Your business succeeds or fails at the point of human interaction...

John and I had an interesting experience this week. Our cooktop was on its last leg and we needed to replace it.

We were the type of customers the ads are seeking.  We had money; we knew what we wanted; and we were ready to buy.  But it wasn't that simple.

Experience #1 - Lowe's:  We looked online to find a number of models we wanted.  Their website was great for the research part, but still I wanted to feel/touch before I purchased and we needed to ask about installation.  We walked to the appliance area where a man was engrossed in whatever he was doing on the computer.  His "vibe" was that we were an interruption.  He pointed us to where the cooktops were without getting up. When we couldn't find what we wanted and went back to him he told us they only carried the top of the line in store.  The moderately priced ones were online. (Again, without really looking up from the computer).  I decided he wasn't helpful enough to work with and we left.

Experience #2 - Home Depot: Here the staff were super-helpful.  However the phone rang many times during our interaction which began to frustrate the sales person as he tried to help us and manage (or often ignore) the calls. We found what we wanted. He had helpful counsel. And we set up the service call to come measure before we finalized which stovetop we wanted.  (I should add that the checkout process seemed super long most of that due to the slow printing of a large stack of papers they handed us when we left.) When the service/installation team called, they wouldn't give us a window for their visit.  They asked us to block out the day.  We told them we couldn't do that (we have jobs) and asked for a morning or afternoon window.  The lady told us she was sorry but she couldn't do that.  We canceled the transaction with Home Depot.  This is 2013. Even the utility companies don't do that anymore.

Experience # 3 - Sears:  We walked in and there was one guy serving multiple customers. We looked around and couldn't find what we wanted. (Again, only top of the line in the store.)  As soon as he finished his last transaction, he greeted us, asked us what we wanted, then led us to a computer where he stayed with us answering questions, helping us pull up different models and making suggestions until we found the model that was right for us.  He checked us out, set a time for installation and was engaged throughout the interaction.  Plus, the whole thing took less than 20 minutes.

All three of these companies spend a lot of advertising dollars to draw in people at a point of need. And while management may feel like "you just can't get good help" I would argue that in the first two experiences it was policy, that caused a fail rather than the people in play.  At Lowe's, what task had they given that employee that made him feel it was more important than a real customer? At Home Depot, why don't they simply have someone who answers phones? Why didn't they empower the scheduler to provide a time window for the install? At Sears, a second person would have been able to tend to us faster; and quite honestly, if there had been more customers, we might have gotten bored and left, but having a fairly simple checkout process helped things move.

Gallup reports that 70% of all employees are disengaged. Since no one starts a job where they plan to be mediocre, what is it about a company's structure that drains enthusiasm? No matter how good the website or how compelling the advertising, the actual experience is provided by people. Engagement matters.  And creating environments where people are able to stay engaged in their jobs? Well, perhaps that is worth more focused attention than advertising, websites, product choices or store layout.

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Maira Gall