Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Two Ways About It

Like I mentioned in the inaugural post here on PWUW, there seem to always be two sides to the coin - sometimes you just have to flip something over yourself to see the other side.

As far as "big name" grocers go, Philadelphia is home to two competing "giants," Whole Foods and more recently, Trader Joe's.  I remember the first time I went to either establishment quite vividly, as both of them were experiences unlike I'd ever had before in the world of grocery shopping.  Coincidentally, neither event occurred in Center City.

The first time I went to Whole Foods, it was still known as Fresh Fields.  My husband and I went there for lunch when we first started dating - he's always taken me to the classiest joints.  Anyway, we went to the prepared food area, which I'd never seen before in my Acme or indie grocers, and we luncheoned on free-range chicken breast and organic salad while sipping special/weird sodas at a green plastic table in the sunshine of a "comfortable" Main Line town in between his workplace and mine.

The first time I went to Trader Joe's was in Reno, Nevada, with a friend of mine who lived out there.  The store was fascinating - brightly lit and full of fascinating and bizarre things that at that time only existed on the West Coast.  The most spectacular part of our trip, though, was checking out.  We loaded the groceries onto the belt, the cashier scanned and bagged them, and after we paid, we left the store sans grocery bags.  I thought this was a little odd and voiced my opinion and was promptly shushed by my pals.  We walked into the parking lot and I'll tell you - I don't know how I missed this before, but there was a conveyor belt from the store, which was on the second floor of the building, to the garage below and here came our groceries!

So, fantastic novelties aside, let's talk about the two in Philadelphia.  For the last 6-7 years, I have faithfully gone to the Whole Foods on South Street once a week and purchased all the produce and other things I needed to be high-quality or organic, and carted them all home.  In the 5-6 years that the Trader Joe's has taken up residence in a far western corner of Center City, I have been in there about four times. This is entirely because it's so far from where I live, because I am very impressed with what I've seen the few times I've been there.

Between a slightly less than stellar product and customer service experience I've had at Whole Foods lately and the realization of how much money I save when I shop at Trader Joe's, I've resolved to abandon Whole Foods for the month of August to see exactly how worthwhile it might be for me to trek clear across town once a week just to buy groceries.  This is basically a convenience vs. financial savings contest, but some interesting customer service experiences lately have tossed some spice into the mix.  First up, Whole Foods.

I'd like to start by saying that I have, for the most part, been quite happy with my shopping adventures at Whole Foods.  Unfortunately, and this seems to be a recent change, the customer service is just not what it used to be.  I've been smiled at broadly and offered perfectly juicy local strawberries by the girl who was stocking them.  I've had a young man demonstrate the difference in taste between a Bartlett and D'Anjou pear by slicing a piece off of each for me to try.  I recently asked a young man who was stocking peppers if he could direct me to organic peppers.  He did better - he went in the back room and pull out a big crate for me to pick from, since they were not yet on the shelves.

More recently, though, I've been made to feel in the way while shopping because it's important to restock this exact area right now.  I've cringed at a loud (and somewhat uncouth) conversation between two employees taking place over top of the tomatoes I'm trying to pick out.   Here, though, is what made me say "Maybe the convenience isn't worth these excessively high prices - for conventionally grown food, I'll point out - if the employees don't give a damn."

My husband and I love hummus.  Imagine my delight upon finding that the big tubs of Asmar's hummus were on sale!  I scooped one up and took it home with me, but before Mister and I could dig in a couple of days later, we noticed something that made us a little less excited to do so - the tub was expanding.  The top was popping.  There appeared to be layers of air forming like little stratus clouds between layers of hummus.  We thought this was probably not supposed to happen, so four days after purchasing the hummus, I took it back to Whole Foods.

There were two women in the Customer Service booth.  One did not want to deal with me, so I explained to the other that my hummus was trying to explode and put the popping container on the counter.  She asked if I had a receipt.  I said I did not keep it because I did not expect the hummus to explode.  At this point, the other woman asked me if I wanted to exchange it.  My first thought was, "if this hummus is bad, why would the others be okay?" But I really like hummus, so I was willing to take my chances.  They told me to go get a new hummus and they would put a paid sticker on it.  The transaction took place as described, but I was getting a whole lot more attitude from the one girl than I thought was necessary, considering that Whole Foods is the only place in CC that I've seen that brand of hummus.

That encounter may not sound like a big deal, and in the grand scheme of things, it's really not.  But it is enough to make me reconsider my desire to pay $4.50 for a conventionally grown red pepper.

Enter Trader Joe's.  Shortly before this incident occurred, I needed an ingredient that could only be sourced at TJ's, so I decided that as long as I was there, I'd grab some of the other things on my list and see if I could save some money.  If I had to guess, over the past four trips to TJ's, I'd say I've saved enough over what I would have paid for the same groceries at Whole Foods that I got at least one shopping trip "for free."  How's that for value?

The very first time I went, though, I got three tomatoes.  They key in all the produce codes manually, so shame on me for not paying closer attention and saving myself a trip back later in the day, but the cashier punched in my tomatoes as something called "Blue Danish," which cost something like $8.99/lb.  So, my three 79-cent tomatoes ended up costing me over $25.  When I returned to the store (receipt in hand!) to see how this error could be corrected, the smiling woman at the Customer Service desk did not ask for any proof that I had not actually purchased $25-worth of Blue Danishes, and simply refunded my money, telling me not to worry about the tomatoes either.  Well, thank you, Ms. Customer Service, for showing me why I do want to spend $25 in your store.

I'm not trying to steer anyone to or away from either place as they both have their good points and bad points, but I'm hoping that Whole Foods will come upon this post and understand how important it is to have not just good but stellar customer service when you are asking me to pay 50% more for the same bag of groceries I can get elsewhere (with more organic stuff, too, I'd add).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dazzle Me, Dah-ling

When I was a child, I remember my mother and grandmothers buying their make-up from department stores - notably, Merle Norman and Clinique, normally purchased at Strawbridge & Clothier, if memory serves.  So, when I was a teenager (or darn close) and decided - with a best friend's help - that it was high time I start wearing make-up, neither of us knew any better than to go to a department store and find the Clinique counter.

We left the store $21 poorer (which is kind of a lot when you're 13 or 14 and don't have a job), each of us quite proud of our silver tubes of lipstick and mascara.  Unfortunately, after a few months of sneaking our make-up on, the parents caught us and turned things around.  When I finally was allowed to start wearing make-up, I discovered that other people go to places we called "drug stores" and bought much cheaper versions of our fancy old-women make-up.  Wet 'n' Wild, anyone?  There's nothing quite like the quality of $1 eyeliner.  I still remember a seasoned eyeliner-wearing friend showing me a trick where you run the tip through the flame of a lighter to make it easier to apply.  Yup, that's quality.

Believe it or not, this is actually going to develop into a post about not only World Class Customer Service, but also about Stellar Sales Skills.  Why don't we get started?

In the years since my early adventures with make-up, I found MAC.  Professional quality at consumer pricing?  Sign me up.  While it is definitely higher pricing than what you'd find in your local "drug store," you're paying for quality and you get it.  In my younger, crazier years, there were at least a few [dozen] times I found myself spending the night at a friend's house because it would be stupid to drive home at that hour/level of sobriety.  My friends were always amazed that my make-up didn't "melt" throughout our exploits or even as I slept.  It would still look fabulous in the morning, as long as I didn't swipe my hand across my face in my sleep.

Nevertheless, I just love cosmetics, so when a friend introduced me to the wonder of Sephora, I didn't mind signing up for a Beauty Insider card and spending some of my hard-earned bucks there, too.  If you are unacquainted with Sephora, just imagine a really big room with about 20-30 high-quality cosmetic brands spread throughout, as well as brilliantly placed trial sizes and upsells all along the serpentine route to the registers, for which there is always a line.  With my Beauty Insider card, I earn points toward little gifts - for example, when my sister and I stopped into a store in San Francisco to get her some bronzer, my card earned me a free, trial-sized Miracle eye cream.

Ironically, on my way home from San Francisco, Delta helped me break up what was left of the MAC Tenderling blush I'd been using, so today I set out to replace it.  However, I had already decided I wanted to replace it with something a tiny tad bit more colorful - Tenderling did a great job of merely highlighting that there was a change in the structure of my face and it helped ease a I-Love-Being-Pale gal from no-blush to some-color, but I was ready for graduation.  I figured I'd stop into Sephora first, since obviously, there would be a bigger selection.  Thus begins the tale of how too many choices is not always the best choice.

I wandered aimlessly around Sephora looking for my favored brand, Urban Decay, without much luck.  Eventually, a nice lady asked me if I needed help and I told her what I was looking for - she pointed me in the right direction, but I couldn't help but feel it might have been better to walk a little way with me.  Not finding what I wanted with the 6 blushes they offered, I wandered around the store a bit and was greeted with row after row of lovely blushes...with glitter.  Shimmer, I guess, is the cosmetic world term but the point is it was sparkly.  After nearly giving up, I made eye contact with an unoccupied employee who offered her assistance.  I told her I was looking for blush but I didn't want glitter - "too much sparkle in my hair to have sparkle on my face" - which earned me a "this lady's a little loco" look.  She showed me a couple of blushes with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for boiled vegetables and again, pointed in the direction of more make-up.  Humoring her, I looked at the other kiosk before showing myself the door and heading to my faithful stand-by, MAC.

By the time I left the store, that bag carried nearly $100-worth of make-up.  Let me tell you why.

First of all, I'll grant that one advantage MAC had in this particular encounter is that it only sells its own make-up.  So, if I was hanging out at the blush table, I probably wanted blush.  Nevertheless, I was standing in front of the blush display only long enough to recognize that I was standing in front of blush before a smiling lady (looked to be about my age) asked me if I needed anything specific.  If I could take a brief aside, that is another terrific quality about MAC stores - because they are actually designed for make-up artists and staffed by make-up artists, most of the time I go in there, when someone asks me that I can give them my "order" like I'm at a make-up deli and be in and out in about 3 minutes.  Today was not one of those days, though.  Today I explained [again] that I was looking for a blush to replace what I was currently wearing and then told her I was wearing Tenderling.  She immediately found the right blush for me (all of them were matte, so I didn't have to worry about "shimmer.") and put it on my face.

Is that the end of the happy story?  Hell, no!

As she led me to the chair, she verbally assumed I was a make-up artist, based on the way I had my eyes painted up (also with MAC colors - Passionate, Carbon, and Crystal Avalanche).  I told her I was not; I just like to paint my face.  She looked me dead in the eyes and said, "You are a make-up artist."  I laughed and a little awkwardly pointed out that I had no credentials, to which she replied, with the same conviction and certainty, "You have credentials."

That made me feel really good.

So there you have it - World Class Service - because that's what it's about: making the consumer of your possibly over-priced goods feel like a really awesome person.  She made me feel beautiful and confident and competent.  She could have left off the Blushbaby blush she was flawlessly applying to my cheeks during this conversation because I was glowing.  Fortunately, she did apply it, and when I saw myself in the mirror she handed me, I said, "yes, this is it; I'll take it."  Now we'll start the story on what a stellar sales person she is.

A brief background story: I am presently a corporate trainer for the sales department of a national weight loss company.  Recently, my boss and I read through a book on what is virtually a no-fail sales model called Silver Bullet Selling.  One of the points the authors make is that you should always continue to ask if there are any other concerns/needs before "closing" the sale.  Because this young lady was so good at asking, "Do you need anything else?" I went in there solely to replace my blush and left with:

  • blush
  • 2 eyeshadows
  • lipstick
  • lip liner
  • a lighter wallet
  • a big smile

Also, as she was ringing me up she threw in a free sample of their mascara: 

That's what I call great customer service, which is why I've already spent hundreds, possible over $1K in there over the years and why I will continue to bring them my business.  Hopefully, you will bring them yours as well.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starpower of Starbucks

Starbucks has sparked a lot of controversy for being just a coffee company.  Most people have a definite opinion on the barista-centered brewer - kind of a "love 'em or hate 'em" kind of thing.  Here's a quick run-down.

Reasons people love Starbucks:

  • made-to-order drinks of all shapes and sizes: you want no caffeine? half-caf? 4 shots of espresso in a cup of ready-brew?  You've got it.  How 'bout some flavoring? In addition to standards like hazelnut and vanilla, you can get special syrups by the season - coconut? Don't mind if I do! A friend waits all year for Pumpkin Spice, and I'm pretty pumped for Gingerbread's return.  You can also get any "level" of milk your little heart desires - no fat, full fat, or soy fat...er...soy.
  • they deal in Fair Trade coffees, helping the world out a little, if Coffee can be a Superhero.
  • they support local, non-commercial dairy farms, sourcing their milk from the area around their stores (no matter where their stores may be)
  • In fact, they have an entire section of their website devoted to the actions they are taking in 5 areas to make the world a better place: 
    • Community - getting involved locally, which includes youth programs and AIDS fundraising, among other things.
    • Environmental stewardship - recycling, reusing, "greening," and other ways Starbucks is trying to reduce their environmental impact, which is important since most of their business relies on agriculture.
    • Ethical Sourcing - this is where the local suppliers thing comes in, as well as Fair Trade.
    • Wellness - they eliminated all trans fats and HFCS from their pastries and offer lower calorie options, as well as the new Bistro Boxes with complete and nutritious meals inside.
    • Diversity - actively seeking out women- and minority-owned suppliers is one way Starbucks is trying to "level the playing field."
  • If you register that Starbucks giftcard your distant aunt sent you for your birthday, you can get free drink enhancements like free non-seasonal syrups, free upgrade to soymilk, and once you buy enough stuff using your reloadable, registered card, you can earn free drinks, which is the perfect opportunity to try out that TripleVentiCoconutMochaWithSoymilkHoldTheWhippedCream without paying $7 for it.
I'm sure there are many other reasons people love Starbucks - the convenience of them being pretty much everywhere, the consistent nature of the drink preparation, etc - but I want to give the Haters a fair shake as well, so here we go.

Reasons people don't love Starbucks (hate is such a strong word...):
  • The perceived, and probably in some places very real threat Starbucks poses against independent coffee shops.  I consider this competition, which is good for the consumer, but I can see how it might rain on some small business owner's dream parade.
  • A lot of people complain that the coffee they keep in the urns tastes "burnt."  Although I think that is sometimes the case, I appreciate the darkness of the roast and think most people are too used to Maxwell House to tolerate the bitterness.  (That being said, there is a reason I almost always order a made-just-for-me espresso beverage.)
  • In this economy, you have a lot of nerve asking someone to pay $2 for brewed coffee...that tastes burnt...and pours from a large silver urn with the wrong label on it.
  • The On-The-Go nature of most urban Starbucks anyway usually results in a lot of disposable stuff. AKA Trash.  In a recent graph I saw and can't find now (of course, why would I need it now??), after fast food giants McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's, the most litter found across the country bears the Starbucks insignia.  Sure, you can bring your travel mug or you can actually sit and enjoy your coffee and ask for a real mug, but I'd say most Starbucks drinks find their way out the door in a paper cup (or 2).
Again, I'm sure there are many more reasons people would rather not spend their hard-earned cash at Starbucks, but there's no need to dwell on the negative, right? 

In case you can't tell, I'm a [registered] card-carrying, travel mug-bringing (most of the time), faithful Starbucks consumer.  I completely understand people's reasons for "hating," but for me, the experiences have only been good.  After all, this is a blog about superior customer service, not social and environmental responsibility.  Here are a few of my experiences that have sold me on Starbucks:
  • When I did want to just buy a $2 cup of brewed coffee and they did not have any readily available, they made me my favorite drink - an Americano - for free.
  • When they have a line, there is sometimes a person who goes along the line getting orders started so that by the time you get to the register to pay, your TallDoubleRaspberryMochaSoyNoWhip is already ready to go with you wherever you're going.
  • If my drink is not perfectly how I want it, they will remake it, no questions asked.
  • Their staff is [almost] always polite (the one exception, ironically, is the Starbucks at Market East train station in Philadelphia, where there are two girls who are too busy talking about their personal drama to correctly and efficiently prepare your drink and by the time you have it and it sucks, you'll miss your train if you ask them to remake it).
  • When my boss gave me a Starbucks card for Christmas, the girl at the register told me the benefits of registering it.  Although I recognize this is an effort to increase sales, it is also refreshing to have a knowledgeable employee share exactly why I should spend more money there.
  • If I run out of money on my card, the cashier takes the initiative to ask if I'd like to reload.  Again, I realize this is a clever upsell, but it sure beats the trouble out of trying to remember my login info for the website and do it myself at home some time when I happen to remember.
By now, you're thinking [hoping?] that surely there was some impetus for this post, some reminder to me of why I love Starbucks enough to spend way more money than I should there and then spend an hour writing a post singing its praise, right?  Rest assured, dear reader - there is.

When I was in California recently, I was packing up to leave for my 1pm flight home to Philadelphia when I got an automated call letting me know that my flight had been cancelled and I had been rebooked on a flight that left 10 hours later.  This was not exactly what I wanted to hear and since I had intended to get breakfast on the way to the airport, as well as coffee, I was not in the right frame of mind to process this information and take next steps.

I finished putting on my make-up and packing up my things since I had to check out of the hotel regardless of my changed flight time, then headed down the street to a Starbucks (they're everywhere, folks!) to have some coffee and food and figure out what to do for the rest of the day.  A friendly girl took my order and handed off my Tall Hazelnut Americano to the barista while she pulled out my slice of pumpkin bread with nice sanitary tongs and placed it into the waiting bag without making a smidge of human contact with it.  She rang me up, discovered my card had run low, courteously informed me and asked if I'd like to reload, which I did, and then we were finished.  I headed to the counter where the finished drinks are placed to wait for mine.

And wait.  And then start looking around, since miraculously I was the only person waiting for a drink (this is a miracle because every other Starbucks I saw while in San Francisco had been packed, with a line from the door to the counter).  And wait some more.  Suddenly, the barista saw me standing there and had this amazing-to-behold, Simpsons-like "d'oh" moment when he realized he completely dropped the ball on making my drink.  The girl who had taken my order noticed this and immediately and with a smile walked over to me and handed me a card.  This is what the card read:
We apologize if your Starbucks experience was anything but wonderful.  We want to know how we can make things better and always invite you to share your thoughts with us. The next time we see you, please enjoy a beverage, on us. We hope your next visit is better.
On the back, it gives the phone number for Client Relations, so if I wanted to, I could have given them an earful about the young man who forgot to make my drink.  I won't, though, because mistakes happen and when they do, Starbucks appears to be completely willing to take responsibility and make it right.

In my book, that is World Class Customer Service.