Ralphs’ Store Manager Klaus Schmidt sensed a moment of customer service truth when he saw an elderly customer trembling as she attempted to decipher the store’s new fully automated scanning checkout system.
“She was in obvious distress, missing her friendly cashier and terrified by the gauntlet of technology checkout options,” recalls Schmidt. “On instinct, I took her aside and told her in a voice loud enough for others to hear that she was too slow and was no longer welcome at Ralphs.”
Seeing customers’ looks of disgust, fear and respect, Schmidt knew he was on to something. “People aren’t willing to drive an extra five minutes to the next grocery store. When you realize customers value convenience over self respect, anything is possible.”
Schmidt instituted customer rankings, checkout time limits, minimum purchase requirements and automated store ejections for dawdling. Each month he “fires” the poorest-performing 1 percent of customers. “Most of them are old and have degenerative diseases,” Schmidt says. “It’s their loss.”
Profits soar with poor customer service
While not many of Ralphs’ long-time customers are smiling these days, Schmidt and his corporate managers are. Profits are soaring, customer productivity is up, and younger, affluent customers unfamiliar with actual customer service are flocking to the store to test their extreme shopping skills.
Schmidt patrols the store, blowing a whistle and yelling like a drill instructor. “That makes the customers scan faster. If they complain I tell them to take it up with hippie cashiers down at Trader Joe’s. That keeps them in line.”