The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Moving Past the World of ‘Not Exactly’

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Originally run September 25, 2007

A well-known rental car company’s commercials in the early 2000’s always mocked the competition’s service levels by showing a humorous (but sour) rental situation and then saying “Not Exactly. ” For example, it’s a rainy day, and two business travelers are heading from the airport terminal to pick up their car. One of the travelers expects to be sheltered from the rain while they walk from the bus to the car…his companion (who rented the car) says “Not exactly. ” And the travelers find themselves soaking wet, walking through an open lot looking for their vehicle.

Lately, that’s become our experience with customer service in general… “not exactly. ”

Performance Management: Inspecting the Expected

We don’t think retailers are being disingenuous when they say they strive for customer-centricity. In fact, we know there are customer service initiatives underway at many retailers both large and small. We do think retailers have a hard time measuring both compliance with and effectiveness of these initiatives. True performance management shouldn’t be hard to come by, but it seems elusive. The variety and methods of technology to measure actual in-store performance are broad and deep: from business intelligence, to task management, to digital video surveillance, retailers have more ability to inspect what they expect. But do they?


A couple of days ago, I went shopping for a new office chair. I found one and was ready to buy, bar-code slip in hand, waiting at the cash wrap. I noticed a printed label on the cashier-facing side of the register that said “Smile! ” I thought it was an idiosyncrasy (a particularly sunny cashier), but I went to another register and there was the same label, ” Smile! ” I was witnessing either a store management or corporate customer-centricity initiative.

Was the cashier smiling? Not exactly. She took the slip, gave it to a stock boy and walked away so she wouldn’t have to interact with me while we waited for the chair to arrive. When the chair came back, she returned, scanned the item, and quietly muttered “Would you like some help taking that outside? ” I said “Actually, I would. ” Too late. She was on to something else. Did she really offer me help? Not exactly. Now this is a small thing – a customer-centric initiative that was failing. But this same surly cashier had another “not exactly ” moment – that was much greater cause for alarm.

The first “smile register ” cashier was checking out a customer and needed 5 singles so she could give him change. She asked “my ” cashier if she’d bring her 5 singles so she could finish the sale. My cashier ignored her, much as she’d ignored my request for assistance. I watched cashier #1 try to figure out what to do. The register drawer was already open. The sale was half-consummated. She couldn’t close the drawer, but she couldn’t finish the sale. She spent about 3 minutes trying to figure out how to get the drawer almost closed, and finally butted the handheld checkout scanner next to the drawer and walked across the floor. I looked at the other customer, and we shook our heads. Nodding toward the wide open cash drawer I asked him “Want to go to Bermuda? ” We laughed…we were both honest, and she returned with her 5 singles and he went on his way.

A Digital Video Surveillance Moment

What we have here are examples of performance management opportunities. The lack of a smile might not have triggered the business intelligence engine of a Digital Video Surveillance system, but the open cash drawer certainly would have. If, in fact, the “Smile ” initiative had been a corporate mandate, at least the cameras might have seen that labels had been affixed to the registers. Even if video cameras couldn’t see the register, the managers could have been required to confirm placement of the labels through a task management system.

The smile issue was small but irritating. The open cash drawer was stunning. Loss Prevention remains an intractable problem….and for the most part retailers have the tools available to manage it. Eighty-two percent of the first 55 respondents to our Loss Prevention survey said they use video surveillance to manage this problem at least some of the time. Are they using this technology to its full benefit? What can we say? Yup – “Not exactly. ”

What’s your “Not Exactly” story?


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