Applause at religious services is usually reserved for milestones: introduction of a just-married couple, recognition of a 50th anniversary, veterans returning from active duty.
Here’s what John Cusick said Sunday that drew resounding applause from the 800-strong SRO crowd shoehorned into Old St. Pat’s Church in Chicago: “I will change the face of Retail America.”
How is this priest going to accomplish that? And more importantly, why did the assembly erupt with such powerful approval of this one-man mission?
Cusick is a self-described “salesman” and his strategy is simple: He will not collect his purchases and step away from a checkstand until he has achieved direct eye contact with the cashier and elicited a smile. This is not always easy to do. It can take many tactics and silly faces before he charms a sullen, hourly wage-earner into cracking a smile. But Cusick does it; he pulled a grin out of reluctant Jose at Dunkin Donuts this weekend and he’ll get one out of you, if you are behind the checkout counter. He’s as persistent as a pitbull with a Cheshire cat grin.
And he doesn’t blame the store employees, who shoulder demanding work schedules for minimal compensation. He blames corporate America for not properly training and treating its customer-facing employees. It is possible to focus on one person at a time, he said, and American Retail could do it with a little effort.
The crowd seemed to agree with Cusick that the face of retail needs a makeover because we’ve all been subjected to poor service, inattentive service, ill-informed service and downright hostile treatment. And retail workers have been on the receiving end of bad behavior, too. It doesn’t have to be that way. While praising retailers is risky business (because it invites vitriol from customers who feel they were “wronged” at some point) I’m going out on a ledge to suggest two companies making a real effort. They may not hit it out of the park every time, but at least they are trying:
• Dominick’s. It’s the same at all four of the Chicago grocery stores I patronize: employees on the store floor — whether updating shelf pricing or arranging oranges in the produce section — don’t let you pass without direct eye contact and a friendly greeting. From behind the pharmacy counter Saturday, a pharmacist noticed me searching for an item and offered to help. One cashier likes to show photos of his beloved Labrador pup. They interrupt their tasks in order to recognize you, without cutting into productivity. That’s not discretionary. That comes from the top.
• Abt Electronics in Glenview, Ill. In-store, employees appear genuinely happy and work collaboratively with each other to assist shoppers across different departments. Home delivery people are employed by Abt (not contracted) and my dishwasher delivery guy, Kevin, noticed my sink faucet was outta whack and fixed it without batting an eye. He was polite, knowledgeable and eager to share that his employer treats him well and that keeps him happy on the job.
It can be done: retail can be more civil if we all do our part. A smile costs nothing, goes both ways and it can dramatically change the outlook for someone with a cloud overhead.
Dominick’s and Abt aren’t the only retailers looking to improve the customer experience. We’ve got a boatload of retail execs who will share their strategies to make shopping more pleasant in-store and online. Come hear them at RetailConnections Business Executive Summit, Feb. 26-28, 2012, in Miami.