It pays to ask for assistance

This week, our columnist Claudette Sandecki talks about grocery shopping

For me, grocery shopping is the equivalent of volunteering as a mystery shopper without hiding my identity.

Chain stores hire mystery shoppers to spy on staff and report ways the store can improve service and thus sales.

If I encounter irritants while going about my regular shopping, I suggest things the store could do to make my and other customers’ shopping experience safer, more convenient and satisfactory.

“In a competitive marketplace where businesses compete for customers”, says Mystery Shoppers, Inc., “customer satisfaction is seen as a key differentiator and has become a key element of business strategy. Poor customer service affects your bottom line.”

As a regular customer of certain supermarkets, I offer whatever tips I can as they crop up. For instance, I wouldn’t fill a plastic bag with bulk nuts, then leave it sitting   in a corner of the shelf along with five abandoned bags because I couldn’t find a twister or a pen to write the bin number.

Nor would I walk away nut-less grumbling, “Now I have to make a special trip to the other supermarket for 42 cents worth of unsalted peanuts.” I understand supplies can run out. Few stores have staff to constantly check for swiftly moving products that need to be restocked. So I tell them.

When I couldn’t find a plastic bag in bulk nuts, I asked the nearby stock clerk to get some. He fetched a roll. Bag of peanuts and twister in hand, I couldn’t find a pen. I borrowed his.

Last week, shopping for eggs stocked six tiers front to back at eye-level, I had to stretch tippy-toe to tease a carton from way back.

Did I walk away and leave some shorter shopper to go without the eggs she had on her grocery list? No way.

And I don’t climb shelves like an employee. Instead I flagged a stock clerk zipping by and asked her to move cartons forward. She did.

Some problems require the manager’s attention. Such as the parking lot full of deep potholes so that leaving the lot required more steering  wheel dexterity and turning radius judgment than I possess.

The manager explained repairing the parking lot was on the local paver’s agenda but they were too busy to tend to it yet.

I had to believe him; the paver lives opposite me and his red truck was gone from dawn to dusk daily. Eventually the lot was beautifully paved.

Did my complaint hasten the repair? Probably not. But I felt relieved knowing my grievance had reached the highest authority.

Once I spoke to a manager about a public washroom latch that didn’t. Employees said it had been reported many times. But to whom? The manager moved pronto on my complaint. The lock was still meshing perfectly on my recent visit.

The only recalcitrant manager I’ve met resisted replacement of a parking lot exit stop sign, torn from its stanchion by a snowplow. Successive weekly nudges stirred him not at all.

Only an email to corporate headquarters got that sign replaced six months after my first complaint.

Mystery Shoppers Inc.’s website notes:

It costs approximately six times more money to attract new customers than it does to retain an existing customer.

Dissatisfied customers are likely to tell five to seven times as many people about their experience as satisfied customers.

For every customer who complains about a minor problem, fifty remain silent.

For a fee Mystery Shoppers Inc. assists stores in identifying what brings their customers back and what drives them away.

My similar service is free. Do stores view my suggestions in that light? Who knows?

Some might wish I’d shop elsewhere.