You Don’t Know It’s There Until It’s Not

Eight little words that are pearls, words of wisdom from my mother regarding salt in cooking but applicable to so many things in life. As I was learning to cook when I was quite young, I had asked about salt in particular one day and I can still hear her voice so clearly saying to me, “you don’t know it’s there until it’s not”. That resonated with me then, and stayed with me all these years (and don’t ask me how many years that is, I shan’t tell you!)

The inverse is also true about encounters and experiences that we have, we often don’t realize something was missing until we’ve seen it, heard it or felt it. Where we live in the Twin Cities we got a new chain of Hy-Vee grocery stores last year that brought some much needed competition to our cities. From the incredible variety of types of produce, fresh artisan breads, cheeses, an incredible specialty bakery, to fresh, onsite fast food and a restaurant, shopping there is nothing less than an event. Going there one needs plenty of time, because you’ll want to browse and browse and browse…it keeps going on and on and it’s just plain fun.

I’m also fascinated by the attitudes there. First, the store motto is “there’s a smile in every aisle”, and while it’s a little corny, it’s also true. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve been greeted warmly and multiple times in the same visit, people always asking me if there is anything I need help finding or have questions about. The second thing was the one that really stood out for me, which was it almost felt like the team members were trained in the art of people pleasing, or anticipating needs. One day I was in line to buy groceries and noticed a bag that was designed to stand up in the trunk of the car. I asked the checker if it was designed to hold 2 grocery bags side by side when open. He didn’t know, nor did the young lady bagging my groceries (yes, they bag your groceries there!!) I went ahead and bought it anyway, and turned back to the register and ran my card through to pay for my groceries. Suddenly the young lady bagging them said “yep! It does!” I turned and she had opened up the bag and filled my paper sacks then put them both in the new trunk bag to make sure they easily fit in there, so I would know right then and there. She didn’t need to do that, but it was really nice that she did, and it really made me wonder, “do they teach ‘Never miss an opportunity to delight a customer and try to anticipate needs’ as part of new employee orientation? “ I’ve had other unexpected experiences at the store as well. When I haven’t been able to find something I’m looking for, they don’t tell me where to find it; they bring me to it (“Here, let me show you where that is.”)  If they don’t know where it is, the staff will look it up on the computer and then come back to where you are to update you (“If you wait here, I’ll go and look that up for you and I’ll be right back.”). I’ve never had such a complete and satisfying experience, and didn’t realize it until I actually experienced it. I figured that wasn’t happening by accident so a few days ago when I was there I stopped a manager and asked about it. He confirmed it for me and said that yes, they train all employees that way, to basically “fall all over themselves being helpful” (my words, not his, but the intent is the same) and that they have secret shoppers who actually come in watching for it. I told him it’s why I kept coming back, that I loved being treated like that and really appreciated the service. He thanked me, and his smile really said it all. 

I’ve decided I’m old enough and have paid my dues; I deserve to be treated well. I want to shop at places that treat me as if I’m special, even if I have to pay a little more. (I honestly don’t think I do pay more here, I’m just saying I’m willing to.) I’ll go to a nicer restaurant, go to better retail shops if I’m treated with more kindness, given a bit more help, a smile, or going the extra mile. What I won’t do, is shop at places that treat me like I don’t exist, which is what happened at Sur le table in Edina a few years back. I had shopped at one of their other stores in California in the past and really liked them, and was happy when a new store opened in Minnesota. I went there on a Saturday morning shortly after the store opened. It was quiet; I was maybe the third customer there. If you aren’t from here, you need this for your backstory: Edina is a ritzy, wealthy suburb and the local rumor has it that the letters stand for “Every Day I Need Attention”. While that isn’t really true, there certainly is plenty of attitude there to go around. So I walked in in jeans, a flannel shirt and baseball cap – and after 20 min not one sales person had greeted me, made eye contact with me or approached me in any way. So I walked out, walked a half block down the street to another kitchen store called Cooks of Crocus Hill (where they are MUCH nicer), was immediately greeted, spent a lot of my hard earned money and told them how much nicer they were. The saleswoman replies and said they heard that a lot. As I left it was all I could do not to walk back to Sur le table and walk in like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “you know, I was in here a little bit ago and you wouldn’t help me, big mistake. HUGE.” But I figured I’d be the grown up and go home.

That’s the funny thing about customer service. We all recognize really lousy service when we experience it, because it unfortunately slaps us in the head and it makes us want to tell everyone about it. So-so customer or adequate customer service, that’s not so simple. Perhaps we’ve become complacent, or have adjusted, even lowered some standards a bit, but whatever the reason is we are no longer bothered by middle of the road because we didn’t realize it wasn’t there, until it something truly stellar comes along. 

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3 thoughts on “You Don’t Know It’s There Until It’s Not

  1. With all the competition out there, including–and maybe especially–Amazon, you’d think merchants would go out of their way to serve the customer. Many do, but as you point out, others have a long way to go. And some have even longer than that—ahem, United Airlines…

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