Empowered to Do What? Customer Service Culture: You've Got to Be Kidding

by Sharmi Duncan

home depot badge.jpgI recently took a trip to my local Home Depot® to pick up supplies for a few small improvement projects. Visiting the paint, plumbing, gardening and electrical departments I easily found everything I was shopping for,  but along the way I picked up on some other items as well – my observations of Home Depot’s “Customer Service Culture.”

Arriving to the store at noon on a Sunday, I expected the place to be busy with shoppers just as the Wal-mart® and Whole Foods Market® were, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, the first thing I noticed was there were more employees standing around than people shopping. I suppose that’s good if you’re an employee. I mean, you are collecting a paycheck after all – something that more than 140,000[1] people in the St. Petersburg/Tampa metro area aren’t collecting today. I wondered – is this normal for a Sunday afternoon?   In the garden center huddled around the decorator planters, there were five employees chatting about nothing to do with work –weekend plans and something to do with trucks. While I didn’t need assistance, I was surprised that not a single one of them acknowledged my presence, let alone asked if they could help me find what I was looking for (a planter).  They were far too deep in their important conversation.

As I moved back inside to pick up a couple gallons of paint, I was warmly greeted by a young man who worked in the department. He asked me if he could help me find what I was looking for. And I replied, “how ya doing?”  He replied that he was hurting bad, suffering at work the "day after." Did I really need to know that he had partied last night and was hung over and suffering at work? Now, granted, I am a bit of a social butterfly and I’m young, so perhaps he felt comfortable speaking to me this way, but seriously, that’s not the type of conversation I’d expect from a store employee.

So I moved on. This was turning out to be an interesting trip to the Depot. Walking back to the electrical department I encountered the department team of five to seven men once again standing around. This time they were blocking this aisle and just chit-chatting like a group of old friends would do. The department manager did notice me enough to pause and say hello, but that was about it.  There was no work being done; no product being put away, no cleaning of the shelves, nothing. But these guys were getting their paycheck too.

When I finished shopping, I made my way to the front of the store to check out, reflecting on the customer service I'd received throughout my visit. Home Depot loves to talk about their customer service focus. Blah, blah, blah. But what does that really mean? That’s when it all became clear. Here’s the sign that sits in front of the customer service desk:

home depot sign.jpg"Empowered to be friendly and helpful, empowered to leave a task and help a customer. Empowered to walk a customer to a product and not point." What a joke!

The fact that an employee must be empowered to provide the most basic of customer service is absolutely asinine.

Culture isn’t something you practice; it is in inherent in everything you do. And on this day it was anything but a “Customer Service Culture.”

It’s not their culture. It's a sign at the front of the store.

Here’s a tip, Home Depot. Take a look at Zappos™ Family Core Values. In fact, take a look at the Family Core Value #1 and get a clue what a customer service culture is really about.

As I checked out, the zombie associate that rang me up was sure to circle her name and advise me that I could do an online survey. I think I will....

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