Previously, new sales associates watched a 90-minute interactive video where they learned to smile, thank the customer, and "always say the word 'outstanding.'" Says Kristen Cox, group vp of selling effectiveness and store communications: "Customers were telling us, 'Stop saying everything is 'outstanding.'"
Now new hires attend a three-and-a-half-hour session and also get seasonal refresher courses and coaching from managers on the floor. They also receive weekly "scorecards."
While the program seems a bit skimpy compared to, for example, the 260 hours of formal training new employees of The Container Store receive during their first year, preliminary results are positive. Macy's made the biggest improvement among department stores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the fourth quarter of 2010, Dodes reports, with its scores rising 7%.
Walmart, meanwhile, is training its folks on the floor to "better police prices of local competitors," writes AP's Anne D'Innocenzio in a widely published piece about the retailer's breaking national ad campaign. It gets back to (cheap, cheap, cheap) brass tacks: "Low Prices. Every Day. On Everything."
"We have lost our customer confidence ... in having the lowest price," Wal-Mart chief merchandising officer Duncan Mac Naughton tells D'Innocenzio. "Our company is determined to create the best one-stop shopping experience and low prices on the right products backed by a clear, consistent ad match policy."
That means customers no longer need to show competitors' advertisements at checkout because the sales associates should already know about it. But they'll still have to ask for the deal.
NPR's Jacqueline French reported yesterday on Walmart's plans to build much smaller grocery stores and "express" marts to compete with dollar stores and drug stores. A Walmart spokesman says the new format will "feature an assortment of fresh food, dry grocery, consumables, health and beauty aids, over-the-counter medicines, and limited general merchandise."
A shopkeeper in Prairie Grove, Ark., tells French: "If the new pharmacy comes in, people will tend to go there because they're going to get their eggs and their bacon, and their lettuce, and their drugs."
But Mel Collier, who owns a chain pharmacy in the town, will battle back with ... you guessed it, customer service. "We offer the personal service, we have free delivery," he says. "We do the things that they're not going to do. We're going to have the personal patient interaction -- and it's just not something Walmart's known for."
Indeed, Drug Store News' Michael Johnsen reported last week that more than 90% of Consumer Reports readers are highly satisfied with their independent pharmacy experiences, as compared with experiences at stores operated by national chains.
Almost half of readers surveyed reported that the ability to get in and out quickly with medicine in hand was an important consideration when choosing a drug store. One in four mass-merchant shoppers complained of a long wait at the service counter, according the full report at ConsumerReportsHealth.org.
In analyzing the story in another piece, Johnsen writes that it's nothing new that "the little mom and pops do pharmacy better than the big chain stores do." What intrigues him is the positive vibes for independent operators such as the McKesson franchise group Health Mart, which has grown from 260 stores to more than 2,700 in five years.
"The group, led by president Tim Canning, has built a broad menu of tools, technology and clinically oriented health-and-wellness services for its customers, as well as a range of capabilities that give it some of the national branding, marketing and purchasing strength of a corporately owned pharmacy chain," he writes.
Perhaps the most positive news for the bricks-and-mortar stalwarts is a new study suggesting that a shopping trip a day may keep the doctor away. "Study Suggests 'Retail Therapy' Increases Longevity in People Over 65," reads the headline over Tim Locke's Web MD piece. Researchers in Taiwan studied 1,841 people aged 65 or over who lived independently at home and found, among other things, that when other factors were taken into account, daily shoppers were 27% less likely to die.
"Shopping captures several dimensions of personal wellbeing, health and security, as well as contributing to the community's cohesiveness and economy, and may represent or actually confer increased longevity," the authors conclude in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health online. I'm off to the mall.