Disconnected Employees, Disengaged Customers


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Yesterday I went to the dentist—not my favorite activity. The dentist had a new dental assistant who was doing everything to make me comfortable and relaxed. Unfortunately, most of her efforts scored high on concept and low on execution.
There has been a lot of talk about disengaged employees and how they can impact the customer experience. The dental assistant was not disengaged, she was really trying.
What went wrong? Well, take for example her offer of an eye mask. Humm’ this is new and sounds like a good idea, it will keep the bright light out of my eyes and let me relax. The problem was, she plopped the mask on my face, moved it around a little and left askew. Askew and letting the light into my eyes. It was as if she didn’t really know what the mask was supposed to do. You would think it would be obvious but…
My point, employers can all to often assume the employees get-it. Some have a natural knack for seeing cause and effect. Others just go through the mechanics and think they are doing their job.
What should the dentist have done? Observed the assistance as she interacted with patients and helped her grasps the underlying purpose.
Okay, I am over it. But there is an important underlying point here and it can not only erode the customer experience it can erode profits.
Here are some of the highlights from a recent IBM study of the grocery industry:

  • Growth is shifting from traditional supermarkets to wholesale clubs and especially specialty store. This shows up in market share and the average value of the basket on check-out.
  • 73% of customers of traditional supermarkets feel either antagonistic to the store or have no loyalty to their store. That means that only one in four are positive about their experiences and could be advocates.
  • Across all store type, advocates were more profitable. They bought more each week and did a higher percentage of their shopping with their preferred store.

IBM asked customers what their primary grocer did well and them compared Advocates with Antagonists on the extent to with they strongly agree with the statement. The big gaps showed up in four questions. Over 90% of Advocates agreed with the statements. Only about 40% of Antagonist agreed.

  • Provides a convenient shopping experience.
  • Happy with service from store employees
  • Store employees are friendly and positive.
  • Store employees knowledgeable and attentive.

No surprisingly, the stores that ranked the highest on these four questions were also the most profitable. Which stores? The stores who understood their customer expectations. The ones who took action to find out what the expectations were and took appropriate actions to deliver. Some of the less profitable stores, with a lower percentage of advocates, never tried to find out what customers expected.
The top four in understanding customer expectations: Wegmans, Whole Foods Markets, Costco and Target. The bottom four: Wal-Mart, Stop and Shop, Albertson’s and Safeway.
Wegmans focuses heavily on employee motivation and retention. They spend millions each year in training and education. For example the people in the cheese department know the difference between Brie and Gorgonzola. Wegmans has sent many of them to France and Italy to find out, first hand. This creates enthusiasm at work and translates to much more engaging interactions with customers, for both parties.
Whole Foods Market’s has a decentralized operational model. The local managers, who are closest to their customers, make decisions about what items to care and how to run the store. They also make a concerted effort to buy locally and to take other environmentally friendly practices. This is increasingly important to customers.
Food for Thought.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


  1. John

    Sometimes, customer friendly policies and just plain dumb implementations lead to nonsensical results. For example at Whole Foods.

    Like when a Michigan Whole Foods employee gave chase to and caught a thief stealing from one of its shops. The shop manager ordered the employee to follow its ‘no-hands on customers’ policy and release the thief. Who promptly ran away! The employee’s reward for his courageoous act; he was fired for ‘touching a customer’. Despite the fact that customer was a thief committing a crime and that technically, not having actually purchased an item meant that he was not a customer.

    It is no good just implementing customer friendly policies and sticking to them where they clearly don’t work. And where an employee puts himself at personal risk to support the company. Particularly in this case where a crime was being commiitted. To do so is just plain stupid. And just plain wrong.

    PS. Perhaps the Police should have arrested the Whole Foods manager for aiding and abetting someone committing a crime.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Readability Index: 12

  2. There is a retail adage that goes, “Good customer service is like milk to a kitten . . . it will keep customers purring instead of hissing or looking for milk some other place”.

    One could make a variation of this for employees, “Feedback to employees is like milk to a kitten . . . it will keep them purring instead of hissing”

    Remember, every boss deserves the employees they have. Employees actions and attitudes are only a reflection on management’s actions and attitudes towards employees!

    If one looks at employees as customers of management’s products (policies and procedures), then CRM should be appled to employees also. Loosing a good employee or loosing a good customer means that it will be more expensive to replace them than keep them.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador Of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    [email protected] http://www.sellingselling.com
    Awarded the 1992 Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Member, PNW Sales & Marketing Group
    Member, Institute of Management Consultants
    Member, International Speakers Network


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