business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Like most people, I haven’t loved every job I’ve had. In the past I was a camp counselor, a cashier, a food delivery boy and even worked in the accounting department of a travel wholesaler. Trust me, those were not great jobs.

But somehow, I have fond memories of every one of them. Better yet, I have great memories of the jobs I really, really enjoyed, including working as a newspaper reporter and, of course, being a columnist at MNB.

Here’s the reason for this short trip of nostalgia. Life is rarely perfect, but somehow we need do more than muddle through. As fashion designer Christian Dior once said, “Whatever you do, do it with passion.”

Two weeks ago, my daughter adopted her second rescue dog and being a supportive dad, I accompanied her and the new pooch, Ruby, to PetSmart for supplies and a much-needed training session. My daughter commented that she could always tell which cashiers in the store actually seemed to like their jobs and, more importantly, who actually like pets.

The pet enthusiasts, she said, always rushed out to meet Ruby and his older sibling, Tibbett, and usually offered up a treat or two. More blasé cashiers would simply ring up the purchase, with no sense that the customer had a dog, an alligator or a dragon. For them, it is just a job.

But obviously, my daughter - the customer - doesn’t feel that way. She loves her dogs, pampers them and knows her parents will do the same. She relishes those moments when strangers drop to one knee in the middle of the street or sidewalk to pet or play with the dogs.

(You can understand why. The dogs' pictures are below. If KC can run his new puppy's picture, I can do the same.)

Think about that cashier though. It takes very little training to create those customer connections. However, it’s far more likely that cashier was trained in speedy transactions and limiting theft - important topics all, but nothing that will ever delight a shopper. If stores are to survive the battle with on-line shopping the experience will have to improve everywhere and that includes the front end.

Supermarkets have an edge over pet stores in this regard. After all, not everyone loves animals, but we do all eat. How do we incorporate in training a reminder to store level staff to be human? If someone is buying a product the cashier personally loves, say something. Or simply make some kind of connection to let the shopper know you see them and to give them an experience that improves upon what my computer asks.

(At least during my computer-based purchases I am asked if I am a robot. I assume a person can do much better.)

Now I know this suggestion isn’t a perfect competitive weapon. First, it might slow transaction time by a few seconds and there may be shoppers who have no interest in a conversation. But I’d bet many more shoppers might find such small moments give them pause in their day and make them think differently about their store. Connections and experience are only growing more important.

By the way … Forbes has a story this week about how the folks at Chewy, the pet supplies e-tailer, puts a premium on communicating to customers that its people understand "how pet parents think, and that it knows how to connect with them, so they will become lifetime customers.

"Part of that narrative is convincing pet owners that everyone at Chewy, from the customer service reps who answer their calls, to the tech wizards who tweak the algorithms that recommend the right dog food, to the CEO, cares about their pet as much as they do."

You can read the story here … and it is a reminder that many e-commerce companies are focusing on the importance of consumer connections. It isn't just bricks-and-mortar retailers, which, if they don't bring their A-game, could lose an advantage that they should have.

I saw another example of how retailers can do it right the day: the charity where my wife works will be having its annual holiday party this coming weekend, and as usual we try to find tacky sweaters to wear. Of course, we don’t want to spend very much on such a useless piece of clothing. In search of something that fit the bill we ended up at Aldi, where we found the perfect solution.

But as we checked out the cashier noticed our somewhat unusual purchase, looked at us and said, “Going to a holiday party, I see.” It caused no delay, no discomfort and gave us all a chuckle and a little connection.

See, I’m not a robot. More importantly, neither was the cashier.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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