It’s about the customer, stupid!

Yesterday I received my very first issue of Training Magazine in the mail.  After over 16 years as a training professional, I’m really not sure why I never read Training before – but I’m glad I started.  Right off the bat I was quite pleased with what I was reading.  Like many trade magazines, the edition opens with a letter from the editor.  Lorri Freifeld, the editor in chief of Training, does just that.  Her editorial is titled ‘Ask and You Shall Receive’, and includes an example from training professional Michael Marr, who mentions that training folks have a tendency to agree to developing and delivering training without out determining the true need.  Lorri expands on this by illustrating the simple process of going to a coffee shop.  They don’t just hand you a cup of coffee when you go in (well they do maybe if you are a regular there), instead they ask you what you would like.  As trainers we must always keep our finger on the pulse of the needs of the customers.

I’ve blogged previously about the necessity of conducting training needs assessments and how critical they are to learner outcomes.  Yes, sometimes the need seems very apparent, and you may be right, but peel back the layers of this anyway just to make sure.  Not only does this give you the opportunity to verify the purported need, but it will also give you insight into the driving forces behind that need – which may lend itself well as fodder for training content.  You may be surprised to find that the issue is not training related at all, but rather a fault in the process or equipment.   Remember, training is the greatest example of the ‘garbage in – garbage out’ theory.  If you don’t invest your time, energy, and resources into making a quality product that meets needs, then you are simply wasting the time, energy, and resources – and in this economy, more than ever, we can’t afford to waste those things.

The Human Factor

While most of my blog is focused on emergency management, it is after all my blog.  So I’m taking some liberties to write a bit off topic on something that I feel rather strongly about – and fortunately, I’ve found that my opinion is shared by others.  This is the matter of ‘self checkout’ at stores.

You’ve seen them at your local mega-mart, grocery store, or even big box hardware store.  The machines don’t seem to scan bar codes as well as the machines used by the cashiers (granted, I also don’t have the honed and practiced intuition of where to find those silly things that the cashiers have, either), and they yell at your for not putting the item in the bag when either you have or it’s too large to fit into a bag.  And, of course, there is the frequent occurence of the machine refusing to serve you any longer until a cashier inputs their secret code.  Frustrating.

There is certainly a business case for them.  The general idea is efficiency – usually one cashier overseeing four of these machines; and cost savings – one cashier instead of four.  I get that.  That said, most stores I frequent tend not to have lines at these machines.  Many people avoid them.  I hear comments from fellow patrons about how frustrating they are.  Some people, myself included, do appreciate this lack of lines when you only have a handful of items and it can (hopefully) get you out of the store sooner.  I’ve even experienced the one individual who is overseeing several self checkouts call a customer over from a staffed line and scan the items themselves for the customer, knowing that people resist these machines.  How many of you have spoken back to the self checkout machines?  I know I have… “I DID place the item in the bag!”

I heard the best comment yesterday from a fellow shopper who was standing in line next to me (both for registers with cashiers).  He remarked to his friend about how he never uses the self checkout because he wants to ensure justification for jobs for cashiers.  I certainly can’t argue with that, and, in fact, I support it.  Another issue I have is that if I am saving the business money by using their self checkout, that savings should be passed on to me.  I am, after all, checking myself out.  And bagging my own items.  What’s that worth on average?  Perhaps a 5% savings on your final bill?

I rarely use the self checkout, much for the same reason I hardly ever use a drive through.  I like the face to face service.  I can ask questions, ensure that both my order and bill are correct, and if something goes wrong I don’t have to seek someone out to remedy the situation.  I think self checkout, while a great idea from a cost savings perspective, is a bad idea when it comes to customer service – which is a concept that seems to be eroding within society.  Much of our economy is service based, yet service keeps getting worse.  Business owners – if you don’t focus on the customer and their needs, you won’t reach your profit potential.