business news in context, analysis with attitude

We received a number of emails yesterday in response to our essay about good and bad customer service, comparing what we saw at Trader Joe’s to what we saw at an unnamed northeastern US chain.

MNB user Shane Tracey wrote:

Customer Service is an underserved profession. These employees are the frontline in the attack on consumers’ wallets. Whether it be the cable company, your bank, or your local supermarket. Customer service is king. Without it, the consumers run away in droves and no amount of coaxing is going to get them back.

The Wal-Mart's of the world believe that underpaying the floor employees is a way to save money, long term. But what does it cost them, really?

…We as shoppers need to recognize that these low prices do come at a price that our children will pay in the very near future. With high unemployment figures and low prices, who can afford to buy anything in the long run?

In response to a reference yesterday to Byerly’s, MNB user Frank S. Klisanich wrote:

The mention of Byerly’s prompted this e mail. My wife recently was delighted with her Byerly’s experience. We are regular shoppers and being delighted happens frequently.

After checking out and returning home (15 minute drive versus the 5 minutes to a local unnamed grocer) she realized she had paid for but forgotten some dairy products…the bagger (yes they bag groceries) failed to put the last bag in her bin for the drive thru pick up). She called the store, the products had been put back into the dairy case, but they recalled the situation (did they really remember…or is this a simple case that the customer is always right?).

The assistant manager told my wife he would deliver the products right away. My wife declined this offer, she did not need them immediately. The next offer was to deliver the products after the manager finished work since he lived close to our home. Not only did he deliver the goods, he apologized and left my wife with a Byerly’s gift card ! WOW ….

Do you think my wife thinks Byerly’s is a great store?….you betcha! Are they the cheapest?…NO. Do they have caring staff?...YES. Do they effectively merchandise great produce, deli, cheese, meat and high-low specials?....YES.

From your article … great customer service experiences included:

*store staff talking …actually engaging with consumers.
*suggesting a treat to sample…leading to purchase.
*sampling food in a food store…what a novelty (Byerly’s samples extensively)
*exceeding customer expectations is the norm not the exception.

MNB user Glenn J. Rosati wrote:

Trader Joe's is one of my daughter’s two favorite places to shop, the other being Costco. For whatever reason, she gets all excited once we are in these stores and it is quite contagious.

Apropos of the story you just related, about two weeks ago my wife asked me, on my way back from a date with my daughter, if we could stop at Trader Joe's and pick up a few things. Once there, the cell phone rang and the list of items grew to the point that I needed a shopping cart. Since my daughter is in a wheelchair and cannot propel herself, we inadvertently became a wagon train with me pushing the wheelchair with one hand and pulling the shopping cart with the other.

Seeing my struggle, one of the clerks, who had been stocking the shelves, suggested that she would push the cart and shop for me while I pushed my daughter. Needless to say, I was initially surprised at the offer and then, in almost instantaneous retrospect, not surprised at all because it seemed that it would be something quite normal to occur at Trader Joe's.

Although we shop at the well-known national supermarkets, we make a point of shopping at Trader Joe's and Costco for fun and recreation, even when we don’t have a list of things we need or want (although I don’t think we ever come home empty handed). Customer service at both operations has been nothing less than exemplary, making every trip to spend hard earned money both fun and productive.

MNB user Ted File observed:

The hiring process. If someone is truly interested in the different culture of TJ's vs. the major chains, ask a question to those who have worked with both. You'd find that the hiring process and the skill levels discussed in the interviews are totally different. TJ's is unique; and they intend to keep that differential. After all, they are only hiring people that care.

Another MNB user wrote:

You're right on when it comes to shopping at Trader Joe's. Recently, my husband and I were shopping at our local TJ's and were in the fresh prepared foods section. There was a couple standing nearby and I watched as they were approached by a clerk who said, "I'm sorry, the chicken you're looking is out of stock. I'm not sure what you're planning to fix for dinner tonight, but we do have these frozen pre-marinated chicken breasts that might work with your meal." The couple took a quick look at the bag of chicken, then added it to their cart. Talk about great salesmanship! It can be tough to find this kind of thoughtful, personal service anymore. But at TJ's it's the norm - and that's why so many people choose to shop there.

And yet another member of the MNB community wrote:

Customer service level and customer-associate relationships at any store is a direct reflection of corporate and store management style. Let's not get this confused with a supermarket's mission statement – unless that mission statement is a daily standard operating practice/procedure constantly exhibited by store management and reinforced as well as rewarded by management.

Too often you stroll through a store and notice "on the way out" the infamous plaque "Our Mission Statement" at the exit-great place for it- it might as well say "thanks-now quit bothering us". In other words if you are going to post it-do it! The statement must be at the entrance, have it personified through your associates - but that won't happen unless the leadership in that store and within the company is capable of obligating themselves to the same standards that they "posted" and practice as often as necessary.....notice the wording "practice" because we never get it right and we never get it to 100% so we must practice.

On the subject of the DVD rental price wars among Wal-Mart, Blockbuster and Netflix, MNB user Jeff T. Davis wrote:

Just a quick thought in regards to the Netflix debate. Wal-Mart and Blockbuster don't offer nearly the selection or variety that Netflix offers. Have you ever tried to find a movie at a Blockbuster that wasn't put in place based on some agreement with a movie distribution company, or an independent film (Blockbuster has slotting fees too...)? It's pretty difficult. Another thought - does Wal-Mart offer a selection of movies such as Pulp Fiction (one of the greatest films of all time) that may be potentially "offensive" to their conservative customer base?

Netflix will survive in this because they offer the best selection at a competitive price while providing a much better selection of films and knowing who their customer is - the film connoisseur, who will pay the extra 60 cents to Netflix for the same reason that "foodies" go to Jungle Jim's. I refuse to go into Blockbuster, or Wal-Mart, but I do patronize Netflix and my local video store - Scarecrow video - and I won't ever change my habits. Blockbuster especially has ignored my needs as a consumermovie watcher and has lost my business for life.

(A note about Scarecrow - you always talk about retailers knowing their customer and making shopping an experience-Scarecrow is a great example of this. They have pretty much every movie known to man - literally. Quentin Tarantino was quoted saying that Scarecrow was the most amazing video store that he had ever seen, and there have been many other film directors, buffs, etc... that have found Scarecrow's selection quite the draw. If you're ever in Seattle again you should check out the store-it's an experience.

Regarding Wal-Mart promoting singles nights in Germany, one MNB user wrote:

If the singles in Wal-Mart are anything like Wal-Mart's image, I won't be going there. Cheap, demanding and "predatory" are not qualities that I look for in a mate...

Reminds us of a girl we dated in college…

We wrote glowingly yesterday about the new TV commercial for the Ford Mustang that combines elements of “Field of Dreams” and “Bullitt,” and features a cameo appearance by a digitally recreated Steve McQueen.

MNB user Stuart Silverman wrote:

The Mustang ad caught my attention because I've been following the hype surrounding the reintroduction of a once great American brand. The image of Steve McQueen appearing midway through the ad was a bit of a shock, but was kind of cool because of his connection driving hot Mustangs. However I have to admit that the full realization that the ad was really "Bullitt" meets "Field of Dreams" didn't hit me until the next day. And I'm trying to figure out if this is a good thing or not. If the reference is that obscure to an ageing boomer who likes cars and movies, how is it going to play to other demographics? Or is the ad a brilliant success because I was still trying to figure it out the next day?

Once again, we feel that it is a parent’s job to make sure that the nation’s younger generation knows who Steve McQueen is. (And Cary Grant. And Spencer Tracy. And the list goes on…)

And about “Bullitt,” one MNB user chimed in:

Great flick. The real star of the film was the stable of Shelbys made for the film. Which, as we all know, were anything, but stock Mustangs.

Not sure about that. Beyond Steve McQueen, are you forgetting about Jacqueline Bisset?

And MNB user Steve Behmke wrote:


1) McQueen is way cooler than Puffy or Snoopy or Sneezy or any of these other young posers, and even Gen X, Y, and Z recognize it.
2) Bullitt and Popeye Doyle are STILL the two best chase scene drivers ever!
3) Ford has done a great job in positioning the Mustang for the past several years, and this ad will hit home with every demo. My teenagers all want Mustangs when they get old enough to own a car (too soon if you ask me!). No talk of Beemers, Jags, Vettes, or anything else. Well; maybe Hummers...
4) The agency did slick work with both the creative and the technical sides of this ad. Not choppy or blurry like the John Wayne beer spots from a few years back (that did not work for me).

P.S. I enjoy the occasional detour (like this) from grocery-think. It's all I do most days...

We’ve never believed in grocery-think…there’s a reason that we like to call MNB “big ideas for thought leaders.”

Besides, sometimes you get the best ideas and see the best scenery when you take a detour…
KC's View: