Friday, December 1, 2006

Coworkers: Part 49 - GUEST

   Blockbuster honchos began devising new stunts to lure reluctant shoppers back into their music division. Bosses were genuinely startled by the eroding foot traffic. In the video realm, they had enjoyed a de facto monopoly. Music retail, on the other hand, was fiercely competitive. As our store knew, all too well, even booksellers had entered a crowded market. There were many mall chains, mom 'n pop shops, big box stores like ours, mail order clubs, and Wal Mart.
   Many long time Regulars quit shopping because they simply disliked Blockbuster. Their corporate arrogance coupled with their routine censorship alienated many. Blockbuster launched a predictable strategy to get folks, and their wallets, back into their stores.
   Stage One: Advertise. Catch phrase, The Power To Hear It All. Every week, there were glossy TV commercials of happy listeners previewing any CD they wanted at those newfangled Listening Centers at their nearby Blockbuster Music. This was partially successful. We did enjoy new customers. Only they didn't stay. Nine times out of ten, they asked to hear a CD then either didn't like it, or had to think about it. Meaning, they went elsewhere to buy. Tellingly enough, the commercials were all video based. There was nothing created for the radio market. Which was where music was broadcast.
   Stage Two: Bribery. Bonus Boxes. With any purchase, customers received a bonus box with goodies inside. Three fun sized candy bars, pack of microwave popcorn, and a stuffed doll. There was an ongoing fad for Beanie Baby dolls. I personally knew -- I had friends, actual friends, who based their retirement strategy on building a Beanie Baby collection. Future was mapped out brighter than the sun. A couple of thousand dollars invested in "highly collectible" dolls, would steeply increase in value until the lucky owners could buy Manhattan.
   I confided to my friends, that for the price of a CD single, they could get a bonus box with dollie.
   Then I was dismissively told, ours were not genuine Beanie Babies. Ours were Coca Cola dollies. How fussy. Still, we gave away thousands of bonus boxes, several missing the microwave popcorn that mysteriously exploded in our Backroom. How many of those new visitors who walked out with bonus boxes became steady Regulars?
   How many fingers do you have on one hand?
   Subtract four.
   Stage Three: Indoctrination. Also known as employee motivation. Or simply, GUEST.
   The GUEST system had been used in restaurants for years. This was customer service shorthand. Greet (the client) - Understand (what they want) - Explain or Explore (what they want instead) - Suggest (additional purchases) - Thank them.
   Blockbuster sent us peppy, snazzy videos to watch.
   "Hello, madam, how are you today?" asked a perky male employee.
   "Thank you so much for asking!" replied the 30'ish lady customer.
   "How can I help you today?"
   "I came in to buy a Barney video for my youngest,"
she said.
   "We have a full line of Barney," explained the employee. "This one is my favorite," and he placed the video in the customer's hand.
   "Oh, you're so helpful. I love shopping here," gushed satisfied client.
   "While you're here, if you have other children, you might want to get something for them as well. Preempt arguments," suggested the clerk.
   "You're right! I better get some videos for the boys as well."
   "How about these two action films,"
clerk placed two more videos in customer's hands. "Very popular. With plots that offer lifelong lessons."
   "Whatever would I do without you?"
customer beamed.
   "Well, what about something for yourself? You look like you'd enjoy a good exercise video." He loaded a workout video onto her stack.
   "I guess I could lose a little weight. And this looks so fun! Oh! I forgot my husband! What would he like?"
   "Just the thing."
Male employee gently slid a Playboy on top of the pile. "This guarantees smiles all week. The art direction is exceptional."
   "All this came to only $143.00? Ooh, candy bar! No wonder this is my favorite store. Thank you so much."
   "No ... please ... I thank you."

   There wasn't a single music item in the story, but the concept was the same. Greet - Understand - Explain - Suggest - Thank. Customers were like steel ducks in a shooting gallery. All we had to do was greet 'em, pile product in their hands, thank 'em before the exit door whacked their backside.
   "Any questions?" The Boss asked a disgruntled squad of us, after ejecting the video.
   "It never works like that," Kristi argued.
   The Boss sighed. "That's how the Corporate people want it to operate."
   "I place stuff in folks' hands, they place it right back on the shelf."
   "We need to try this, alright?"
   "It's only music. Not like we're peddling skin, you know?"
   "Then GUEST would mean Get Undressed - Excite - Satisfy - Take their money."
   "I'd shop here!"
John added.
   The Backroom went silent. All of us filed out to the Floor.
   The GUEST program never really delivered as promised. We were tested on what the GUEST letters stood for all the time.
   Kristi's version was the one most employees recited.

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