“I used to be your customer”

I was recently chatting to an old friend of mine who, like me, spends hours on the road traversing the lengths and breaths of the country for only one reason – our Customers! (Fortunately, we live in a beautiful Country that makes the trips far more enjoyable!) He, like many travelers, has a weakness for pies – an excuse for stopping and filling up with fuel – for body and car! He recently told me of an incident when  ‘re-fuelling’ in Ladysmith. After filling up with petrol, he entered the takeaway at the garage and went straight to the pie counter and ordered his favourite pie; as he has done at this popular garage in Ladysmith for many years. The assistant took his order and told him to take the slip to the cashier, and after payment come back and collect his pie! After an exchange of words (I feel some may have resembled a dialect of Swahili) the reason given for this sudden change of procedure was “people have been stealing our pies”! My friend now will not only support that particular petrol station in Ladysmith, but will not fill up at any of the ‘same brand’ countrywide! Knowing him as I do, he will stick to this inbred commitment until his last kilometer!

Because of a ‘system failure’ in a business’s procedure, we are ALL treated like thieves, or at best potential thieves. Perhaps that business should either move the counter, instead of inconveniencing the customer?

Another store which treats me like a criminal is a large retail/wholesale organisation that insists on employing an external security company to check my receipt after I have paid for the goods! This ticks me off to an extent that I rarely ever visit that store – unless they really entice me with a ‘never-to-be-seen-again ‘ special; and I still go there under duress! The funny thing is that these so called security staff don’t even know half the time what they are checking! Can you imagine what would happen if Pick and Pay or Checkers started doing this ridiculous procedure – their competitors would be dancing all day in the boardroom!

You see, it’s not only people that deliver service, but ‘systems & procedures’ (as well as a host of other elements). Yet people play the biggest role, as not only are they the one’s responsible for procedures, but often carry them out.

I was engaged to talk to a group of Retail Managers recently, and they informed me that part of their ‘cost-cutting’ strategy was reducing staff on a very large scale! This was to be done mostly by offering early retirement packages and ‘restructuring’ in the form of, ’Well we do have a position for you in Upington”! Now, there is nothing wrong with Upington, but rather inconvenient when you have a working spouse and school going children in Phalaborwa! Simply put, the less people at store level, the worse your service will be – full stop!

Talking about cutting staff, across the large pond in the USA, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer has been eliminating greeters on the 10 pm-to-7 am shift at its 3 000-plus supercenters over the last six months, “chipping away at a 30-year tradition of making sure all shoppers are welcomed to the store,” Bloomberg reports. Most supercenters are open 24 hours a day. This is being done in the name of ‘cost-cutting”!

However, the Greeters have been moved to other jobs within the store, such as shelf packing. They have been a fixture and the face of Wal-Mart for many years, but I’m betting that some of those greeters welcome the change. A greeter has what’s probably one of the toughest jobs in the store — being on your feet all day, blasted by outside heat and cold through the open doors, and saying the same thing over and over again. Will the elimination of late-night greeters affect the shopping experience? Is Wal-Mart making a mistake by moving away from late founder Sam Walton‘s vision for the company? We wait and see!

Oh, and then there’s the customers. Plenty of news reports indicate the challenges they can pose to these low-paid workers (and Kudos to the Consumerist for keeping excellent track of these incidents):

  • A 69-year-old greeter reportedly was fired after a customer, who set off the alarm, tried to punch him and he swung back.
  • A 71-year-old greeter was allegedly choked after asking to see a customer’s receipt. The injuries weren’t serious.
  • A 100-year-old greeter — yes, 100 — said she was knocked down after asking to see a receipt. (The incident was later ruled an accident.) The greeter, who worked five days a week, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “that her employers treat her well but that she works because she needs the money.”
  • A 72-year-old greeter had to be hospitalised after he was punched in the face outside the store.
  • A 70-year-old Wal-Mart employee was assaulted by a customer on Christmas Eve after she asked to see a receipt (which the customer had). It’s unclear from news reports whether the employee was a greeter or a cashier.

So, all you youngsters in your ‘Fifties’ – get down to the gym and get ready for old age!

Until next time!

Graham.

Additional resource: consumerist.com; Bloomberg.com

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