Annoy Us, Not Them: Words Of An Employee Who "Gets" Customer Centricity

It is nice when employees appreciate the importance of being friendly and resolute when dealing with customers.

It is even better when they understand why customer centricity is so important.

It is better still when they show they care about that importance.

If you know me well, you know I keep an unusual schedule.

Instead of going to the gym early in the morning or immediately after work, I go at around 10PM.  I then cook and eat a hearty post-workout meal consisting of fresh meat, rice, beans, and vegetables shortly after.

The regimen has its upside:  the crowd is minimal when I get to the gym, and since closing time is at 11PM, I’m forced to keep a desirably breakneck pace.  I always have the best possible workout!

It also has its downside: I get to the supermarket to buy the post-workout food at around 11:15PM.  By that time, the store is in the process of closing.  The inventory of available meat is limited, and the meat department is not always staffed.  When it is, it is clear the butcher is shutting down for the night.

Not wanting to be “that guy” – one who has to annoy the butcher to buy meat at midnight -- I have always tried to purchase pre-packaged selections when possible.

Recently, however, the pre-packaged inventory has been sparse.  Worse, it has become unappealing from a price standpoint.  Plain meat in pre-packaged quantities is no longer cheaper than the fresh, marinated, packaged-to-order selections from the butcher area.  For someone in my situation – one looking to make a quick, yet filling meal at midnight – marinated, higher-quality meat in the exact quantity I want is clearly preferable.

As a result, I have needed to overcome my reservations, embrace the awkwardness, and order meat directly from the butcher counter – after 11PM.

Annoying:  Better Than Departed

I may be the customer.  I may know I’m supposed to always be right.  I may know that it’s the butcher’s job to fill my order until the store closes.  In theory, I should not at all feel awkward for ordering made-to-order meat late at night.

I’m also human.  I know these employees have already worked a long day, and I know my purchasing habit is unusual.  I know that my late-night orders represent something of an annoyance.

Mindful of that reality, I try to be as courteous and openly appreciative as conceivably possible when placing my order.  One night, that meant waiting – and not offering an “excuse me” or passive aggressively tapping the counter – for the butcher to notice me.

It took the butcher, who was cleaning some supplies and had his back turned, about five minutes to notice me.  I did not mind.  I knew I was being annoyingly demanding by virtue of ordering so late; I had no problem waiting a few extra minutes.

The employee was surprised.

“Wow, you didn’t need to wait for me,” explained the enthusiastic, cordial butcher.  “If I don’t see you, yell so I know you’re there.  And if you don’t see anyone back here [behind the butcher counter], find someone else who works here.  They’ll track one of us down who can help you out.”

Despite his reassurance that there was nothing wrong about wanting to place an order so late at night, I explained my disinterest in being a hassle.  “I know I’m already being annoying by ordering meat at midnight,” I responded. “I’d feel bad yelling or acting like I’m in a huge rush.”

“You shouldn’t feel bad,” assured the butcher.  “Plus, I’d rather you annoy us – than annoy a butcher somewhere else!”

Not simply clever, the line speaks to the heart of today’s marketplace.  Customer experience is a key source of competitive differentiation – and a key driver of loyalty.  If a customer is not receiving the experience he demands from one organization, he will search for it elsewhere.

By making such a comment, the butcher confirms that he not only knows he is supposed to satisfy customers (even the annoying ones) but why satisfying those customers is so important.

More importantly, he demonstrated that he cares about retaining my business.  The idea of losing a customer is not simply a problem for the executives – it would be a problem for him, an employee who values the company and values his role in fostering the best possible relationship with customers.

I encounter so many flippant customer service representatives who could not care less about their companies’ long-term health.  It was so uplifting to see an employee – one who is not even officially tasked with “customer service” – take such ownership in the customer experience.

Engage – And Encourage

I should note that I do not exclusively buy groceries after 11PM.  Sometimes, I go to the store at a more conventional hour.

Take yesterday, for example.  I got there super early; it was barely 10PM when I headed to the meat department!

Interestingly, there was actually a smaller selection of pre-packaged meat than there typically is at 11:15PM.  The only pre-packaged chicken available was a gourmet variety that cost twice what I wanted to pay.

There also appeared to be a shortage of fresh Carne Asada-marinated chicken breasts, which tend to be my “go-to” when ordering from the butcher’s counter.

I paced between the refrigerator and counter trying to determine what to do.

The butcher noticed my struggle and asked if he could help (proactive engagement – excellent!).

I noted that I was hoping to buy the marinated breasts but that it didn’t look like he had enough left.

His response:  “Don’t worry.  It’d be my pleasure to make more.  It’ll take a few minutes, so do the rest of your shopping and they’ll be ready when you come back here.”

The employee was doing and saying all the right things.  He pre-emptively addressed my need.  He gleefully – not begrudgingly – offered the resolution I truly wanted when he just as easily could have said “sorry, we’re out.”  He also leveraged the old department store trick of getting me to do the rest of my shopping (see:  walk around and buy more than I probably needed or intended to buy) while he helped.

He earned my loyalty (and more revenue) by virtue of his customer centricity.  He then earned more revenue through a clever psychological tactic (even cognizant of the situation, I still bought juice and protein bars that I probably would not have bought otherwise).

Once again, an employee complemented his customer-centric behavior with a complete understanding of the value it brought to the business.  He knew delivering a great experience was in the best interest of the business, and he knew he could leverage the positive interaction to generate even more revenue.

Employees Are Best When They Buy In

As the ones directly or indirectly signing the checks, leaders can tell employees to provide a great experience.  They can demand employees operate with a smile and a reluctance to say “no.”

Stellar experiences require more.  They require the employee to truly understand – and connect with – the business’ commitment to customer centricity.

Knowing what to say works in controlled, predictable, typical situations.  Knowing what the business wants to achieve from the interaction – and why it wants to achieve it – will empower the agent in all situations.