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The Quest for Mulch: Train Your Staff to Be Helpful

Suzi Shopper: Thoughts on business from a consumer’s perspective

I’m on a quest to find mulch – dark brown in color, and not pine bark. Bark is what is in the bed now, and it just floats away every time it rains.

There is a local nursery, and I love shopping with local businesses, so I gave them a call to find out if they have what I’m looking for. The conversation went something like this…

Me: “I’m looking for mulch, hardwood or cypress, dark brown in color.”

Nursery worker: “We have the light brown cypress mulch.”

Me: “No…I need dark brown to blend in with the mulch that’s already in the bed.”

Nursery worker: “We have pine bark mulch.”

Me: “No, that’s what’s in there now, and it washes away when it rains. I’m looking for hardwood, or whatever you can suggest that doesn’t float like pine bark.”

Nursery worker: “Well, it’s not guaranteed to not float.”

Me: “Never mind.” Click.

What I really I felt like saying was, “Lady, my brick house would float if you dumped enough water on it.” Who said anything about a guarantee? I was looking for advice, a suggestion…any option that would fit my need. And what did I get from this person I presumed had a basic understanding of nursery supplies since she works at a nursery? I got nothing. So, back to the internet I went. It turns out the big box home improvement store had what I was looking for – and they had it in stock (so much for supporting local businesses). I decided to order it online and pick up in the store, remembering I had a coupon I’d received in the mail. BUT, there was no ‘coupon code’ on the card, so I was unable to complete the transaction online. No problem though; they had the mulch I was seeking in stock, I had to drive to pick it up, anyway.

So, I when I got there, I grabbed a few other items and headed to the garden area. I didn’t see my mulch anywhere. Nor did I see a brightly colored vest to assist. So, off to the register I went. I told the young man there what I came for. First, I got a blank stare. I repeated the product as it is listed on the company’s website: “hardwood mulch – dark brown”. The response: Just, “Uh, I don’t know what that is.” Not even a “Let me find out for you.” Frustrated and ready to get on with my day, I left all the goods I’d planned to purchase with him and headed home…mulchless and dreading the next cloudburst (and since I live in Florida, that would probably occur in the next 37 minutes).

So, what’s the point of my story (other than apparently finding dark brown hardwood mulch more difficult than you would think)? I think what I’m trying to get across is that we need to do a better job of training our employees not just to try to make a sale, but to listen, to make their number one focus to be helpful, which means knowing your products and services, and yes, even referring to a competitor if they have what we do not. This sounds very Miracle on 34th Street-ish, but trust me…I’ve had this happen before and been so impressed that I did go back to the company that referred me to their competitor. Give them “scripts”—if that’s what it takes—for different scenarios. If they’ve never heard of dark brown hardwood mulch, the automatic answer should be, “Let me see if I can find out if we have that in stock.” That’s soooo much better than, “Uh…”

What do you do to ensure your employees focus on customer satisfaction? I look forward to hearing about what you do!