Why Did You Ask That Question?

Earlier this week I was paying for my merchandise at a store in Rhode Island.  While checking out the cashier asked me a rather familiar question: Did you find everything you were looking for?

I answered no.  The cashier seemed to ignore my answer and changed the subject.   Thinking that she did not hear me, I proceeded to tell her what I was looking for.    Her response was everything that we have is out on the shelves.

She made no attempt to do anything with the information I offered her such as: write down what I was looking for, offer to order the item or offer me a rain check.  I left the store initially feeling somewhat confused about why she asked the question.  Then I concluded that the question must have originated from some sort of corporate directive (since I have been asked the same question by other employees at that store at other stores in their chain, and at other chain stores).

While I can understand asking the question, asking it and ignoring the answer, or not specifically offering to do something with the information provided is obviously damaging to customer relationships.   In this particular case, I can tell you that nothing has been lost by the chain (except that I will remember that specific cashier does not pay attention to the customer).  I gained an anecdote for this article.    On the other hand, if I were considering working with a service oriented business doing something important for my family, my work, my home or my car I certainly would think twice about having a further relationship with them.

I’d ask that you, a small business person, think through whatever you are asking your employees to do and whatever customer service training you are providing to your employees.  Are you providing directives without appropriate and complete training?  For example, you might be instructing people to ask questions without thoroughly understanding why they are asking the questions, without training them to how to respond to the customers answers, and without showing them the consequence of improperly responding to the questions.

While it is difficult to answer the questions is some direction better than no direction and is poor training better than no training, there certainly are consequences of poor training or issuing directives without training.  I’d ask you to reevaluate whatever directives you are issuing and whatever training you are doing, being sure that you are teaching the employees to think, and not to perform robotically.  I’d also encourage you to practice whatever procedures you are training your employees to do personally and with your employees, so that they are equipped to handle expected as well as unexpected responses to whatever they may be doing.

As business consultant Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto concludes, it is important that employees understand “why” they are instructed to ask certain questions or follow particular guidelines.  By providing employees with additional background, they can better understand the big picture and be better equipped to represent the business.  This will hopefully empower employees to share the corporate vision as well.

Thanks to Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments and suggestions.

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