For the past five years I’ve been living a double life. In addition to working on my IT consulting and computer support business, I’ve also worked for Trader Joe’s as a Merchant (which is sort of like being a pirate ship-themed assistant store manager who delivers “WOW Customer Experience”).
Recently, I decided to quit my “day” job at TJ’s to pursue an IT career full time. It was a tough decision that I’d been debating for a long, long time, but finally I took the plunge.
Now at this point, most readers are probably full of questions such as “Why on Earth would you leave such an awesome job with full benefits, people you love, and great food?” or “How can I get some of those cool Hawaiian shirts?”
Some readers may even be wondering, “What the heck is ‘WOW Customer Experience’?”
But more on that later. First, I’d like to take this unique opportunity to expose some of my former employer’s most closely-guarded secrets…
Trader Joe’s had an internal “company bulletin” that was distributed to stores every week via e-mail. The Bulletin contained information on yummy new products, warehouse inventory updates, and new store openings.
Because some pages contained sensitive information that we didn’t want competing grocery chains to see, the Bulletin was labeled “confidential”. But the most important pages of the Bulletin were not, in fact, filled with confidential lists of product updates: they were filled with customer stories.
Every week, the CEO of the company would begin the Bulletin by relaying feel-good stories from real customers about their experiences shopping at Trader Joe’s. Sometimes there would be a story of a physically disabled customer who wrote about a TJ’s employee (also known as a “Crew member”) who went the extra mile to help them to their car. Other times, an impressed customer would recount a difficult situation where the TJ’s Crew was able to turn a potentially negative customer experience into a positive one.
The Bulletin also featured congratulations to Crew members who were recently promoted, and included a list of Crew members who were celebrating 1, 3, 5, 10, and even 15 year anniversaries with the company.
The WOW Customer Experience
Overall, the Bulletin reminded us of the importance of the customer-Crew relationship. And although I think that many of my co-workers found the Bulletin stories to be a little cheesy, in my opinion the stories really underlined the company’s commitment to it’s Crewmembers, and to customer service.
Maybe it’s just because I had been indoctrinated in the company culture since the tender age of 18, or because it was in my job description as a Merchant to “set the standards for a WOW Customer Experience“, but I really believed in those standards – and I didn’t think that the Bulletin stories were cheesy at all.
As a Merchant, the standards of WOW pervaded my daily work life. Whether I was struggling to “WOW” a frustrated customer, discussing WOW with my boss during a performance review, or talking with new Crew members about the merits of “real” vs. “perceived” customer experiences, developing those customer-crew relationships was my job. Keeping a positive attitude and helping people with effective listening and communication was a skill set that Trader Joe’s required in it’s staff – and it was constantly being tested and refined.
It’s the secret sauce of the company, and a big contributor to it’s overall success.
Bringing the WOW Customer Experience to IT
When I started a business helping people with technology in 2010, I felt pretty good about applying the skills I’d learned at TJ’s to the world of tech support. After all, I reasoned, a big part of doing tech support must involve listening to users describe their issues, explaining a solution in clear language, and then following through with that solution.
Which is basically the same as selling groceries, right?
Fast forward five years, and Silverleaf is now providing tech support and IT consulting services for over 400 home and business clients. My experience over the past five years has taught me quite a bit, but it has also helped reinforce three core beliefs that I’ve held since the business started:
- To succeed in a service-based business, customer service skills are essential.
- There is a real demand for customer service skills in the computer support business.
- Generally speaking, “computer guys” are not known for having exceptional customer service skills.
The first two points probably don’t require much explanation: there’s ALWAYS a demand for companies that can deliver great customer service, regardless of whether the company is selling a product or a service.
I think that the third point deserves a closer look, however. With technology being so widespread, I bet that most readers have probably met at least a few computer pros who lack “people skills”, but who are otherwise quite skilled and technically proficient. Even worse, some of us may have encountered a computer “pro” who had terrible communication, who came across as arrogant and/or rude, and who was down right difficult to work with!
The questions that may immediately come to mind: “Why are some IT pros perceived this way?”, “How do these perceptions affect the customer experience?”, and “What can we do to change these potentially negative perceptions/stereotypes?”. Trying to answer those questions has consumed a large part of my free time over the past few years, and would probably require a separate blog post.
Luckily, you can read all about those musings in the follow up to this post: Bringing the WOW Customer Experience to IT (Part 2). (coming soon)