business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails yesterday about Michael Sansolo's column focusing on the importance of great employees, using as an example how easy it is to tell at places like PetSmart which workers like pets and which ones don't.

MNB reader John Rand:

Love the point of this – that human connections are a critical part of good retail (and, at bottom, almost everything else), that we should train front line people (in particular) to show a little engagement – hard to argue with that.

But I will add two points.

One is that this is a hiring factor – it is not all that hard to see some difference in social skills and look for a certain kind of personality when hiring and interviewing. Interviewing is a skill. Not sure but I probably personally hired something over 1000 people face-to-face over the years.  Some people just easily demonstrate their engagement with other people, clearly enjoy it, create energy. Others would just as soon work with objects or numbers or systems. Right person, right job is still a useful thing to consider. It is easier to train someone who wants to do what they will be doing.

Second point is the other end of the interaction. We as customers need to show a little engagement and “humanity” if we expect to get some back. (I hesitate on the “humanity” since dogs do this better than we do but still…) I make a point of not using routine formula phrases in most interactions. When someone asks at the register. “Did you find everything?” I have a variety of answers but none of them will be a simple “yes”.  Some of my answers might be whimsical: “Yes, I found everything but the cart won’t hold it all; No, I didn’t find the dinosaur exhibit”, things like that. Surprise the cashier or the restaurant server and a good deal of the time the wrapper comes off the conversation and suddenly we are people helping one another to get through the day, not cogs in a machine.

If we all were as lovable as those dogs appear to be, we wouldn’t have to wait for the other person to react.

MNB reader Warren Solochek wrote:

Having been a dog owner for many years, I can totally relate to Michael’s comments. Anyplace I go with my dog, never a grocery store, she is a welcome visitor. My dog is well behaved and never makes a mess in the store. She is often rewarded with a treat when we leave. And, I have noticed, she acts as a therapy dog for men and kids who enjoy petting her more than shopping.

But the key is, I will always return to that establishment because of the way they treat my dog. Not as a nuisance, but as a well behaved shopper which connected to somebody with credit cards willing to make a purchase in that store. If store employees treat my dog, or me, poorly, I will never return. Too many other choices to use.Why waste my time dealing with somebody who does seem to care about their customer(s).

Regarding the story about how many people would prefer the gift of an experience this holiday season as opposed to the gift of more "stuff," MNB reader Jackie Lembke wrote:

For Christmas this year we were given dinner out and a concert. Loved the experience and it was perfect because we don't need stuff. Even when we needed stuff, an experience that we couldn't have afforded would have been appreciated because although we might have wanted the experience, food, clothes and a roof over our head was a priority at that time. I think you are correct, the preference is probably dependent on the current situation and who you are asking.

I did an Eye-Opener yesterday about the controversial Peloton commercial, and said that I was gobsmacked by the contretemps, and liked the follow-up commercial from Ryan Reynolds for Aviation gin, which he produced, I said, with a kind of alacrity lacking in Peloton's response.

You can read the piece and see the commercials here.

Lots of email on this one.

MNB reader Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

I remember seeing the commercial before hearing about the brouhaha around it and disliking it intensely. I didn’t think too deeply about it, but I know it pushed a few buttons for me. But I’m not their target market as I would never spend this much on something like this, so I moved on.

So when I read about the reactions, I wasn’t surprised. Then I looked at it more closely with my marketing eye and thought, “How in the hell did this seem like a good idea?!” Some ad executive pushed this through even though it probably tested poorly. It’s pretty sexist but ultimately lame. And frankly, the whole ad is basically a short Black Mirror episode - creepy.

So yeah, there is a problem with it.

One MNB reader wrote:

I didn’t find it offensive whatsoever!!!! I watched it and was waiting for the part where everyone was offended and it never happened.

The follow up commercial was hysterical.

MNB reader Alan Finta wrote:

Agreed with your thought process around the original ad.  I love the follow up commercial for Aviation gin…you think it’s over (and already funny) then the product shot and “You look great by the way.”  Perfect.
P.S.  “Alacrity” will be my word of the day…thanks for that…

From another reader:

I had heard there was some blow back on this commercial, I didn't understand it. I am with your wife, if my husband wants to buy this I wouldn't be offended (I would wonder where he got the money). I didn't find it the most compelling commercial, nor do I find it the most offensive commercial I have seen. It seems we are easily offended these days. I made the assumption the gift was requested so she got what she wanted. She wasn't offended why would I be?

And finally, this email from MNB reader John Lemass, which touched me:

I felt compelled to email you having just read your piece endorsing Feargal Quinn’s book "Crowning the Customer,"  which I too enjoyed  &  like you  I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Feargal after admiring him from a distance for many years doing business with Superquinn & the buying team & visiting + supplying his stores.

Having always been an admirer of Feargal,  I then had the pleasure of meeting him + spending time with him when he agreed to meet me in a Superquinn store & gave me 45 minutes of his precious time and allowed me use his name to endorse a Marketing Dissertation I had completed in 1995,  which I based on the Superquinn Rewards Club he had just launched.

Like a lot of other firsts, he was the first to launch a Retail Rewards Scheme for customers in Ireland.  His competitors followed suit afterwards with their own schemes.

He was a wonderful man & a great role model for us all – I will always remember him as a very shrewd & clever businessman , but also a gentleman , which is a difficult balancing act.

His timing was impeccable too & I was delighted that he got well paid for his business , when he sold out just before the economic crash hit the world & Ireland suffered badly – had he waited 6 months or so  he may not have got to sell on his business at all.

I could go on but I think we will both always hold him in high esteem, as will many others from far & wide who got to know him over his many years in business.

John, I appreciate your recollections. As I said last week, Feargal was a major factor in the shaping of my feelings and opinions about business … and a wonderful example of how to be a grand human being.

KC's View: