service that you have always wanted and deliver it yourself. I’ll be surprised if you don’t get great results. Who knows, if enough of us act like this maybe the days of truly great customer service aren’t as numbered as I once thought they were.

I’d love to hear your great customer service stories and what made them so special.

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James Cole is a Producer, Director, Editor and Visual Effects Artist for Hysteria Productions. He has worked on hundreds of projects from commercials and corporate videos to music videos, short films, feature films and documentaries. James is also an avid landscape photographer and digital artist with his work being shown at http://www.jcphotographicart.com