Empowering Employees For Better Customer Service

I was at Whole Foods yesterday.  Ordinarily when I mention Whole Foods on this blog, I have something good to say because they do so many “right” things as far as customer service goes.  Today I have a story to share that is more typical in the retail world.

I was on my lunch hour and picking up some veggies for dinner and a cup of soup for my lunch.  While there I picked up their book of coupons and noticed a couple of products that I normally buy had some really good coupons; so, I added those to my list.  Excellent.  Save myself an after work trip and save a few bucks on things I would normally buy anyway.  Win win.

The check out process at WF is a beautiful thing.  It is rarely unpleasant even near holiday times.  The lines usually move quickly, the cashiers are friendly and well trained.  I handed the cashier the two coupons from their flyer and she rang everything up.  The problem arose when she scanned my coupons.  One of them was for a “buy one get one” promotion and the register just beeped at her.  She asked the cashier next to her about the coupon and the woman told her that they hadn’t changed anything: meaning…You have to call some sort of supervisor to bring a key, put it in the cash register and turn it in order to process the coupon.  The cashier informed me that this also happened when she had to give a discount to a person who would receive a “case discount.”  We waited and waited and waited until finally a woman came up, performed the key trick and when the cashier questioned her about the process, she was told: we asked for a change…they aren’t going to change it.

This tells me a few things.  First off, it tells me that I’m probably not the first customer bothered by this slow down.  It tells me that it is also bothersome to the cashiers because they are put in an awkward situation.  It tells me that upper management might not be listening to the folks on the front lines.  And most of all it makes me think that WFs doesn’t trust the employees.  I’ve been racking my brain to come to a different conclusion; but, why else would they have this restriction at the cash register level?  They think that their employees will abuse the “power” and give discounts or free items when they are not warranted.  I sometimes forget that WF is a giant corporation which benefits them and which is why they do things that lull us into forgetting.

But this decision is pure corporate muckety muck and a decision I’m going to assume made by people far from direct customer service.  It is most likely a decision made by a person or people who see the cashiers as an untrustworthy group and that troubles me.  It is a weakness in an otherwise customer focused service plan and in a place with generally happy employees though less happy than a couple of years ago which also makes me curious.

I have worked for corporate retail chains that didn’t trust me because I was a retail clerk and I can tell you that it does not inspire or motivate one to do a good job.  One such place I worked was an interesting experience because when I started working there they were a small chain owned by people (the original owners/founders); but, in the 4 years I was with the company, they went public and the original owners left.  In those 4 years I went from working for a company that valued and trusted employees  and had an extremely loyal and hardworking group of people working for them to one that placed little value and trust in the employees and the morale plummeted and the loyalty and hard work had almost become extinct.  It was a huge learning experience for me and a deeply sad thing to witness.

I would guess, that if quizzed, WF would tell me that there is some reason for this procedure that is not linked to a distrust of their workers…or maybe they would admit to it.  I don’t know.

All I know is that I feel a little less loyal to Whole Foods today than I was yesterday.

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