I’ve been doing more of the grocery shopping lately, mainly quick trips to get a few things missing from the refrigerator or pantry. Being at our neighborhood grocery store so often has me noticing a particular customer service routine that hadn’t struck me when I wasn’t the primary shopper. Before or soon after the checker begins scanning the groceries, he or she asks:

“Did you find everything?”

It’s a great question to identify front line customer service issues because it potentially sets up additional sales. If the customer mentions having had difficulty finding something, someone can run to get the hard-to-find item before the checkout concludes.

The problem, at least at my neighborhood store, is when an item is out of stock, the checkers have no response.

In the past few weeks, I let them know a specific brand of pickles had disappeared from the shelves. The checker’s response was, “Oh.”

Last night, the grocery store was out of the brand and flavors of yogurt my wife wanted. In response to the inevitable question about whether I’d found everything, I let the checker know they were woefully out of yogurt. Her response? “We’ve been hearing that.”

At this point, I have to ask why, if the checkers don’t have a constructive response or remedy when the store is out of something, does the store management continue to have checkers ask this question?

"Can you do something about it?"

At a minimum, there are a variety of easy tactics the grocery store could take to prepare checkers for service recovery. Potential remedies for these customer service issues include:

  • Asking if an alternative brand or substitute would work, potentially with a discount, and then retrieving it from the shelves.
  • Offering to let you know when the item will be available again.
  • Providing a coupon on a future purchase when the item is back in stock.
  • Saying, “I’m sorry about that. Is there something we can do to make it right?”
  • Noting the comment in some way so the shopper has a sense that a manager is going to hear about the stock out.
  • Actually calling a front end manager over to note the comment and apologize for the inconvenience.

Saying nothing (which is essentially what my store’s checkers do), is not only frustrating, it creates the impression their whole customer service effort is hollow.

Don't Just Ask Questions

So what’s happening with your brand? Are you having your front line customer service employees asking questions so you can solve potential customer service issues through a real service recovery effort?

Or are you asking questions for the sake of asking questions but not giving your front line customer service employees the authority or potential service recovery remedies to legitimately address customer service issues?

If you’re leaving your front line customer service employees and your customers hanging, jump all over this one. You may not get as easy a customer service issue to fix ever again! – Mike Brown


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