If your attempts to improve customer service create stress for your employees and leave customers feeling rushed and unappreciated, whom are you serving?
Does Service With Speed Really Serve?
Whole Foods Power Hour
As I was standing at the register at Whole Foods this evening, a manager walked down the aisle and announced the start of “power hour” to all associates working the registers. Apparently this is a thing they do at peak times. Associates compete to check out as many customers as they can in an hour. The winning associates win a gift card.
In asking some of the associates about this, I learned that not all of the employees like this contest. One commented that she doesn’t want to put herself through the stress of trying to win, so she doesn’t even compete. Another told me that some associates get so caught up in the rush that they drop or spill things or make other mistakes.
Is this really what our world has come to? Why the need for speed everywhere? What happened to presence? What happened to customer service?
As a customer, I don’t want to feel rushed. I hate to feel rushed in any environment. In fact, one of the things I appreciate most at Whole Foods is the care with which most associates pack up my groceries. I don’t want them to make mistakes or spill something because they feel pressure to win a prize.
Is This Customer Service?
I realize Whole Foods is doing this in the name of customer service. The lines at peak times can be long, and customers don’t like to wait in lines. That’s certainly a fair point. We generally don’t like waiting.
I am one of the few people who isn’t buried in my phone while waiting in line, so I know the wait can feel long.
But in my extensive experience waiting in line at Whole Foods at peak hours, I’ve never noticed the lines to move much faster during the “power hour” contest. We typically don’t like waiting in line because the unknowns about the waiting time produce anxiety. The power hour doesn’t create any more certainty for the customer about waiting times. All it does is foster more frantic energy.
This Isn’t Productive
Studies show that employees who feel stressed at work don’t deliver the best service. People who rush tend to make more mistakes. It increases their anxiety. When we are rushing, we aren’t present. We tend to be more dismissive of others.
Rushing is not productive.
It doesn’t just hurt the people who are rushing.
Rushing creates stress, and stress is contagious.
Even if the associate makes no errors and doesn’t drop or spill anything in the race to win, the race alone creates a frantic energy. If the associate is in a frenzy because he or she is racing to win a contest, that energy transfers to everyone around him or her, including the customer.
We can feel it in our bodies when the person serving us is rushing. It triggers the fight-or-flight response in the other person and in us.
That’s not the experience I want to have at the end of a long day.
How This Affects Your Brand
As customers, how we feel during an interaction is how we feel as we walk away from the interaction. There may be many points of interaction; we remember the most recent feeling. This is called recency bias.
As this article mentions, research by economist Daniel Kahneman on how people remember unpleasant activities suggests that the way we remember a line is heavily influenced by how the experience ends.
The feeling we remember is how we define our experience. This becomes the association we create with the business. As a business, that association is your brand.
I am always amazed by the time, effort and money that companies invest in creating their “brand,” only to miss this crucial point.
Your brand is not what you tell people you are or represent. Your brand is how people feel about their experience with you.
The unsettled feeling I had as I walked out of Whole Foods was one of incoherency. It’s a particular physical sensation alerting me to something that is out of balance.
The Whole Foods “power hour” contest is incongruent with its defined values.
Here are a few examples:
- We satisfy, delight and nourish customers. Standing at the checkout while an associate is frantically ringing up my groceries in a rush to win a contest is not my idea of nourishing. One of the things I appreciate most about Whole Foods is the care with which the associates typically pack my groceries, and their cheerful demeanor when they engage in conversation. Occasionally I interact with an associate who seems preoccupied, and I notice the feeling of disappointment as I walk away.
- We support team member happiness and excellence. The studies show that feeling rushed at work creates stress, not happiness. It leads to sloppy work and is unproductive. I don’t see how this contest would promote excellence and happiness. It pits employees against each other with the customer as collateral damage.
- We promote the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education. I realize that “healthy eating education” is a qualifier on “promote health of our stakeholders,” but health is based on more than what you eat. The energy we consume each day plays a big role in our health. And while we are usually aware of what food we eat, many people are unaware of the energy they take in. Whole Foods is creating an environment of stress for its employees, which transfers to the customer.
Whole Foods Needs to Get In Line
If the power hour isn’t dramatically reducing or creating more certainty around waiting times, and if our memory of an experience is shaped by how it ends, it stands to reason that Whole Foods might fare better by focusing on a more productive solution.
Strategies that work best for a business tend to be those that are aligned with the corporate values. What might that look like? I didn’t spend much time thinking about this, but in about 10 seconds, I came up with these three ideas:
- Hire more staff to work during peak hours.
- Have a timer display an estimate of the waiting time. Knowing how much time it will take will help customers gain a sense of control as they wait.
- Reward associates for their presence with customers and how much positive energy they exude. How we feel when we leave the experience is what we remember. Focus on that.
Whole Foods proclaims its commitment to sustainable farming and environmental practices. Perhaps it needs to examine its own practices first. In the long run, an environment where employees feel pressure to put speed ahead of service is not sustainable for your employees, your brand, or your bottom line.