Holidays between Christmas and New Year, in 2 ski stations in France.
Who has never get nervous in a ski rental shop, stressed out by waiting and impatience… and has ended up picking on his own kids ?
For once, in order to seek a better snow, my family and I have been skiing in 2 different resorts and have rented the material in 2 different sport shops, on a daily basis. Both shops are 40 kilometers away from each other. One, with a dozen employees, belongs to a renowned sports network, organized into independent group. The other one is an independent family business in which father, son and uncle are working. To facilitate the understanding, the shops will be respectively called shop 1 and shop 2.
Indeed, what is the mood of an holidaymaker entering a rental shop ? After 8 hours driving and an increasing impatience, urban families are lining up to rent skis, poles, helmets…and ski passes. The main emotion we have at this moment is nervousness. We want to be as soon as possible at the top of the slopes, enjoying skiing. This nervousness is contagious between the clients. How can the store manage that emotion and convert it into the most pleasant customer experience possible ?
- Reception : in the shop 1, the welcome is smiling, pleasant, efficient and quick. We can hear “Hello” as soon as we enter the shop. A cashier requests a credit card and, within few seconds, she registers it. Business processes are designed to facilitate the customers flows with a personalized welcome. The sellers are even using a respectful familiarity in the Apple style using “tu” and not “vous” that makes you feel in the skiing mood, even for 40 or 50 years old fathers (“with those skis, you’ll make the most of the skiing pleasure!”). And it makes the experience downright pleasant. In the shop 2, it is a mess. The customer spends at least 5 minutes lining up in the queue without being greeted. The staff is trying to be friendly but is overwhelmed, because of the non-organised flows.
- Technology : the shop 1 has a scanner gun which allows to record the whole order within few seconds (skis, boots, sticks, helmets…). The other shop is writing each reference (DX49, TZ32…) on the purchase order. The staff is trying to note it as quickly as possible but it takes at leat 30 seconds, moreover it is subject to errors. The U-shaped counter forces the son to find a way through the crowd of customers to return the purchase orders to his father.
- Prices : The prices of shop 1 are 25% higher than shop 2. In winter sport, everything is expensive. But is this huge prices difference justified by a truly superior customer experience ? We will see further on than in this case, it is !
- Ski passes : another frustration and queues’ cause. Sometimes, Mr. queued in the store while Madam queued in ski passes’ counters. In shop 2 area, you can rent the material in the store only after queuing for 45 minutes at the station’s counter. The shop 1 is equipped with terminals on the counter, delivering passes and recognizing customers’ identity days after days, years after years. This is time saving and it makes the customers grateful. We are in the omnichannel.
- Competition : Data acquisition enabled shop 1 to collect 2 informations on their customers of the day : we are coming from a competing station and we rent for the day. It’s the war between the competitors. Employees commune with this spirit : Pauline noted that “the total amount includes a 20% discount to invite us to come back!” not only in the store but also in the station. Naturally, the shop 2 doesn’t know who we are. In shop 1, employees are provided with the tools to enter one-to-one relationship with each customer, and to actively make them loyal with, I guess, the support from the resort (the discount is probably shared between the shops and the resort). This whole story is to issue therefore not only the customer experience, but also customer loyalty and maximizing results.
- Complementary sale : in both stores, the helmet rental is 3 euros per day. It is an easy-to-suggest complementary sale : you only need to remind parents the spared accidents thanks to helmets rates. However, none of the two shops offers it to us, I had to ask for it. 3 euros multiplied by 5, it’s still 15 euros. Are the shops really looking for the extra revenue, cross selling ? Even worse : in shop 2, when we gave back the materials and went to pay, the seller thanked us as if he was apologizing for the service, and made it for free. That’s nice, but…what about his profitability ? Shop 1 made us normally pay. They are waiting for customers during 8 months, eyes on the weather and snowfall, and when customers are finally arriving, they do not maximize the profitability of its average basket. What a poor business efficiency (in that respect)!
- Material return : around 5 p.m. the manager of shop 1 welcomed us smiling a few meters front his shop entrance “Is it a material return ? Pauline will welcome you.” Indeed, Pauline welcomed us, with a big smile “How was your day, guys ?”. Pauline scanned one of my skis and told me : “Benoit, Antoine will take your material.” She called me by my name, and then she called my children by their names, seeing it on her screen. It was really great ! Their customers seduction and loyalty operation was a success! In shop 2, material return showed once again the shop as a mess, with a misshapen queue. “Who is here to return the material ?” screamed one of the sellers, “Me!” I said. I was quite surprised to see that I was the only one, and thus I was able to pass the whole queue.
This experience was a great demonstration of the technology incorporation in customer reception, and above all, of coaching and staff motivation, in order to spread a positive and contagious mood to the customers. Pauline, Antoine and Julien were simply excellent. The manager has established processes and smart flows, and has successfully coached his team for this winter season. But a season lasts only four months. How can we successfully coach, on a daily basis, to maintain business efficiency and staff motivation ? Those were “connected sales people”; not had they technology, but the sales choreography was nicely deployed including it.
Even if shop 2 sellers were friendly, they were completely overwhelmed.
This positive mood spread applies to the stores employees, but also to the ski resort staff : Even if it was succinct, I’ve talked with 2 employees at the lifts area, asking them how they were going. The first one said “I am cold, some sun could be very nice”, and the other one, a woman, replied “Very good ! Our teams made an excellent job to keep the ski resort open although it was snowing only once this year, one month ago!” Positive team spirit and positive psychology are things that make customers enjoy their experience and get caught up by this caring and positive atmosphere.
But above all, excellent customers experience should start with smart managers : the ski resort, being closed on Monday, were overwhelmed at 9h30 by customers requiring the reimbursement of their ski passes. The cashier was doing her best to explain that she had to wait for her manager’s permission to refund everyone. Good mood can work wonders, but it is not enough to excel in customer experience.