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  • Writer's pictureKara Holm

Specialization: they call me the milk guy.

I have been to three different Atlantic Superstore locations in the last week looking for our favourite ice cream, which is out of stock everywhere, and I fear has been discontinued. (For those with inquiring minds I recommend “PC Creamfirst Dulce de Leche Ice Cream”, if you can get it.)

During my most recent attempt, I spotted a young man, wearing a Superstore shirt, stocking milk. “What luck”, I thought, “someone from the dairy department. He can tell me what has happened to my ice cream.”

When asked if the product would be returning, he said: “Sorry, I don’t know. They call me the milk guy.”

Although we encounter them all the time in our personal lives and through our consulting practice, employees with tunnel vision never cease to amaze me.

Let me state for the record that, in principle, I believe that the economy is about specialization. We need specialists – subject matter experts – to provide both insight and service. I would not try to fix a sink, or build a fence, or complete a tax return, represent myself in court, or diagnose a medical condition. It is important to hire people internally and as consultants that can take on specific tasks and then assign those people clearly defined responsibilities.

However valuable specialization can be, people at all levels of an organization must understand how their responsibilities connect with other parts of the business. Context is critical. Another important point is that every employee, from the CEO to the person who sorts the mail, has “other duties” that are more general in nature. I would argue that being customer-centric should be essential to every single employee’s understanding of his or her role in the organization.

This is what I found so astounding about the Superstore employee who proudly told me he’s the “Milk Guy.” His responsibilities bring him to the floor of the store where he will, inevitably, come into contact with customers. Therefore, something in his job description working for the Superstore should indicate that when customer interaction is a possibility employees must:

  • Know how to engage with customers, and

  • Have a general overview of the business – in this example, what products are carried, where they’re located and, most importantly, what to do or whom to reach out to when the employee does not have the answer to a question posed by a customer.

This last point is key. I would have been happy to hear:

“Sorry, I don’t know. They call me the milk guy. Let me find someone who can answer your question.”

Or, imagine if he said:

"There is a production problem with that product, I'm sorry to say. We hope to have it back in stock soon. Have you tried the Häagen-Dazs Dulce De Leche?"

In this fictional scenario the Milk Guy would have succeeded in selling me a more expensive product. And – significantly – I would have felt good about spending the money, because he was responding to a need I identified as a customer. 

It seems like such a simple and obvious leap, still (inexplicably to my mind) many employers overlook the need to train employees to be service-oriented. I suspect the Atlantic Superstore does not have service standards for customer interactions with various product line departmental employees, but there are service standards on display at the check outs.

  • “Do you have a PC Plus Card?”

  • “Did you find everything you were looking for today?”

  • “Would you like to make a donation to the PC Children’s Charities?”

Fewer businesses train their employees to be both customer oriented and revenue focused.

Continuing with the Superstore case, this failure to engage every team member with customer service means they’re not maximizing investments made in other parts of the business such as the loyalty program and missing opportunities to make sales.

Which brings me to our advice for today:

Training: It is important to train all your employees – even if customer service is not their primary function – to interact with customers. Knowing how to respond to people’s requests or inquiries is not intuitive or universal. Nor is understanding that making eye contact with people and showing interest makes customers feel valued. Help your employees understand how they can contribute to the success of your business by taking a role in creating a customer experience and thinking about revenue.

Service Standards: Employees should know what’s expected of them. It takes the guess work out of their day and helps them be more effective. Service standards need to be monitored and reinforced to stay relevant and top of mind for employees. In my experience as a customer, it is obvious when businesses have service standards, and I appreciate it.

By taking these simple, but often overlooked steps, you are showing your business’s commitment to earning and keeping your customers’ loyalty. You are also retaining and growing your revenue. Which is something every business should think about every day.


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