I had an interesting shopping experience today, and I knew in the midst of it that it would turn into a blog post.  It was a great example of why certain retailers are where they are in the customer experience rankings.

It’s a bit of a story, so grab a cup of coffee and join me on this journey!

I’ll start by saying that I don’t often, nay, ever shop at Kmart, but I wanted to buy an air hockey table for my kids for Christmas, and I stumbled upon a pretty good deal (with great product reviews) on a table that was sold at Kmart. My attention was drawn to this one by, who is awesome at leaking all of the Black Friday ads before next Friday; the table is on sale for $99 on Thanksgiving Day.  Well, the chance of me going to Kmart is zero (see previous comment), and even less likely on Thanksgiving Day! So I figured I’d just order the table online and have it shipped, until I discovered that it would cost $90 for shipping!  OK, on to Plan B, which was to go to the closest Kmart (20 miles away) and just buy it there. And this is where the fun really starts.

I arrive at Kmart and go to where the table should be, but it’s not there, even though their website indicated this morning that they had four in stock.  I wander around for several minutes trying to find someone to help me and finally do, but she doesn’t know Sporting Goods and needs to find someone else.  She comes back with the store manager! Cool. Now we’re getting somewhere!

And this is where things start to go downhill.

The store manager tells me that he had two in stock (recall the website said “four”); he just put one on layaway for someone, but there might be one over in the Gardening area, where they keep all the oversized items. Bottom line: I’m supposed to go to the opposite end of the store to figure out if there’s one there, but hey, if it’s there, he wants it (so he says to me, half joking).

Customer Service Tip #1: Walk your customers to where the product is.  Find it for them. Don’t make them do the work. Help your customers.  SERVICE your customers!

OK.  So I wander off to the other side of the store, fully expecting that there would be someone in Gardening who could help me.  I enter the Gardening area, and it’s like a desert wasteland… not a soul in sight.  But, I do see the floor model of the air hockey table and have hopes of finding one in a box that I can buy.  Voila!  I do find one.  AND, it is marked on sale for $99! Woohoo!  Jackpot!  I would get the Thanksgiving Day price after all, until I noticed the fine print, which indicated that the item was on sale for that price last week.  (More on that in a minute.)  Knowing the thing weighs 70lbs and will not fit into a shopping cart, I head back to the other end of the store to find someone who can bring a flatbed cart to transport the thing to my car.  One of the cashiers says she’ll send someone to Gardening with a flatbed, and I happily return to Gardening to wait for said individual and cart.  And wait.  Five minutes later, I hear the cashier page for “any available associate to Gardening to help customer.”  Nothing.  I look around and see this “call for service” button and push it. Five minutes later, I here, “Nick to Gardening to help a customer.” I wait five more minutes.  I push the button again.

Customer Service Tip #2: Performance – Expectations = Satisfaction. If you’re going to offer a “call for service” button and set that expectation, then you need to be prepared to act on it! Oh, and clean the thing, too. It’s nasty.

Finally, 20 minutes after I entered the Gardening department, three employees who probably had no idea that I was waiting for someone to help me, wandered into the area. The name tag for one of them read ASM (Assistant Store Manager); I didn’t catch what was on the name tags for the other two.  One of them immediately asked if I needed help and apologized profusely for my wait.

Customer Service Tip #3: A sincere apology will always help to diffuse the situation and calm the agitated customer.

Customer Service Tip #4:  Expediting the process from this point on will also help to ensure the experience ends positively.

I appreciated the apology and the initiative that all three of them took to help me immediately. Within five more minutes, I paid for the table and was out of the store!  But before we get to that point, there were a couple more things.

Recall that there was a $99 sale sticker on the box. When we got to the cash register, of course, the table did not ring up at $99, but they did honor the price.  Yay!

Customer Service Tip #5:  If you have the wrong price on your product, that is not the customer’s problem.  You must honor it.

The cashier gives me the final price, and I try to swipe my credit card in the card reader but can’t proceed until I take a survey! I must first answer my likelihood to recommend Kmart before I can complete the transaction. Are you kidding me?

I get it. I’m in the industry. You want to collect data from every customer, but let’s think about why you are asking LTR at this moment. Is it really meaningful? NO. Is it just a number at this point? YES. Will you capture any meaningful information about why I was not likely to recommend? NO. Will you slow down MY transaction as well as that of anyone who is waiting in line behind me? YES.

Customer Service Tip #6:  Don’t ask LTR before a transaction is complete, i.e., at the credit card terminal. It’s not meaningful. It’s just a number. And that means that Kmart focuses on the number and not on the customer. And honestly, that (i.e., not focused on customer) was extremely apparent throughout most of this experience.

Kmart, I appreciate that some of your employees were doing their best to make this a great experience for me. The recovery was good. Two of the employees even loaded the table into my car for me. But it didn’t really change my opinion about Kmart, unfortunately.

How likely am I to shop at Kmart again? It’s still “Highly Unlikely.” If this blog post ends up in the hands of someone at Kmart who cares about the customer experience, they’ll know my score (even though I canceled out of the survey)… and why!

P.S. When I got home, I did take the online survey that was on their receipt ( Like their customer service, it too needs a good overhaul.