• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience
    513-227-9037
    www.LandmarkExperience.com

Why Not Leverage What Your Employees Enjoy?

In a recent training I conducted for a technical support team, the questions I asked of participants when we began were, “Why do you do what you do? Why did you accept this position? What do you like aboHands Raisedut your job?” The purpose of these questions in a training context is to be able to tie the training content to what is important to the participants. It answers the participant question, “What’s in it for me?”

The answers were pretty cool and included:

  • I like to help our customers
  • Solving a challenging problem for our customers is very rewarding
  • I like creating a happy outcome
  • Educating our customers is gratifying
  • I enjoy when our customers think of us as a resource and a partner

Keep in mind, I didn’t ask, “Why do your customers buy from you or why do your customers like you?” My questions were solely focused on the employee experience, the experience of these technical support specialists. Once I had their answers, I was able to explain how the training would help them to fulfill their role and help to support the “why” they like doing their jobs.

It Gets Handed Down

The quality of your customer experience is inextricably linked to the quality and enjoyment of your employee experience. Many companies just don’t get this. Now, I’m not saying that you have to spoil, pamper and baby your employees. What I am saying is that if your employees enjoy their workplace and if they enjoy serving your customers, that enjoyment will permeate the customer experience. In other words, customers will FEEL it in their experience. It’s as simple as that. And isn’t it only logical that when we enjoy a task, we complete it just a little bit better, more thoroughly and with more enthusiasm then tasks we don’t enjoy?

Conversely, when you are the customer, you can always tell when the person serving you really doesn’t care or enjoy what they’re doing. The sentiment usually comes across loud and clear!

Translated To Your Team

So why not leverage what your employees enjoy to further enhance their experience and that of your customers? When was the last time you asked your team members why they do what they do and why they like what they do? If employees do their work well AND enjoy their work, then that is the definition of a strength.

  • If employees say they like to communicate with customers – then what can you do to improve and facilitate that communication?
  • If employees say they love to solve customers’ problems because it makes them feel accomplished – then what can you do to make problem-solving easier and faster?
  • If they say they enjoy educating customers because they have a teaching mindset – then what can you do to train and educate your staff to further support their desire to educate your customers?

Some companies focus a lot of energy on “corrective action” and on trying to improve employee’s weaknesses. Instead, take the bulk of that energy and magnify what employees enjoy and do well. Your employees will be more satisfied and loyal and your customers will be too!

I help businesses improve customer service, sales support and employee experience through analysis, feedback and implementation. If you have a business problem you need help with, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

Photo courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How to get your Sales Reps out of Customer Service and back to SELLING!

In my last post, I wrote about how and why it hurts your business when sales reps spend too much time doing customer service tasks and not enough time selling. If you missed that post, click 5 Reasons why your sales reps should not be order managers.

In this next post, I promised to answer the question, “How do you move from a culture of sales rep as part-time customer service rep to a culture of sales rep as full-time sales rep? I’ll start by saying; it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve been there. It’s going to take commitment but it will be well worth the effort in greater efficiency, a bigger sales funnel and a culture of cooperation. And full disclosure – my background is strong in B2B so I do see things through that lens. However, this advice will work in a B2C environment. There is more that is similar than is different.

But before I get into some of the cool things to put in place, you need to understand this one point:

Sales people will stop selling the moment they lose trust in your business.

Need Help PhotoThe moment you jeopardize the sales reps word (promises they made to customers) or their income (commissions), they’ll take their eyes off the sales ball and move into babysitting and triage mode. They’ll hand-hold orders and customer setups, they’ll double-check accuracy and process steps and generally poke their noses into every other department’s business. They’ll insist on being the sole communication point between the customer and the business. You’ll see them in the office more often rather than visiting or on the phone with customers.

And frankly, I can’t blame them. Your sales reps won’t let go of the reins and go out and sell more until they trust that everything works as it should and that customers will receive the service they expect. The sales organization has to TRUST the operation, trust your quality, and trust that people will do what they say they’re going to do. They need to believe that customer service and other support staff won’t only do what the process says to do but will also make good decisions on the customer’s behalf when the process doesn’t fit the situation. If a culture of trust doesn’t sound like your company, start there. Otherwise, nothing else I share here will matter.

It’s the Numbers after the Decimal That Really Count

A word about quality. If you tell me your order accuracy is great and that 99% of orders are accurate, then you’re in big trouble. That’s because it’s the digits after the 99 that really matter. If you ship 1000 orders a day and only 99% are accurate, then every day 10 orders go out wrong. If I’m your sales rep, I’m losing sleep. That’s 50 orders a week that go out wrong and how many of them are for my customers? You’re pushing your sales reps to butt-in and hand-hold the order process because they won’t trust it. You don’t need Six Sigma or some big complex quality program for this one. When gauging accuracy, look at the digits to the right of the decimal and put something in place to get those digits into the 9’s. You’ll also be saving your company boatloads of money in re-work.

Develop a Customer On-Boarding Program

Formalize your customer on-boarding. When you get a new customer, every department should know about it. When the first order ships, everyone touching that order should know it’s the customer’s first order. Internally, everyone needs to handle that order just like the sales rep would because remember, your sales rep is now out selling and not babysitting orders. If I’m the shipping dock supervisor, I want to know it’s the customer’s first order. If I’m the billing supervisor, I want to know it’s this customer’s first invoice. There are many ways to implement an on-boarding program, from automated to manual. Code the customer as “new” for 90 days. A formal customer on-boarding program does the following:

  • The extra attention ensures new customers have the best experience possible
  • You build trust with the new customer at the most critical stage in the relationship
  • Sales reps will have confidence that their co-workers have their eyes on new customers
  • And not the least of which, you celebrate new customers with your employees!

Integrate Sales Support Into Customer Service

When your sales reps call with a customer issue, they shouldn’t call your admin or the warehouse manager. They should call customer service just like the customer would. After all, the sales rep is really calling on the customer’s behalf, aren’t they? Otherwise, the customer would be making the call. Channel sales rep calls into customer service so they follow the same process with the same people who have access to the same information. Within Customer Service, you could even establish an “elite team” who handles sales reps calls. Whatever approach you use, integrated sales support accomplishes the following:

  • All customer issues follow the same process flow and tracking
  • Prevents duplication of work
  • Ensures a faster more efficient resolution
  • Gives the sales rep the same level of “service” as you give your customers
  • Builds on a culture of collaboration between customer service and sales

Establish a 2-way Communication Channel

Sales reps can focus more time on getting sales and less time micro-managing the operation when there is 2-way communication between customer service and sales. If customer service encounters a customer issue or question that warrants the sales rep’s attention, they need a consistent way to get that information back to the sales rep. If I’m a customer service rep and a customer just told me they were talking to a competitor, I want our sales rep to know that. Perhaps you can use your CRM, case management system or something as simple as email to get word to the rep. Train customer service when and how to recognize what should be communicated. The payoff is:

  • Sales rep (or Account Manager) is proactively alerted to possible issues. Better for the rep to hear it from an internal source than from the customer later.
  • Gives the sales rep confidence that co-workers are alert to potential customer issues.
  • Builds on a culture of “these are OUR customers” not “your customers.”

Flip the Switch

Finally, to get the sales rep out of the customer service kitchen, you may have to simply limit system access. If your sales reps can enter or modify orders, override pricing, change addresses and perform other system maintenance, you may want to give that a hard look. It’s not only a good idea from a process control standpoint (can you spell Sarbanes-Oxley?). It also removes the temptation to spend time in the system. You’ll have to overcome the sales rep’s objection that, “It’s just quicker if I do it!” View-only access should do the trick in most cases and it removes the last excuse for, “I don’t have enough time to sell more!”

When your existing sales reps can spend more of their time on sales tasks, your business has the opportunity to grow sales and profits with existing staff. If your sales reps are spending any time being order managers, shift their focus by giving them confidence the business will live up to your brand promise.

If you would like to discuss this topic, give me a call (513) 227-9037 or email me at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

Learn more at LandmarkExperience.com

Photo courtesy of pakorn and FreeDigitialPhotos.net

5 Reasons why your sales reps should not be order managers

Win the Battle or Win the War?

I met with a client this past week and she described a challenge she has in her company. Turns out, it was exactly the same challenge that I had dealt with when I worked for a global B2B office products supplier as VP of Customer Care – the sales reps spent too much time on order management rather than on selling. Now, I totally get why this is. Even though I’m an Ops guy through and through, I love sales reps. I’ve coached sales reps. I’ve trained sales reps. And I’ve helped to win big accounts with sales reps. So this isn’t a sales rep bashing exercise. However, it is important for a business to understand why sales reps focusing on order management can not only dilute the effectiveness of the entire sales team, it can also create a lot of unexpected dysfunction in the business.

Why Aren’t the Sales Reps Selling?Bar Chart Photo

So how do you end up with a business where sales reps become half-time glorified order managers? It could be your business started out small with everyone wearing multiple hats. As the business grew, steps were not taken to segment responsibilities more clearly by functional area and what started out as small business customer hand-holding evolves into a litany of rogue and one-off processes. Perhaps your company grew by merging with other businesses and each company brought their own way of doing things. Efforts to standardize order management, account management and sales processes met with resistance, stalled and died and now the work flow is a free-for-all. Often times, the sales organization is the exalted “high-fiving” group. And I get it. A rep can literally work years on landing a big account and once the deal is closed, they don’t want anything to get futzed up? But who does? The entire company benefits from the customer’s business so it’s far better to get everyone on board in providing stellar service.

“Doctor, It hurts the customer when I do this.” And the doctor says, “Then, don’t do that!”

Here’s why it hurts your business to allow sales reps to be order managers. And these reasons are even more relevant if some sales reps are huge order managers and other sales reps tend to be more hands-off.
  1. You send mixed messages to customers.
    Who exactly has what role in your business? Does the customer know when to call whom for issues about orders, billing, account changes. Do they call Sales Rep Bob for some things or all things? While it may be WAY convenient for the customer to call only Bob for everything, in the long run it is extremely inefficient and not the quickest way to service the customer. Direct your customer to the shortest path to issue resolution AND to the department most skilled at resolving the issue.
  2. It’s a slam to Customer Service.
    When you tell the customer service team, “Don’t call ‘my’ customer, call me and I’ll call ‘my’ customer,” you’re sending a very negative message to Customer Service. First of all, get off your self built pedestal. It’s not “YOUR” customer – it’s OUR customer. Second, you demean the customer service team by showing your lack of confidence that Customer Service can handle customer issues. If that is truly the case, then bigger conversations need to happen between sales and customer service leadership. Otherwise, it’s the job of customer service to interact with customers and handles issues. Let them do their job.
  3. It’s grossly inefficient.
    If Sales Rep Sue always wants Customer Service to handle customer issues but Sales Rep Bob wants only him to contact customers, you’re allowing a complex and unnecessary process matrix to clog up your customer service workflow. The customer service agent has a step that says – before I make a move, I have to figure out whose account this is, then follow the if/than matrix or memorize whether I’ve got a Bob or Sue customer. All the while I’m spending time NOT resolving the customer’s issue and moving on to the next task.This scenario is the worst possible one-off process nightmare. It inhibits efficiency and provides an inconsistent customer experience, not to mention a convoluted additional level of ongoing and new-hire training for customer service reps.
  4. You don’t get accurate measurement.
    If all the customer service work isn’t being done in the Customer Service department, how does leadership gauge the true volume of work? If part of the work is done rogue by a percentage of sales reps, the customer service leader can’t accurately account for number of calls, number of contacts, number of emails, etc. The business also doesn’t get an accurate read on the cost of customer service since the P/L isn’t accounting for sales rep time spent doing customer service tasks. What you have is inefficient workflow management. If you track customer issues by type and the sales reps don’t use the tracking system, then you’re not accurately measuring errors nor identifying opportunities for improvement.
  5. Sales isn’t firing on all cylinders.
    The final reason to not allow sales reps to be order managers is – It’s not their job. If you’re a sales rep, your job is to build customer relationships and get customers to buy more. It’s called selling. When I was a VP of Customer Care and the VP of Sales would ask her sales reps why they weren’t hitting quotas on prospecting, new sales, new accounts etc., we heard all kinds of reasons like, “I spend to much time troubleshooting orders and triaging issues and doing research for my customers” and on and on. Well, those are all tasks that are typically handled by Customer Service – so let them. Give your sales staff the freedom to work on account penetration, new business development, prospecting and closing the deal. Leverage the people you have for their strengths.

Are People in the Right Roles?

If you have sales reps who like to manage orders or are better at managing orders than they are at selling, perhaps you have them in the wrong role. But Bill, you ask, what about Inside Sales Reps? Same deal. Sure inside reps spend most of their time on the phone with customers. That doesn’t mean they should be order-takers or managing orders. They should be building upon the customer relationship, learning more about the customer, educating the customer, consulting with the customer – all tasks that either get new customers or get existing customers to buy new product lines.

One Size Fits Most

Of course, this model may not work in every industry. Some products are so highly technical that you may legitimately have a combined role of both sales and customer service. However, if you are a transactional sales business with a customer service team and a separate sales team and the sales reps are telling you “we don’t have enough time,” you may do well to learn exactly how they’re spending their time.

So how do you move from a culture of sales rep as part-time customer service rep to a culture of confidence and trust and sales rep as full-time sales rep? I’ll tackle that in my next post – How to get your Sales Reps out of Customer Service and back to SELLING!

If you would like to discuss this topic, give me a call (513) 227-9037 or email me at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

Learn more at LandmarkExperience.com

Photo courtesy of jscreationzs and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

What’s Your Definition of Expectations?

The other day I was ironing a shirt. The label in the collar read “Easy Care.” So that got me thinking about expectations and meanings, as in “that depends on what you mean by ‘Easy Care.'”

I’ve been asked a lot lately about how to properly set customer expectations, a concept that is so important in managing a great customer experience. Yet, customer disappointments continue to plague businesses.

So how do you best set expectations with customers and avoid disappointments? Well first, don’t call a shirt “Easy Care” when it clearly requires ironing out of the dryer! My definition of Easy Care does not include an ironing board. That said, here are a few tips on the subject:

1) Deliver the News Up Front
People seem to be afraid to set parameters up front, especially if they feel they can’t deliver on a particular requirement exactly as requested. It is much better to set the expectations at the beginning and avoid disappointment later. Your customer will appreciate the honesty and your ability to accurately forecast what you can deliver and when. If the customer asks for the Sun, Moon and Stars and you can provide only the Sun and Moon, say so. Some folks might call this “under promise and over deliver” but I disagree. Accurately promise and then do what you said you would do, or more.

2) Be Clear About Time
Customers will fill in the blanks, so don’t leave any. If the shirt says “Easy Care,” make sure it’s a no-iron shirt! Don’t say, “I’ll get back to you next week.” Instead, say “I’ll get back to you on Wednesday” or “no later than next Friday.” Be specific, then confirm the time frame is acceptable to your customer. Next week has both a Monday and a Friday and there’s a world of difference between the two. Be specific so the expectations are aligned with both parties.

3) Notify Customers Immediately of Any Service Challenges
If you can’t meet a deadline or need more time, notify your customer immediately. Customers appreciate being kept informed rather than left to wonder. A call saying, “I’m still working on your question/issue and I expect to have resolution by Friday” goes a long way.

4) Use Technology to Help Set Expectations
If you’re frequently on the road or out of the office, use your voice mail and email auto-responder to set the expectation on when the customer will hear back from you. “Thanks for calling. Please leave your detailed message. I return calls daily at ten, two and four.”

5) Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everyone
It’s tempting to try to accept every opportunity to make a sale and not let any opportunity slip away. However, that approach beckons a very broad spectrum of customer expectations and increases the chances for inconsistency and potential disappointment. Focus on a target market where you can most consistently meet customer expectations. To some degree, standardize processes and minimize exceptions.

Little Billy Leinweber Breaks an Old Habit

Yes I had hair back then and the typewriter weighed more than I did

Nobody likes change. Well, at least very few people I know. Yet, one of the worst things for a business is to stay the same. Sure it’s easier to keep things just as they are and it’s certainly more comfortable. We like routine. Don’t rock the boat, right?

Business leaders, I want you to venture out into your front lines and pick a process or procedure and ask your staff, “Why do we do this? And why is it done in this way?” If you hear anything at all like, “We’ve always done it this way,” then you’ve just stumbled on a huge opportunity. An opportunity to improve and do things better. “We’ve always done it this way” is the worst reason in the world to continue doing something. I know. And just to show you how committed I am, I’m going to stop doing something I’ve done for the past 43 years. I’m going to do something differently.

I learned to type at the age of nine. It was summer school between fourth and fifth grade. I think it was a punishment because I don’t remember volunteering. I just remember I went to summer school and had Living Science (like outdoor biology) and typing class. That was the first and last time I ever went to summer school. Yeah, I can hear you laughing but how many of you have the courage to put a 4th grade photo of yourself on the internet? Anyway, I remember the day the News Herald photographer and reporter came into the class to take the picture. Definitely a slow news day in Mentor, Ohio. The newspaper story begins, “Little Billy Leinweber didn’t even look big enough to reach the typewriter keys…” And for those of you who can’t remember, that big metal object in front of me is called a typewriter. It’s what we used to type letters and envelopes and other documents before computers. You can stop laughing now.

The really cool thing is, by the time computers did become commonplace I already knew how to type and I mean using all my fingers and without looking at the keyboard. And all these years, I thought I was doing it right because “I’ve always done it this way.” Then about a month ago, I read a blog post somewhere and the author was saying, “Anyone who puts 2 spaces between sentences is doing it wrong!” What? Are you kidding? That’s the way I was taught to type 43 years ago. One space between words and two spaces between sentences. What the heck was this guy talking about?

As it turns out, the two-spaces-between-sentences thing was because typewriter characters were monospaced, meaning each letter took up the same amount of space. If you typed two sentences one over the other, the letters in the top row would line up in columns with the letters in the row beneath. A computer produces proportionally spaced characters (unless you use a font like Courier which mimics a typewriter font). With proportional spacing the letter “i” for example takes up only 1/5 the space of the letter “m.” With proportional spacing, there is no longer a need to put two spaces between sentences. Hmmm… I don’t remember getting the newsflash.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to change a habit that you began 43 years ago? Well, it’s not easy but I’m going to do it. I’m going to re-condition myself to type only one space between sentences. Why? To be cool and “with it?” No, because it actually does look better in print and on-screen. It’s more pleasing to read. It’s a better way. Oh sure, I could say the heck with it, I’m going to just keep typing the way I’ve always done it. It would be much easier for me to not change a thing especially because I don’t even have to think about it. My thumbs automatically go tap-tap on the space bar every time I get to the end of a sentence so, it’s going to take some effort. But isn’t it good practice now and then to make a change for the better and not use “We’ve always done it this way” as an excuse to stay comfortable?

Customer experience in your business and your business in general will never be at its absolute best if you continue doing things as you’ve always done them because it’s simply easier. Take a look around your business. Be open. Turn on your peripheral vision. Why do we do this? Why do we do it this way? If the reason is “We’ve always done it this way” then start digging. Is it the best way? Are you willing put forth the effort to make your business better? You CAN do it. Take a hint from Little Billy Leinweber. If he can change something he learned when he was nine, you can make a change too!

Check Your Intuition At The Door – the small business leg-up on corporate giants

Where ‘o where did my intuition go?

So I was wondering the other day, what happened to my intuition?  And exactly when did I lose it?  Okay, let me back up a bit.  You see, I’m working with a business coach and she was taking our group through an exercise to tap into our intuition.  My experience with that exercise was so profound and resulted in such a vivid revelation that I began to wonder when exactly did I stop using or trusting my intuition.  Apparently, I had totally forgotten how reliable and accurate my intuition had been.

As I started to think back, I suddenly realized that when I was in my twenties, I used my intuition like crazy!  My intuition is what guided me to move back from Massachusetts to my hometown of Cleveland.  At 29, a suggestion from a complete stranger nudged me to accept a job with two partners at their B2B office supply company rather than another position at a competing company for more money.  But it was my intuition that told me to trust what that stranger, my soon to be brother-in-law, told me on the very day I first met him.  Accepting that job turned out to be one of the best decisions of my career.  And when one of the business owners told me that I needed to fire an uncooperative manager who resented me, the outsider who took a position the manager felt should be his, it was my intuition that told me not to fire him.  I knew in my gut that I could win this manager over (which I did) and I knew the business needed his skills and contributions.  The manager went on to be one of the key members of the management team and later told me I was the best boss he’d ever had.  What if I had fired him?

Intuition.  We also call it “gut feeling” or “a hunch.”  If you haven’t already read it, I recommend the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  In it, he describes the concept of adaptive unconscious and how our brain is actually a tool of rapid cognition.  Our unconscious mind is capable of processing a high volume of sophisticated information very fast – we’re just unaware that our brains are doing it.  And yet, “We live in a world,” as Gladwell states, “that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it.”

But, we’re going to crash and burn!

Years later in the corporate world, I was working as a key participant on a mammoth project.  The project team was gathered around a huge conference table and Geri, the Project Manager, asked each of us what were our biggest concerns and what was keeping us up at night.  When it was my turn, I simply said, “the time line.”  “We can accomplish anything we set out to,” I continued, “but the scope of this project and the time line are out of whack.  We’re going to lose a ton of customers.”  I knew in my gut the business wouldn’t be able to handle the transactional volume.  But Geri wanted specifics.  Why, specifically, was the time line too aggressive?  Exactly what project tracks were too short?  When would things fail and on what date?

Geri pushed for details that I could not give her on the spot.  I might have scrutinized Gantt charts of the time line and spent my evenings pouring over the project plan but I didn’t need to do that.  My adaptive unconscious had already done it, had already processed volumes of data from my past experience.  In the prior 19 years, I had participated in the combination of two small businesses and merged their sales and customer data and processes into one.  I subsequently helped to merge 3 similar-sized divisions of a corporation into one division, combined 22 locations into 5, merged three customer service teams in 6 locations into 1.  Over time, my adaptive unconscious had become an “expert” in assessing project scope.  The project was most certainly doable but, not in the time allotted and not to the level of quality the steering committee and business at large was expecting.  I just knew the project would hit a threshold of critical mass.

That said, I understood Geri’s predicament.  She couldn’t very well walk into an executive steering committee meeting and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of the steering committee, Bill Leinweber ‘has a bad feeling’ about our project time line.  As a result, we’re adjusting it”  They would have asked Geri to, um, step down, if you catch my drift.  Ultimately, three months after it began, the migration project was halted for several months because the business was overwhelmed just as my intuition had told me it would be.  Several project tracks were overhauled and resources redeployed.  If the business had the capability to trust the expertise for which they were paying me, it might have saved several million dollars.   But  large complex corporations aren’t built to work that way.

Mystery Solved

And there, I think, is the clue to what happened to my intuition.  In my twenties, I wasn’t conditioned to be suspicious of it so I trusted it and used it regularly. Most corporate environments would rather you check your intuition at the door in favor of charts, spreadsheets and endless data analysis.  The more data the better, the more research the better but goodness, don’t trust someone’s “gut feeling.”  I’m not saying that data doesn’t have its place. Certainly it does.  But businesses are missing a vast wealth of knowledge and expertise by not cultivating the intuition of their employees.

My partner, Steven, is a great example.  His intuition is alive and well.  He taps into it regularly and, as some people know, has made startling predictions that have come true.  Not coincidentally, Steven has spent more years as an entrepreneur than he has in structured corporate environments.  Could that be why his intuition works so well?  It hasn’t been severely diminished with “Intuition bad, more data good” dogma.  As a result, Steven exercises his intuition regularly and, like any tool or skill that is practiced and conditioned, it’s both reliable and trusted.   Could it also be that women of my mother’s era were gifted with “a woman’s intuition” because so many women of that era were not in an environment that brainwashed them into believing that they should stifle it?

Do you trust your own and your employees intuition?

If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, your intuition is what led you into your business to begin with.  Oh sure, you had to create your business plan to convince the bank and investors that your idea had merit.  But guess what?  It was your intuition that told you your business could succeed, that your product/service has a need and a niche.  And despite the very best of business cases and presentations, the bankers and investors made their decision about your business using their own intuition even if they didn’t realize it.   You’re paying your employees to bring their intellect, experience and skills to task in their role at your company.  Tap into the intuition of your long-term, most experienced employees.  All the while they’ve been working for you and before then, their adaptive unconscious have been gathering and processing volumes of data.  Next time you’re making a major decision in your business, ask your key employees, “what do you think?”  When they produce a chart, graph or a workbook of spreadsheets out of sheer habit, ask again, “No, what do YOU think?”  You may be surprised by the wealth of intuitive data already in their heads.  And your business will be taking advantage of a resource so many others miss.

The Shopping Cart – The Design is Largely Unchanged but the Experience Keeps Getting Reinvented

Goldman's Basic Design

Just about every retail experience involves a shopping cart.  I don’t mean the “Click here to add to cart.” I mean the brick and mortar basket on wheels. The shopping cart is over 70 years old and hasn’t changed all that much.  However, retail chains still struggle to innovate an efficient method used to get the cart into the consumers hands.  First a little background.

Folding Chair to Shopping Cart

The shopping cart as we know it today is largely attributed to Sylvan Goldman and Orla Watson.  Goldman was a grocery pioneer (Humpty Dumpty chain in Oklahoma) and Watson was a machinist and inventor.  In 1936, Goldman wondered how he could get shoppers to buy more groceries.  A folding wooden chair gave him an idea.  He placed a couple of baskets and wheels on the chair and – voila’, the shopping cart is invented!  The drawback of Goldman’s original patented design was that the carts had to be disassembled to be folded and stored.  Watson came up with the telescoping shopping cart design in 1946, which allowed the carts to nest into one another and required no disassembly for storage.  Goldman and Watson squabbled a bit over their respective patents until Goldman stopped

Orla Watson Cart

contesting Watson’s patent in exchange for licensing rights.

“Carts Are Provided For Our Shoppers Convenience”

Convenience?  Let’s be honest.  Shopping carts are provided with the hopes that you will fill them to the brim before making your way to the checkout!  As an aficionado of ingenious process efficiency, I’m intrigued by the ongoing innovations retailers devise for putting the shopping cart at your fingertips as you begin your shopping experience.  The superstore is about 50 years old and the shopping cart 73, and yet shopping cart logistics continue to evolve.  Think for a moment.  The last time you used a shopping cart, was it an awkward wrestling match to get one or a smooth and easy exercise?  Truth is, if the process was efficient, you probably didn’t pay much attention to it.

Who’s Doing it Well?

Shopping cart logistics can be tricky and expensive.  As a consumer, you want the cart right there where you need one.  You wheel the cart through the store and checkout and usually out to your car.  The store then has to pay employees to fetch the carts and bring them back into the store.  One exception is Aldi where you have to pay 25c to get a cart.  When you’re finished shopping at Aldi and return your cart to the queue, you get your quarter back.  The ideal scenario has the carts in a queue, with the consumer pulling carts off one end of the queue while the retrieved carts are fed into the other end of the queue.  Newer Lowe’s and Walmart stores have mastered this design with the cart queues turned parallel with the front of the store.  As you walk into the front doors, you pull a cart off the leading edge of the queue.  Employees return carts to the queue through special ‘mini’ doors on the sides of the entrance and away from shopper traffic.

Our newest Target uses a slightly different design.  The cart queue doors are in the center of the bank of front doors so you’re walking alongside the carts as you enter the store.  Carts are fed into the doors at the entrance and the shopper pulls their cart off the other end of the queue after they enter.  This is clearly the most convenient for the shopper except that both shoppers and carts are co-mingling outside the main entrance.

Not surprising IKEA has shopping carts down to a science.  After all, they’re experts at getting that bookcase or chair to fit into a box the size of an overnight bag.  The traditional carts are at the ready as you descend the stairs into the IKEA Marketplace.  These are traditional European style carts with all four swivel wheels and can be a challenge for Americans who aren’t used to them.  IKEA also has flatbed carts in the warehouse for furniture and larger items.  These carts are fed into a mechanical queuing system from the loading area at the front of the store.  As shoppers enter the warehouse inside the store, they pull carts off the end of the queue and the mechanism advances the queue so the next cart is ready.

Classic Process Inefficiency

The retailer that surprises me the most is Meijer.  Meijer is largely credited with pioneering the super store concept in the early 1960’s so you would think shopping cart logistics would be part of the mastery of their business.  Not so.  The Meijer nearest me is an older store but I can’t believe all the money and effort they spend on an extremely inefficient model.  The majority of carts are lined up outside the front of the store.  A small sign instructs shoppers, “Meijer guests, Please select a cart before entering the store. Thank you”  Really?  Not the best customer experience in inclement weather.  The carts that are inside are all pushed into a “corral.”  Shoppers have to enter the corral, grab a cart, then walk backwards pulling the cart out of the corral and backing-up into the next shopper trying to get their cart.  It’s even worse for the employees who fetch carts from the parking lot.  They bring the carts in via the same entrance doors the shoppers use, then have to make a sharp left and then a sharp right to get the carts into the corral.  I can’t believe Meijer hasn’t spent a couple thousand dollars at this store to redesign their cart logistics rather than subject their customers to and pay employees for such an inefficient experience.  Most Kroger stores I’ve been too are only slightly better.

So What’s Taking So Long?

So after 50 years of super stores and 70+ years of shopping carts, why are retailers still reinventing their shopping cart process?  You would think by now most retailers would have the whole shopping cart logistics thing figured out.  And why do so many stores have a such a shopping cart mess?  I’m guessing many retailers have only recently recognized that a shopping cart is part of the TOTAL customer experience and they are finally evaluating the experience (and efficiency) from beginning to end – cart to car and back.  In addition, a lot of upper management just isn’t accustomed to seeing things through the customers’ eyes.

So here’s a lesson for your business – Want to save money?  Take a look at repetitive processes that occur over and over and over each day.  One small improvement in efficiency, when multiplied by the number of times the process is executed, can save you big bucks over time.