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Guest Blogger: Jeanne Bliss | May 24, 2012

Trader Joe's Customer Experience Obsession

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traderjoes.jpgTrader Joe's wants to be your neighborhood store--a place where you're welcomed by people who want to have a personal relationship with you. That's why Trader Joe's resisted installing scanners as part of its checkout process for years. The hesitation came from concerns over the sound the scanners make, usually a "pinging" noise as each item is scanned. The company didn't want that noise to interrupt the conversations at checkout. Trader Joe's ever-changing and growing inventory mix finally pushed the company to concede to the technology in order to efficiently manage the business. But it wasn't until the grocer was absolutely sure the sound of the "ping" from the scanner didn't interrupt the flow of conversation between cashier and customer.

Trader Joe's wanted to ensure that customers didn't find that the introduction of technology meant the disappearance of personal relationships. Besides being picky about the sound of the checkout system, Trader Joe's also avoids the microphones that are often used by check out folks to "ask for help in aisle 5." Instead, there are bells at every checkout station. Rung for specific reasons, they represent Trader Joe's version of Morse Code. The Trader Joe's website explains: "Those blustery PA systems just didn't feel right to us, so we came up with a simple system to communicate--island style. One bell lets our crew know when to open another register. Two bells mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout. Three bells call over a manager-type person."

Trader Joe's fans stay close

The grocer's almost obsessive attention to details like these is critical to deliver on the "TJ" experience. Trader Joe's believes that the sales per square foot that it achieves--which yields revenues triple the square foot sales of a standard supermarket--is testament to the success of its obsession for combining product and customer service to deliver the Trader Joe's experience. Customers flock to its stores. When Trader Joe's fans Ken Vickers and his wife moved to Phoenix, one of the first things they did was find out how close the nearest Trader Joe's was to their home. A blogger on Trader Joe's fan site, who moved from California, says, "Trader Joe's is the one thing I miss most about San Francisco besides the ocean."

What moments of customer contact are most important for you to obsess about? Do you know?

Trader Joe's knows that what separates its customer experience from other grocery stores are the moments of personal interactions with customers. The grocer knows and obsesses over every one, down to ensuring that the "ping" of the checkout scanners doesn't drown out conversations.

• Do you obsess about the moments of connection? About how you relate?
• Do you think about not just what you say, but how you say it?
• How would you rate your intent and ability to obsess about the moments of connection - the key interaction points with customers?
• Can you identify your most important customers contact moments to determine what you should "obsess" about?

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About the Author: Jeanne Bliss is owner of Customer Bliss, cofounder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, and author of I Love You More Than My Dog.

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