Office Max & The Time-Wasting, Friction-Creating Virtual Line

If you’ve ever made copies or prints at Office Max, you know two things:

  1. Chances are good you’ll be the only customer at the copy/print counter.
  2. On a busy day, you’ll have to wait 5 minutes.

You also know it’s a pretty straightforward process. You walk up to the counter, hand the clerk your flash drive (or whatever you have your images on), tell him what you need to have printed or copied, how many you need, and what sizes you need. That’s it.

It’s as simple as it gets. Or, it was…

About a month ago I went into my usual Office Max to have some prints made. It’s where I always go when I’m making wood transfers, and it usually takes me no more than 5 minutes to get in, get what I need, and get out.

I’ve never seen more than four customers in Office Max at a time, and they’re usually scattered about, not waiting in line for prints or copies. So you can imagine my surprise when I walked up to the copy/print counter to find this sign:

Save-Time-Join-The-Line-Sign-At-Office-Max

According to the sign, this process was added to “better help” my shopping experience, and to “ensure prompt and timely service!”

Now, instead of going right up to the desk to be helped immediately, I have to stop short of the desk, read this, and download the app (no effing way Office Max) or text a code to a number.

With no one else in line, isn’t that actually wasting my time?

I thought so too, so even though I’m a millennial, I went the low-tech route, using my eyes to decipher that I was the only one waiting.

I skipped past the sign and went straight up to the counter, only to be told by the clerk that, before he could help me, I would have to go through the 3 “simple” steps. Ya know, to save time?

“Even though there’s no line?” I asked.

Yup.

I gave in. I texted the code to the number, but nothing happened.

Together, the clerk and I waited. After a few moments, he said he’d have to manually add me to the line so he could help me.

Day one: not impressed with this change.

The next time I went in for prints, I texted the number — although it was painful because I’m a woman of principle. Did this miraculous time-saving system save me any time this time?

Here are the texts I received:

Office-Max-Print-Queue-Texts-Telling-Wait-Times

As usual, I was the only one there, but I still received a “Your est. wait is now 5 min” text.

Thankfully, my favorite clerk was working this time, and when he saw me standing there he asked how he could help —  without waiting for the “OK” from the virtual queue.

Quick side note on text #3: Why in the holy hell would I need more time if I literally joined the line to save time? UGH.

I couldn’t help myself. I asked the clerk what he thought of this new system. His response, “I mean, I guess I get what they’re trying to do. But if it’s not broken, why fix it?” Did I mention he’s my favorite clerk?

I joked with him when he was handing me my prints, saying, “Good news, my estimated wait is now 1 min.”

When I finally received the “You have reached the front of the line!” text, I wasn’t even in the store anymore. I was over at Books-A-Million feeding my book addiction, which made me wonder, who was I waiting behind in this virtual line? There was no physical line, and if I had relied on the system to tell me when I could be helped, I would have been waiting for at least 10 minutes, pointlessly.

Whoever’s brainchild this was, if they’d actually gone through the process, they would have realized that they weren’t saving customers time, they weren’t better helping their shopping experience — they were adding friction. They were making what should be easy, more complicated, and dressing it up as a time-saving, beneficial thing for their customers.

What were they really trying to do? Get more people to download their app or give them their phone number? They certainly weren’t trying to save any time — and if they were, they failed miserably. My guess is that nowhere in the world is the copy/print counter of Office Max so slammed that this virtual line queue actually saves anyone time.

But hey, let’s not be too hard on Office Max. Adding friction seems to be a favorite past-time for a lot of businesses. But it’s a big mistake…

Are You Adding Friction?

Think about it: we want people to buy what we’re selling. So why do we sometimes make it harder for our customers to do just that? Why do we create friction in the buying process? Why do we insert steps and hoops to jump through in processes that are already as streamlined as it gets?

Are you making the same mistake as Office Max?

I get it, it’s easy to see these things from the outside. It’s easy for me to walk into an Office Max and — as a customer who’s done things pre-process and post-process — realize that this time-saving step is actually time-wasting and frustrating.

But that’s why it’s so important that you actually go through the steps and processes you’re asking your customers to go through to buy. You need to experience it outside of your mind, outside of a meeting.

So my challenge for you is to take some time this month to have the customer experience. Are you adding friction for your customers? Are you making it harder for them to buy from you or use your services? See what it’s like to do business with you from their POV.

If you spot friction — even if it’s in a process that was designed to make things easier or more convenient — be honest with yourself. Do you really need that added step?

Your aim should always be to eliminate friction and make it as easy as pie for your customers to reach into their wallets and hand you their money. Buying from you should never feel like going to the DMV. You’ve got what they want — let them have it!

For more on eliminating friction in the workplace, check out Roger Dooley’s new book on the subject. I haven’t had a chance to read it but he’s always very insightful so I’m sure it’s brilliant.

When Does The Customer Experience Really Begin?

When Does The Customer Experience Really Begin?

Meatsgiving.

It was a potluck event doomed from the start.

Your vegetarian cousin, Sarah, graciously sat through the entire 4 hour affair pensively spooning the only vegetarian dish on the table (the spinach souffle she’d *thankfully* brought) into her mouth, while everyone else raved about “How delicious all of the turkey dishes were in their own unique way.”

Poor Sarah.

It seemed Aunt Shirley hit SEND and then NEVER again checked her email to see who was bringing what…And so, Thanksgiving turned out to be Meatsgiving.  

Truth is: Thanksgiving was supposed to be a wonderful time and a wonderful meal for everyone at the table. Aunt Shirley didn’t set out to make anyone feel excluded or uncomfortable.

But because she was so busy thinking about what tablecloth she was going to put out and where she was going to seat everyone, she forgot to do the most important thing: prep the guests.

The event was unforgettable, just not in the way Aunt Shirley had hoped.

But hey, let’s not be so hard on Aunt Shirley.

After all, it’s a mistake we all make: we fail to realize that a lot of the “experience” is determined by things that happen before the “start.”

The Experience Before The Experience

As a business owner, hopefully you’ve put a lot of thought into that “first impression” — from the uniforms and name tags your techs wear to the trucks they show up in and the ways they greet the customer.

That alone will put you ahead of the competition, considering that a lot of the “other guys” show up reeking of cigarettes and last night’s handle of Evan Williams. But are you still missing something?

Is this really the “first impression”?

What about every interaction and encounter your customer has with your company before you even show up to do the work?

Are those “experiences” working to prep your customers for the service appointment?

Are they communicating the right message and setting your techs up for success?

Or are they introducing disappointment to your customer’s mind before your team ever steps foot into their home?

Truth is, if you only think about the experience your customer is having or the impression your company is giving once you’re at their door or in their home, you’re missing out on a big part of the experience and the power and responsibility you have to prep your customers.

What can you be doing before the actual appointment to guide and shape the customer experience?

What can you be doing to get your customer ready so they know what to expect?

These are things you need to think about if you truly want to make a great “first impression” and avoid being like Aunt Shirley on Meatsgiving.

So take some time to inspect every interaction and encounter your customer will have along the journey — from your website and ads to scheduling and any other communication that happens (or should happen) leading up to the appointment.

Consider the whole experience. ‘Cos your customers sure will!

P.S. If you want to read a super interesting book that covers the concept of gathering and can help you conduct better business, better meetings, better dinner parties, and better gatherings of all kinds, check out Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering. It’s eye-opening!

3 Things You Can Learn From Your Competition

3 Things You Can Learn From Your Competition

The thought of your #1 competitor may make you tense up, but if you can see past the red, there’s a lot you can learn about running a business and attracting more customers. Take some time to look over the competition and see what you can glean from them. What exactly can they teach you?Little-Boy-In-Front-Of-Chalkboard-With-Lightbulb-Above-His-Head

#1 What Your Target Customers Like And Don’t Like In A Company

We hope you’re already reading your own online reviews and responding to all of them (positive & negative), but there’s a lot to be learned from your competitors’ reviews as well. What are their customers saying about them? What are the good things that come up again and again? The bad things? Use that information to identify what you could implement or focus more on to entice those customers to consider your business. If your competitor’s customers always rave about how good their cleanup is, make your cleanup process and the lengths you go to to keep your customers’ homes clean a focal point on your website and in your marketing. If your competitors’ customers give low ratings because of poor scheduling experiences, make sure your scheduling process is easy and pleasant for each and every customer.

Listening to your competitors’ customers will give you insight into what to do more of and what not to do. And because very few business owners take the time to really reflect on what their customers are saying and implement change, you can likely count on your competitors to keep making the same mistakes in their business. Let them make those mistakes while you learn from them! You’ll end up with a better business and happier, more loyal customers.

#2 How To Differentiate Yourself

Take a look at your top three competitors and make a list of their similarities and differences. Is there something they all do right? Something they all do wrong? Spend some time thinking about how they look from the outside, how you compare, and what you could do to differentiate yourself from the pack. Use that in your marketing and on your website and make yourself stand out!

Note: You never want your customers to choose you solely because of price, so make sure that what you choose to focus on is not price-related. As a generalization, price-driven customers are not loyal, and what you want is loyal customers with high customer lifetime values.

#3 Just How Good You Need To Be

Many entrepreneurial minded people have a desire for things to be perfect. We want every little detail to be just right before launching a business, service, or product. But guess what: your competitors can show you just how good you need to be, and spoiler alert, you don’t have to be perfect. Look at your best competitors and make a list of things that are important in business — things like customer service, timeliness, cleanliness, and quality. Give each competitor a grade for each factor and figure out how they rate. Do they get a C for timeliness? Then you can start by making sure your timeliness score is a B or higher. Do they get a B for customer service? Then you’ve got to get your customer service up to an A.

Always strive to be your best and offer your best, but start by being better than your competition. Three in five Americans would try a new brand or company for a better service experience, so make sure you’re delivering a better customer experience than anyone else, and keep working to make it better and better.

Go Forth & Conquer

Some of the greatest secrets in life are learned through our successes and failures — but why not learn from those around us? Spend some time reflecting on and learning from the mistakes and successes of your competitors and you’ll reach your goals faster and with less hiccups. It’s a win-win for you and your company!