Canadians in No Mood to Wait Around

Discussion
Aug 27, 2008

By George Anderson

Our neighbors to the north have busy lives just as we do and they don’t have time to waste. They especially don’t have patience for somebody else wasting their time.

According to a new online poll of adults conducted by Maritz Research Canada, 86 percent of those responding reported on one or more occasions leaving a store, restaurant or other venue before conducting a transaction because of a long wait.

Department stores were the biggest losers in the poll as 78 percent said they walked away from a purchase rather than wait on a long line. Forty percent reported leaving grocery stores because of a long wait while 54 percent said they were inconvenienced by the time waiting on line at a convenience store – imagine that.

The amount of patience consumers have when it comes to waiting depends on location. For example, up to eight minutes waiting to check out at the supermarket is okay but 15 minutes tears it.

Those who were made to wait were much more likely to forgive a store if some recognition of the wait was acknowledged, followed by an apology.

Rob Daniel, president and managing director of Maritz Research Canada, told The Globe and Mail, that unhappy customers will take their business to competitors and also make their unhappiness known to family, friends, co-workers and others within earshot.

“Close to 70 per cent of customers surveyed told others about their negative experience and half of those polled noted that they had at some point posted a negative experience online,” according to Maritz.

Discussion Questions: How is it that with so much industry attention given to improving the speed of customer service there are so many examples of retailers failing in this area? What can retailers do to help mollify customers made angry by long waits in the store? Is there any way to bring them back once they’ve left a cart behind and walked out of a store?

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18 Comments on "Canadians in No Mood to Wait Around"


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Marc Gordon
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Marc Gordon
13 years 8 months ago

I blame management first and foremost for this. It is up to them to train the cashiers and make them appreciate the fact that they are the point of contact for the store. The fact is that, products and pricing aside, the cashier is the face of the store and has the greatest influence on the customer’s experience.

I wonder how these stats compare to similar studies done in the US. I have always believed that Americans have less patience regarding poor service than do Canadians.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
13 years 8 months ago

It continues to amaze me that the last impression retailers leave with their shoppers is a bad experience in long check out lines. This is where “retailtainment” has it’s greatest benefit for retailers to connect with their customers.

Store managers should walk the checkout area and thank shoppers for their business. How about a checkout concierge who will run to grab a last minute item that the shopper forgot? Maybe sample pastries or how about a hot chocolate on a cold day? Consider CNN or other news channels overhead to allow shoppers to view the latest news while waiting to check out. There are too many examples of creative “last impression” opportunities available for retailers and I remain astounded that with the overwhelming data from consumers about this issue, retailers simply continue to ignore the obvious.

Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
13 years 8 months ago

Good point about speed of service being a relative figure but unfortunately, none of this is surprising. Speed of service is easily measured in terms of its revenue impact, yet it is still seemingly easier to reduce staff coverage or costs.

It’s the customer, stupid?!?

People are willing to wait if they have to, but it takes store management being on the selling floor and paying attention.

And if you think these numbers are high…isn’t it higher south of the Canadian border?

Paul Waldron
Guest
Paul Waldron
13 years 8 months ago

Yes, I do believe there is a way to bring back customers who have walked out of the store. There has been so much emphasis on cutting expenses and increasing revenue, that the “personal” touch has been left behind in many cases. I worked the retail sales floor prior to consulting for 18 years (including Walmart) and can see first hand the degradation of service.

Customers are even being made to wait in line at the self checkout counters these days! Hire experienced employees, reward them for being friendly, efficient and courteous–charge a few cents more. When the customer feels he has value to you, then the customer will see value in frequenting your business.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
13 years 8 months ago

Too funny! Companies will spend a fortune on marketing, advertising, and the supply chain while getting the product to the store on the shelf and in the cart only to lose them that last leg of the cycle. Who’s to blame? Management and training, which goes hand in hand with another one of today’s columns, bankruptcy.

Many companies will train the cash register clerk on how to process, etc, but forget about the customer service aspect. Train on the impact of lost sales i.e.; lost bonus, etc.

It is very hard to bring someone back after you have made them mad enough to leave a full cart. A negative experience is hard to shake. Reminds me of Walt Disney’s famous saying about 100 happy customers not sharing their experience but one unhappy one tells everyone.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 8 months ago
It starts with staff on the floor becoming aware and empathetic to the customer’s frustration level. How many times have you stood in line while employees are talking and not ringing customers out. Yes, the employees could be talking about job related duties but as a customer, my perception is that they are not helping me and therefore they are not doing their jobs. Managers need to be more proactive when assessing labour during high traffic times. Backups should always be readily available and the manager or supervisor must be allowed to ‘hop on til’ if necessary. There are chains that do not allow management to go on cash which is mistake. At bare minimum, the cashiers should attempt to diffuse the line. Acknowledging frustration is a an excellent way to diffuse the line. The stores themselves should set up a customer-in-line policy where the cashier must call for backup when the line reaches a certain size. It is all about communication and resources and using them to your advantage to run a smooth front… Read more »
Kevin Graff
Guest
13 years 8 months ago

Dan got this comment stream started off on exactly the right foot. Living here in Canada, I can confirm that studies results, and having traveled around the globe I can also assure you this is not a uniquely Canadian challenge.

Wage costs have been trimmed so much on the front line that often staff and managers are caught in a no win situation. However, sometimes the leadership of the front line fails to provide enough direction, coaching and feedback to actually get results even when there is enough staff on the floor.

Here’s what we tell our clients: if you can’t fix this problem (c’mon, it’s not rocket science to solve this one), you probably aren’t going to be around for much longer.

Maybe a few more CEOs and VPs should spend a little more time in their own stores and live through what their customers are tolerating.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 8 months ago

Not to be an apologist here, but is this survey really proof of a problem: a person make hundreds of trips to stores/restaurants/banks etc. over the course of a year (or whatever period the study specified), is it really terrible if one or two of these visits went awry? I would think most stores–more sophisticated ones anyway–use queuing theory to determine staffing levels, but there’s simply no way–short of considerable redundancy–to avoid having waits in those odd situations where all fifteen people in the store decide to check-out at the same time.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
13 years 8 months ago

While the quality of transaction has definitely improved, getting to the point of transaction is a different matter! Companies have only paid attention to the transaction part of the customer service process. They have not paid attention to the entire process! When it comes to time, companies do not care because wasting customers’ time does not cost them anything, they think. It costs them dearly in terms of lost customers, however, the leadership is so short sighted it can not see that! This is because companies do not think from consumers’/customers’ points of view.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 8 months ago

My article that was posted yesterday talked about turnover vs. retention. Here we are talking about cutting cost vs. increasing sales. Change the mind set and you will change the result. All of the comments above gave some great ideas and reasons, all of which are valid.

I would only like to add two other points. In most cases it is not the front line employees’ fault that check out and service is bad. If you talk to most front line employees, they are very frustrated that they can not deliver better service. They also hate to wait in lines.

Second point is that retailers need to look at doing a better job of scheduling. With the use of automation, retailers should be able to help their managers, employees and customers by having the number of people they need on the floor when they need them.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
13 years 8 months ago

Hmmm…as the saying goes, time is money. Now that Canadian money is worth more (at least in US-centric terms!), their time must be worth more too. QED.

Mark Nanchy
Guest
Mark Nanchy
13 years 8 months ago

As we all seem to agree, poor customer experience leads to lost sales all over the globe. In the US, approximately 50% of shoppers kept waiting too long walk out.

However, we cannot pick on Canada too much as they face severe labor shortages in several provinces, particularly Alberta, where the oil industry is booming and paying much higher wages than what can be earned in a retail store. This hit overnight and if they were forced to match wages with the oil industry, there would be no more lines, because there would be no stores left standing. I am interested in where the samples for the online Maritz poll were located.

That said, we have seen retailers, such as Staples, experience very high levels of success implementing assisted service applications that allow them to remotely augment floor staff in labor-restricted stores with resources located in other provinces. Our question is why aren’t more Canadian retailers taking the same approach?

Ian Straus
Guest
Ian Straus
13 years 8 months ago

Canadians should not feel alone. We in the USA experience the same thing.

I’m often amazed that at the Walmart superstore near me, (which two or three years ago had its front rebuilt to house more cash registers), now and in the past few months at about 6PM weekdays and on Saturdays mid-day, the majority of those registers are unmanned. What were they thinking?

I shop there less because I don’t like to be annoyed by the wait. But I suppose Walmart is saving on its payroll.

Mark Patten
Guest
Mark Patten
13 years 8 months ago
It amazes me that for all the attention and money that is spent on marketing, inventory, store design and technology to get the product to the shelves that companies still completely ignore the customer service experience. If there is any way that a company can improve their bottom line cheaply and effectively it it through great customer experience. *Train* your front end staff to offer consistent authentic service to each and every customer (good lord get staff to say hi and thank you is a great start). *Reward* your staff for focusing on the customer and providing good service–Continuously reward and highlight staff that bring their game face every day. *Hire* enough good staff! Get creative, make sure the stores are staffed completely – that there are ways to handle sudden customer influxes. *Review* front end processes and cut out all all the unnecessary steps and futzing around with each transaction–make it smooth clean and swift. *Monitor* the lineups in your store (especially for superstores) If you install 8 self checkouts that doesn’t mean you… Read more »
Marge Laney
Guest
13 years 8 months ago

Right on Susan! One other thing… On the apparel retail front, I think the word “sell” needs to be removed from the four letter word list. Sales associates should be hired based on their ability to sell and should be rewarded for selling. Take a look at some of the retailers’ numbers whose salespeople are on commission and/or bonus structures. Funny how well they’re doing and how customer traffic is trending up. Give these salespeople the proper tools and the customer a way to access them and, bingo, you’ve got a winning service strategy.

Liz Crawford
Guest
13 years 8 months ago

Two Words: Self Checkout.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
13 years 8 months ago

Just Monday, we had a discussion thread here on retaining good front-end employees, and most of the comments centered around an utter lack of commitment at the highest executive levels to quality in-store customer service. This is the same issue, slightly shifted from inexperienced and untrained staff to not enough staff. For all of the emphasis on CRM and loyalty programs and customer-centric retailing, all most casual customer would need in order to become die-hard loyal customers is a little help when they come into the store and a lot of help getting back out quickly.

Ken Yee
Guest
Ken Yee
13 years 8 months ago
Long waits in checkouts are combo of many things. – Could be those lazy store workers are more content with gabbing with one another than opening up another checkout. – Could be management is too cheap to hire more workers. – Could simply be customers who load their carts to the brim, so they take forever. – Or those slow customers who nag about the receipt and take forever to get their money and coupons out of their purse, and those ones who (for some reason) are absolutely baffled about how to pay with plastic. In my experience, it’s usually lack of workers or slow customers that make the wait painful. I don’t find chatty workers or lazy workers standing around to be really the problem. Chatty ones can man the till just as well as a silent one most of the time. Every store I go to has a express check. Some have self-checkout. To really speed things up, have a cash only aisle and maybe an aisle purposely for “overflowing cart customers.”
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