Optimist Prime

WAY TO GO

You know that feeling you get when you see pictures of yourself at a party and you gasp at how old and flabby the photographer made you look?

It shakes the soft foundation of your fragile ego.  Well, this blog isn’t about that….at least not directly.

I’ve been reading back on some of my older material, and decided that I’ve been a bit bitter lately.  Not ‘Ben’s Bitter Bog‘ bitter, but at least pretty sarcastic with a touch of nasty thrown in.

But that’s not me!  Like those terrifying photos, where I try to convince myself it was bad lighting or the camera put on 10 or 40 pounds, I want people to know that this guy is actually pretty light-hearted and fun.

I can tell jokes, and smile at strangers.  I even used to whistle, until I heard on the radio that no one whistles anymore….except for old people.  That sucks, but what song would you whistle to now anyway?  ‘Wrecking Ball?’  ‘Uptown Funk?’  Not exactly whistling music. Even older stuff by my standards wouldn’t do.  ‘Black Dog?’ ‘One Scotch-One Bourbon-One Beer?’ They wouldn’t work either….maaaaybe ‘Hotel California’.

Anyway!  Back to me.

I thought about how I might be perceived based on my blogs, and after reading them, I figured it was time for a change.
grave

So, I had this epiphany about being a bit too negative, and realized that I don’t want that to be etched on my gravestone.  I mean, that’s the one thing in your life that really is written in stone, isn’t it?

Oh, boy – now you probably think I’m being morbid and obsessed with death.  Not true!  In fact, I typically take stupid risks believing that I won’t get hurt.

Alright – off topic again.  This self-realizations stuff is harder than I thought.

Back to the blog.  I think I need to start being more positive.  More glass-half-full, as they say.  I need to share the silver lining in life more often, and leave people smiling and happy.  And, dammit!  That’s what I’m gonna do, even if I hate it, and have to drag my family along kicking and screaming on this impossible mission!

For starters, I’m going to stop commenting on all those political attack ads.  They are poison to the soul, and I for one, will not be a party to such negativity.  Of course, if it’s against someone I support, it would be wrong to just allow malicious comments go unchecked.

Springtime has not been my favourite season.  You may have even read an earlier blog from me, attacking this very important part of the year.  In fact, it’s my second favourite season – right behind the other 3.  But, I’m a new man, and I will embrace the spastic weather, the frozen then thawed dog poop stuck to the bottom of my shoes, and those annoying little bugs that show up and get into everything.  Yup – I am Mr. Spring Sunshine and Rain!  I’m almost even looking forward to allergy season.  Bring on the pollen!

Traffic is another area where I will transcend road rage and frustration, and will endeavor to find peace and harmony even if that dingbat in the left lane won’t move over. People who cut me off are simply poor heathens who aren’t as developed as I am.  So, I will wave a finger at them in show of support of their growth opportunities.  And I can’t forget to smile while doing it…it’s important to repeat actions until they become habits.

Telemarketers are brothers, sisters, children, parents and friends, just like real people.  Why should I add to the misery of their scum-sucking jobs by yelling at them for interrupting my supper, or TV, or staring at the wall?  No, from now on, I’m going to engage them in a fully detailed account about my colonoscopy.  If they give me their email address, I can even send them some high-res pictures.   Who else but a complete optimist would be happy to share a bit of their personal lives with a total stranger?  Now, that’s sharing with my fellow man!

I’m already feeling very in tune with nature, just by opening up and sharing with you, my faithful blog-groupies.  The sun is shining a little bit brighter as the glare blinds my path.  Birds that nest in my dryer vent sound all the sweeter as I try to dig them out with a broom stick.  I even feel healthier and lighter, particularly since I switched to stretch-waist pants.

Wow!  Being a positive, optimistic blogger has been a life-changing process.  No more crabby weather complainer, or disgruntled customer service guy.  From now on, it’s all good!

Even today, while watching the hockey game, I was overheard saying,  ‘Good call, ref!’. Ahhh…peace and harmony.

By the way, there really is a ‘Ben’s Bitter Blog’ – it’s really depressing!!

http://bensbitterblog.com/

 

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Missing the mark – why you should hate Target

target fail

Last week Target Canada announced that after 2 years of losses, it was going to take it’s little dog and go home, leaving the land of maple syrup and poutine to pick up the pieces of a shattered dream for over 17,000 Canadians.

Sure, Canada can be an inhospitable place when it comes to the frozen retail jungle, with our high taxes, importing tariffs, base labour rates, etcetera, etcetera.  That much we know, so why didn’t the big brains at Target know that?  Maybe they could have nudged a friendly Canuck on the arm and found out what we’re all about, or sifted through the ashes of other failed chains like Radio Shack, Sam’s Club and Marks & Spencer for clues.

Perhaps the giveaway of their eventual demise was their clamor to buy up retail space from the failed Zeller’s chain…an omen of things to come?

We can all sympathize with the dire news that hits us every January in this country, when the bean-counters tally up the coveted Christmas retail sales numbers only to find another chain is waving the white flag and liquidating it’s inventory as sales fell short of what was needed to keep the ship afloat.

For that, I feel sad.  For Target, my feelings are not so benevolent.  It has nothing to do with it being a U.S. chain that invaded our snow-covered borders.  Heck, we were excited to have them here!  We welcomed the enormous bulls-eye with open arms and open wallets.  No, my wrath has nothing to do with where Target came from.  It’s in how they came and how they left.

Target arrived with more fanfare than a Presidential Inauguration.  “We are the great Target, and we will give good jobs to hard-working Canadians.  We will support distributors, vendors, support services, and landlords; bring tax revenue to this quaint little country, and we will take on the much-despised Walmart”.

They traded here on their U.S. strength, deep coffers, savvy buying and great prices all wrapped in a sophisticated retail environment.  They said, in so many words, that they were a huge American company, so trust them.

Vendors signed up to deliver goods without credit check, terms or deposits.  They were happy just to be one of the few chosen to stock the shelves in this great retailing giant. Workers were romanced into leaving good paying jobs to join this amazing company. They all had dreams of long-term growth, as demonstrated south of the border.  And Target traded on their impressive U.S. CV.

But something went very wrong.  Their first store openings were as unimpressive as a beach party during a Canadian snow storm.  Empty shelves, weak pricing, boring selection all had the Canadian shoppers shaking their collective heads as to what Target was thinking.

It never got any better.  Stores continued to suffer from delivery issues, non-competitive pricing, and ineffective advertising.  The only thing emptier than the shelves were the check-out lines. The writing was on the wall right from the first ribbon-cutting in Guelph Ontario.

Bad planning?  Perhaps.  Underestimating the Canadian retail landscape?  For sure. These things are tragic and stupid, but that’s not what has me writing this.  The ire is in what Target did next.

After using the American head office muscle to sway us into a false sense of security with Target, they decided to pack up and leave not as an American retail powerhouse, but as a failed Canadian company that has applied for creditor protection (Canadian version of Chapter 7 – bankruptcy protection).

That’s right – Target, with all its money and influence, chose to slink back south of the border without having to make good on it’s promises to us Canadians.  Besides the 17,000 plus employees that are left in the dust, Target has used a legal loophole to avoid having to pay it’s bills here.  Not as that big American company that used all its leverage to gain favour, but as a uniquely Canadian company unable to cover it’s debt.

So now they’ll leave with hat in hand, saying ‘Gee, shucks.  Really sorry about all that inventory you shipped us, but we can’t pay for it’.  Nowhere is the American parent, still with deep pockets and international influence, swooping in to take care of the mess their offspring created, even though it was that parent who persuaded us to ‘trust’ their kid.

Where is that strong giant parent company, now that all those workers are applying for employment insurance?  What about the suppliers who are hoping to get something from the inventory liquidation process to cover some of their losses – and probably having to lay off more people – the contractors who clean, maintain, and provide security to the Target stores? All out of work, and possibly out of pocket.

There are more, I’m sure that will be affected by this, and many won’t get paid for outstanding invoices.  Target will carry on south of the border as if nothing happened up here, and some of us will still travel across to cash in on bargains, just like they have in the past.

Instead of stepping back into the mess they’ve created and making good on their financial commitments, Target chose to protect itself from taking responsibility for a lousy business strategy, and for causing a huge ripple effect on the Canadian economy.

Shameful…and I hate them for it.

The humility of being humbled

There’s few things more gratifying than watching some loudmouth get put in his place.  You know the guy – usually drunk and obnoxious, bullying everyone else until he gets clocked by someone half his size, or his pants fall down, showing off his Buzz Lightyear underwear…or no underwear at all!

Mortified, he runs for cover while everyone laughs at him.  At least, that’s what you hope for.

There’s gotta be a million You Tube videos out there of karmic revenge on the annoying or stupid.  We love the modern telling of David and Goliath.  Rooting for the underdog against a jerk-faced foe is something we can all relate to.

In Hollywood movies, it’s the villain who is the most annoying, hated person and ends up with the most spectacular death scene, not only getting shot 100 times in slow motion, but falling into a pit of molten metal, while being eaten by zombies or something.

But, have you ever been that guy (or girl) who is the unwelcome star of these little vignettes?  C’mon, sure you have.

I was retelling a story the other day about something that happened to me a long time ago that kind of fits this scenario.

For the record, I wasn’t drunk, and I was just doing my job.  I’m sure, though, that the other characters in this little scene were just as pleased as those watching the bully run away with his pants down.

I had a job once where part of my duties included making sure that my customers followed some expected level of quality, since they represented our products to the world.  This could make things a bit tricky at times, seeing as I needed these customers to buy stuff from me, but I also had to act like a Mom telling her kid to clean his room….without the folded hands and tapping of the foot….you know the look.

I used to wear a suit.  Not because I had to, but because I thought it was important to look professional….what a jerk!

Anyway, I had to meet a customer who’s business was in desperate need of the ‘angry Mom’ look.  The owner was very casual and would always tease me about wearing a suit all the time, ‘Geez!  Even the Mayor doesn’t dress like that’.

Fully suited up, just to make a point, I parked a block away from the store, again making a point about giving the best parking to the paying customers, and walked into the rear entrance of the store.  Very smug and probably abusing my power, I’m quite sure they were not happy about this visit.

As I walked the store with the owner’s wife, pointing out how bad the business was, I started to notice a foul smell.

I said, ‘Another thing.  Do not smell that?  It smells like dung in here.’

She acknowledged that she too smelt it, then motioned at my shiny dress shoes.  I looked down at the same time, and saw where the smell was coming from. I guess somewhere on my pretentious strut to the store, I stepped in a steaming pile of doo-doo.

I glanced back to see the owner on his hands and knees, scrubbing the disgusting footsteps I had taken all through the place.

I turned as red as the goal light at a Leafs game!

Mortified, I carefully took off my shoe, and hopped out the back door to find a stick.  I think I just went home after that.  Any sense of superiority or authority was left on the stained carpet behind me.

Of course, I had no way of making an elegant exit from that train wreck.  I think I mumbled something about why there would be horse poop on the sidewalk outside the store in the first place, then quickly got in my car, and drove home with one shoe on.

I stopped wearing a suit after that.

One head light…

From time to time, all cars have a breakdown of some sort.  Sometimes it’s that little yellow engine light that comes on, suggesting that something terrible is happening, only to find out that the gas cap wasn’t put back on properly.

Other times, it’s an amber prophecy of dire things to come…usually on the side of the road…at a time when it’s the most inconvenient thing to happen…and it’s raining…and you’re late.

It’s so much worse with cars when the problem isn’t so much with the vehicle itself, but with the people working on them.

Something like this just happened to my car. If this didn’t actually happen to me, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I am not making any of this up…I have witnesses!

About 3 weeks ago, I noticed a burned out headlight.  Simple enough to replace, and light bulbs aren’t too expensive.  I did a little web search on how to change the bulb in my vehicle, which was really no help.

I decided I’d try it anyway, and if I ran into trouble, I’d bring it in to my local dealer to get it fixed.  I picked out some fancy new ‘high intensity’ bulbs, so I could see better in these cold dark winter nights.

Replacing the bulb was pretty simple, but it was -26 degrees outside, and bare skin on cold metal isn’t fun.

I decided to swap out both bulbs, since if one went, it would just be a matter of time before the second one would go, and I wanted them to match.  Esthetics are very important to me, you know.

A couple of days later, my Son noted that my headlight was out.  What?  I just changed it!

I pulled it back into the entrance of my crowded garage, and opened the hood again.  When I touched the connection cable for the light, it came back on.  Aha!

The light would turn on and off intermittently, so I knew I needed to get it in to the shop.  There was something more going on here.

The dealership immediately suggested that it was a bad bulb.  No, I said.  I just changed the bulb, and the connection was loose.

They, being much smarter in the way of light bulbs than I, concluded that it was indeed a bad bulb, and charged me about $300 to fix it and do a couple additional ‘maintenance’ things while they had the keys.

Fine.  Sure enough, the next day, the light was out again.  Now I was getting a bit frustrated.  I called them up and explained the problem.

Must be another bad bulb, they quickly surmised.

“No, I’m pretty darn sure it isn’t the bulb.  It must be an electrical connection problem.”

Without arguing the point, I booked it back into the dealership.

After another full day of my vehicle being in the shop, they called and said that after an exhaustive investigation, it turns out that the bulb was good, and that there was indeed an electrical problem.  Halleluiah!

Unfortunately, they went on to say, they had to order in a brand new headlight assembly, but it would be here Tuesday, as if that was a good thing.

Fine!  I said I’d come and get it, so I had something to drive until Tuesday.

“We’re closing in 10 minutes”. 

I live about 25 minutes away from the dealership, so I had to wait until the next day to go back and get it.

They said they’d call me on Tuesday when the part came in.

Tuesday came and went. No call.  So did Wednesday.  No call, no headlight.

On Thursday, I called them. The part had just arrived.  I booked the car back in for Friday to get it replaced.  They told me it would only take an hour, so I could just wait for it there.

Here are the sequence of events that unfolded over the next 36 hours:

Friday Morning – Headlight Repair.  Take III:

8:29 am:  Arrive at dealership

8:35 am: Notified by service adviser of 2 minor recalls on vehicle

8:37 am: Approved of additional work – asked for ride home since it would now take a few hours with the extra work

8:37 am: Advised that shuttle driver would take me home in 15 minutes

9:26 am: Asked service adviser where shuttle driver is

9:31am: Shuttle driver loaded me into his vehicle

2:04 pm: Called dealership on status of vehicle

2:07 pm: Car was ready. Will send shuttle driver right away

3:07 pm: Called back dealership.  No shuttle driver in sight

3:16 pm: After long hold with bad music, adviser tells me that they broke a fuel line part and the car won’t be ready. Maybe Tuesday.

3:17 pm: Swear under my breath.

3:17 pm:  Adviser offers a rental car for me

3:40 pm:  Shuttle driver arrives.  Doesn’t know where rental place is

4:01 pm:  Arrive at rental place thanks to the maps app on my phone

4:18 pm:  Handed keys to smallest car on the lot.  Summer tires.

4:20 pm:  Rental has no gas in it.  Rental office is closed for the night

4:21pm: Swear under my breath. Drive shoebox with wheels to nearest gas station

Saturday Morning

10:31 am:  Urgent message on my cell phone from dealership to call them

11:04 am:  Called back dealership.  On hold for 5 minutes.  Bad music

11:09 am:  Service manager picks up and explains that an ‘incident’ occurred with my vehicle

11:10 am:  Told service manager that I knew about the broken fuel line thing.

11:12 am:  Service manager explains that something else happened.  There was open fuel and someone started my vehicle.  There was a fire.

11:17 am:  I regained consciousness and asked for explanation

11:19 am:  Service Manager said they got the fire out and it only caused about $4,000 in damage to my vehicle

11:20 am:  Service Manager asked me to attend the scene of the fire

11:35 am:  Drive over-sized skateboard rental car to dealership

11:45 am:  Service Manager took me around back where partially burned out vehicle was sitting

12:00 pm:  Service Manager informed me that they were very sorry and put a rush on the new parts

12:01 pm:  Reminded Service Manager that the only thing wrong with the vehicle was a burned out headlight.  Now I have a burned out vehicle

12:05 pm:  Service Manager assured that the parts would be in on Tuesday

Perfect.

The Bank Note

Have you ever really looked at your bank statement?  Charges for service, convenience, withdrawals, writing cheques, paying bills, etc.  This is our money, and we’re being charged to get it, use it, or move it around.  Great gig if you can get it!

I was looking mine over a while back, and found a bunch of vague fees and charges for various things that I didn’t understand.  So, I called up my bank with a few questions.

Thank you for calling ‘Monolith Bank’. This is Patty.  How can I help you?”

Hi, Patty.  I was just looking at my latest bank statement, and saw that there are were bunch of miscellaneous charges on it, adding up to over $25.”

“…Yes..?

Well, since I don’t write more than one cheque per month, don’t use my overdraft protection, or really do anything other than have money come in and go out, I don’t know what these charges are for.”

What is it you’re not sure about with these charges?”  Patty asked, showing early signs of frustration.

Since you feel that you need to take this money from my account without my approval, I should at least know why, right?  I want you to explain each one of these charges to me”.

We can’t do that”, she explained.

Well, if you can’t tell me what these are, I’m not paying them”, I tried to say as evenly tempered as I could.

We can’t explain them all.  It would take too long.  I’ll go ahead and reverse the charges on your latest statement”.

Really? Thanks! I’ll call you again next month.  Thanks, Patty.” Then I hung up quickly.

Maybe I won that little battle, but I know I’m losing the war.  You can’t beat the banks.

During a radio segment on business earlier this week, the announcer noted that a major Canadian bank posted it’s quarterly earnings (profit).  This bank made over $1 billion dollars in a 3 month period.  Wow!  Many countries don’t have this kind of GDP.  That’s an astounding number, and makes you wonder just how fat the bank is.

In the same sentence, the radio expert noted that since the earnings were slightly less than they expected, the bank announced that they would immediately lay off over 1,000 employees.

Huh?  Did I miss something?  A bank makes over a billion dollars in 3 months, but because they didn’t make as much as they thought, they’d send 1,000 families into financial crisis.

Here’s another thing that doesn’t seem to make sense either; loans.  If you need money, you probably don’t have it, or you wouldn’t need it in the first place, but to get a loan, you need to show that you don’t need it, or they won’t give it to you.

Then, if the bank gods look favourably on you and decide to allow you to borrow, the poorest will pay the most for that loan.  Again, if you’re better off, the loan costs less, but if you’re on hard times, they’ll charge you more.

Now, I’m no fan of the ‘occupy movement’, and I certainly don’t subscribe to a socialist view on the world, mostly because it’s not realistic or attainable.  As long as there are people, some will always rise to greatness and some will always fall to destitution.  It’s as sure to happen as the sun coming up tomorrow.

But at some point, you have to wonder what it would take for these financial giants to stop the ludicrous blood-letting that it puts its customers through.

Over the next few months, a bunch of my former coworkers will discover their employment fate as my old company winds down operations in Canada.

This has become a common tale lately, as other companies announce downsizing and layoffs just ahead of the Christmas Holiday season.  We’ll likely see more announcements in the new year after the holiday seasons’ tallies are completed.

When a company loses money consistently for a period of time and there’s no immediate rebound on the horizon, you end up in this predicament.  It’s just economics.  And it sucks!

I hope that business leaders faced with these decisions, really dive into the real cost of downsizing, and it’s impact not only on the emotions and finances of its employees, but also the larger effect of what happens as a cascade effect on the economy as a whole.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that he would start paying his employees a princely sum of $5 per day, pretty much doubling the average wage of the day.  This accomplished 2 things for Mr. Ford:

  1. It reduced attrition.  Losing skilled workers was very expensive from a retraining standpoint, and it slowed production
  2. It meant that once the other manufacturing sectors caught on, people could afford to buy his cars

This thinking revolutionized the manufacturing sector, and gave birth to the American middle class.

I’m not suggesting that companies like Sears suddenly decide that if they double the wages of their workers, things will get better for them.  The concept of maintaining a working class, however, becomes a fundamental necessity in order to provide a source of income for itself.  It’s a bit selfish, I guess, but if people are out of work, they’ll stop buying from you.

It’s not all doom and gloom.  There are other jobs out there, and when you get thrown into the ocean from a burning ship, you might be surprised at how good it feels.  Most will get picked up by a passing boat.  With any luck, it’ll be a luxury liner, and not a garbage scow.

As I said earlier, I’m no economist, and I’m certainly not a captain of industry – minds greater than mine are in control.  That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t have a voice or options.

Patty can expect a call again soon, I can move my money to a fee-free financial institution, and when I’m out shopping later today, I might even check my lottery ticket.

Fingers crossed!

Oh Service, Where Art Thou?

Because I’ve been the ‘stay at home’ Dad lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the day to day shopping, and as a result, inspiration for my rants blogs have had a common theme.  Sorry about that.  This one had been rolling around in the ‘draft’ bucket for some time, since it keeps coming across as really preachy and not ‘light’, breaking my first rule of blogging.

Anyway, with all that rambling and apologizing, here goes…

We all have horror stories about lousy customer service.

I spent some time in the Customer Service world, initially in the hotel business, then in sales and working with retail stores.  I don’t know if this qualifies me as an expert; in fact, anyone who ever sat in a restaurant or bought something at a store is as much an expert on the topic.

You’d think that given the poor economy, businesses would make a special effort at trying to improve the customer experience.  You’d think.  The economic slow down has not only not improved customer service, but it’s also made the average shopper a lot less patient.

We, the almighty discretionary spenders, have short fuses, expect more for our dollars, and demand a better interaction with staff.  We’re not looking for perfection – even mediocre service is often considered acceptable, so it shouldn’t be that hard to please us.

So, why is it that  we’re regularly met with apathetic, un-knowledgeable, and downright stupid retail and service experiences?

I had an awful experience at a major retail store which is now closed, not surprisingly.

It was just before Christmas, and I was out shopping with my wife and 2 kids who were young, but school-aged.  While in the store, I saw some small gift items that I decided to purchase for my staff as Christmas gifts.  I’m such as swell guy!

this particular store was in a mall, but was one of those large anchor stores that had multiple floors – quite large.

I needed a number of these gifts – too many to carry, so along with the stuff we were already buying and towing two kids behind, I needed to get a shopping cart or basket of some kind.  I headed over to one of the entrances where they corralled the carts.  Keep in mind that this was a fully enclosed store, and shopping carts would not fit through the exit barricades.

When I got to the shopping cart area, I found that they required money to ‘unlock’ them. 

The idea behind forcing customers to ‘rent’ shopping carts so we can buy things in a store, just so they can ensure the carts are put back is a whole other blog, and one of the stupidest things ever invented.  The really ridiculous thing about this was that the carts in this particular store couldn’t physically be taken out in the first place, so why would they need a quarter for me to get one?

I reached into my pocket and found out that I only had 3 dimes.  My wife didn’t have any change either.  In fact, we had no other cash with us at all, planning to use debit cards for our purchases.

Now I had to stand in line at the only cashier aisle that was open – there were 4 aisles, but only one cashier on duty, another issue with lousy service.  By this time my patience was wearing thin, my wife had this look like ‘please don’t make a scene’, and the kids were starting to get fidgety.  Fidgety kids are bad!

Finally, I got to the cashier, and told her that I needed to exchange 3 dimes for a quarter (and an nickel) for the shopping carts that shouldn’t require any money in the first place.

Oh, our carts require a Looney“.

For those of you not from Canada, a Looney is our $1 coin, which replaced the $1 bill a while ago.  It’s called the ‘Looney’ because it has the image of a Loon on it.

Exasperated, I gave her a look like I was about to go postal.  The elderly couple who had just made their purchase and were picking up their parcels offered me a Looney.

No, thank you“, I politely said.  “I want the store to get me a shopping cart, so I can buy things from them“, loudly enough for everyone within a 100 yard radius to hear.

The young lady at the cash register was starting to look nervous.

I turned my attention back to her. I don’t have a dollar.  I want you to give me a shopping cart so I can put things in it.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

I did feel for her – it wasn’t her fault, and I was trying hard not to blame her.

Customer Service can unlock them for you, if you like.  Okay, then.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Good.  Get Customer Service to unlock one for me, then.

You’ll have to go and ask them to do it for you“.

I have to go ask them?”  I was furious by this point.  Normal people would have just walked out of the store, but  as you probably know by now, I’m not normal.  I had an axe to grind.Where is Customer Service, then?

The Customer Service desk is up on the second floor, at the far end of the store“.

Insert an appropriate expletive here.

Let me summarize;  I went to the store to buy things.  I needed a cart, but the store had them locked up, and were charging money for me to ‘borrow’ one – one that could not possibly leave the store anyway.  Then, after having to stand in line to get change, finding out that I was lacking the cash on hand, I was then forced to leave everything, go up the escalator to the complete opposite side of the store just to ask for a cart.

What would you do?

There’s an old marketing rule that explains the economics of customers;  It costs 7 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep the customers you already have.  That means that losing a customer costs you big time.  Keeping a customer is dirt cheap.

Here’s some free advice for business owners and managers that will easily and inexpensively help you keep your customers, and grow your business – take it or leave it.  I’m sure you all have many more ideas:

  • Train your staff.  We shouldn’t have to track down a store employee to ask a question, only to find out that they don’t work in that department, don’t have a key for that locked up display case, or don’t know enough about the products they sell.  I had a business owner once tell me that they didn’t spend time training their staff because the turn-over rate was too high.  So, in essence, he was saying he didn’t train his staff because they might leave.  What if he never trained them but they stayed?
  • Empower your staff.  Make each employee the manager of the moment.  Give them the power to make things right with the customer if there’s a complaint.  Don’t make us wait for the manager all the time.
  • Hire the attitude, train the skill. Almost everyone can learn how to run a cash register.  That’s a trainable skill.  What you can’t train is the attitude of the employee.  Find people who want to work with people, who have an upbeat attitude and have a passion for their work.  You can train everything else they need for the job.
  • Make it easy to shop.  Hand out baskets or carts when customers arrive.  Why do you think Walmart is so successful?  They hand you a shopping cart as soon as you walk through the doors.  Make your staff park away from the store front – give the premium spots to the customers.
  • Improve your image.  Keep aisles open and uncluttered, replace burned out bulbs, keep the business clean.  By the way – vacuuming at the end of the day, while customers are still shopping is just rude.  Stop it! Enforce appropriate, consistent attire for your staff, and for Pete’s sake, don’t let them stand outside the front doors on their smoke break!
  • Stock and Price your products.  Few things are more frustrating than finding an item, but having no idea how much it costs, or not finding an advertized item at all.  A major US grocer did a study on abandoned shopping carts – carts that had items in them but the shopper left the store.  They looked at where the carts were abandoned in the store. There were 2 main reasons people walked out;  1- the item they were looking for was out of stock, and 2 – the items were not priced.
  • Be a gracious host. Think of every shopper as a guest in your own home.  Say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’.  Offer a welcoming environment.  In restaurants, offer water or coffee, give them the menus and ask if they would like anything to start while they’re deciding.  When they’re finished, thank them for their business.
  • Hurry up!  Don’t ever make people wait to give you money.  Speed up the cash lines, or get back to the table in a restaurant to pick up the check payment – once people have made their purchase decision, or have eaten their meals, they want to leave.  Don’t make them wait.
  • Follow up.  If you sell big ticket items like furniture or appliances, send a thank you note to your customer. They sell thank you cards in bulk at the dollar store.  We purchased custom made furniture for our house that cost thousands of dollars – no follow up, no thank you note, no anything.  At the same time, we bought an inexpensive coffee table from another place and got a nice letter in the mail thanking us, and a discount coupon for our next visit.

I think you’d agree that these are simple enough to do.

Now that I’ve had my little rant about service personnel (mostly management), I have to point out how poorly we, the customers, treat the front-line workers.  We too often treat these hard working people as ‘non-humans’ with angry rants, rude conduct, and complete disrespect.

At what point did it become okay to treat other human beings like pieces of garbage?

I was waiting in a service center, where they rented vehicles.  A man and his wife came in from the pouring rain, to be greeted by a nice, young, very pregnant woman behind the counter.  Turns out, the man booked a rental, but at the wrong location, and had to now drive about 20 miles to the other location.  It was completely his fault, but he was so angry, that he threatened to kill the lady behind the counter if he drove all that way and his rental wasn’t available. She handled the situation like a pro, though.

Anyone who calls themselves a good person, then treats a service worker like a piece of trash is a hypocrite, and needs to have their moral compass realigned.  I’m sure there’s a lot of you out there who would like to do the realigning.

How about we all treat each other a little better.  Your waiter, server, customer service rep, cashier, or whatever, has their own share of junk going on in their lives.  Let’s give them a break if they forget to bring the glass of water you ordered, for Pete’s sake – it’s not the apocalypse.

For the service staff, and in particular, the service management, think from the perspective of the customer more often.  Make notes of what bugs you when you are being served less than professionally, then adopt the fix in your own work environment.  Conduct business with the focus on the 98% of the great customers, and not on the 2% that will rip you off.

Maybe then we’d all relax and enjoy work and play a bit more. We could all use a huge dose of that, right?

Sorry about the rant – sometimes you just can’t avoid it.

Oh, by the way, I did end up buying the Christmas items, but I wrote a very direct note to the executive of the company.  I never did hear back from them, though.