That Friday afternoon, after school, my son convinced me to give him a lift to the local toy megastore. He desperately wanted the newly released “Grand Theft Auto IV” for the weekend. It was in short supply and he had reasoned that it would be available in “a shop that nobody goes to” and had even rung to check ahead of time.
Like a military raid we dashed into the dreaded emporium, located the “take this to the checkout” ticket, and made for the tills.
Just one was open and that was unmanned as the shop assistant had gone off to answer some query. We all stood in line, watching 4 or 5 other staff (and someone who definitely looked like the manager) walk in and out of offices and to and from the “information” desk, pointedly ignoring the increasing line of increasingly frustrated customers. We clearly mattered not a jot.
Eventually we made it to the till, handed over the money and had our receipt stamped. Now the checkout person made a call to alert the store room that we were coming to collect the game.
We dashed over to the glass enclosed storeroom and pressed the bell.
Inside there were three people. One on the phone, and the other two chatting, leaning against a table, arms crossed. One of them caught my eye and returned that dead eye stare that you get on the London Underground. After 5 minutes of waiting the cumulative experience finally got to me and I went over to the storeroom window and hammered on it, literally beat it as hard as I could. My son was dying of that acute embarrassment of a child whose parent has just stepped outside the acceptable social norms.
In no hurry at all one of the sales “assistants” wandered out with my game. He knew what it was, it had been to hand all the time, he was not at all apologetic, and did not appear to think my behaviour odd. We took the game and ran to the exit.
All of this had become the stuff of family legend and I’d quit bothering about it until an incident the other night.
I had been invited to an event at a local business school and during drinks met one of the MBA students who would be graduating this year. As part of the school’s work experience program they had been placed at another branch of the same toy megastore. Not only that, he was proud to tell me that he would be taking up a store management position in September.
“Do you know what the customer experience is like at this shop?” I asked incredulously. “It’s crap.” “It’s not like that when you work there” he answered, “I’ve met the CEO lots of times and he’s really good. Anyway it’s the parents that hate it: the kids love it”. Good grief, I thought, so the kids pay for the toys and only scream when I’m in the shop because they like the acoustics? I suggested to him that the next time he met the CEO he should take him by the arm to the nearest store and have him enjoy the customer experience.
How could an MBA student, who had just spent 2 years having his head stuffed with the importance of customer care and customer retention, with corporate culture and employee motivation, with Ps and Rs and best practice, how could this person willingly, happily, join a company whose customer messaging would be best summed up as “Pants 2 You”?
I know it is obvious to you, but it is worth repeating: if you want to offer an attractive product range, and market it in a way to which your customers are going respond positively, then you are going to need to empathise with your customers. You need to understand what is important to them and modify your offering accordingly. Supermarkets understand this, and let you know with announcements such as “would all qualified checkout staff attend the checkouts immediately”. At Pants 2 You the implicit announcement was “would all customers please understand that polishing our nails is more important than serving you”.
And what of the game? Well, a few weeks after the window-banging incident my son came to me and said, “Dad, you know that game, well it’s got a fault and after a certain stage it stops working. I think there is a problem with the disk, we’re going to have to take it back”.
Arrghh! If only we could visit the store in Grand Theft Auto IV!
See the follow up post: The road to salvation for “Pants 2 You”