• Greg Ellis

Home Away from Home

One of the things that I am reminded, with all this touring for The Warehouse, is how much time retail workers spend in their stores. For some of them they get up in the morning, wolf down breakfast, commute to work, actually work all day and then commute home - possibly doing some shopping of their own along the way, all before they actually get to spend any time in their own homes. Which means, for many, they are awake at work for 8-10 hours a day but only really awake at home for about half that time.

So their work, their store, really is a home away from home for them.

The great thing about their home away from home is that they get paid to be there. Their actual home is somewhere they pay to be - through mortgage or rent. Unless, of course, they live at home rent free or are some sort of super lucky trust fund baby (but in that case they're probably enjoying fancy coffees somewhere and off cruising in their convertible Volkswagen with equally fabulous people called Sebastian and Jemima).

I'm always a big fan of being paid to be places. Being paid to do things and be places rather than doing it for free tends to make me happy. And I'm not a big fan of paying rent or mortgages - I'd rather be doing stuff that's fun with that money.

The big irony about this in customer service situations is that often, we treat people far better in the place we pay to be than we do in the place we are paid to be. Think of the age old gauntlet of resentment that is asking in store for a toilet for your child. We've all been kids, we all know that sometimes kids get caught short. No-none knows that more than a parent. And so asking is already an admission that you haven't been super parent, haven't anticipated the every minutiae of your offspring's bladder movements and that your kid is "that kid". If this happens at a friend's house there is usually instant understanding and sympathy. Often if this happens when you're out in a store the request is accompanied by eye-rolling, sighing and general passive aggressiveness. Sure it might be the 97th time this has happened today, and sure the toilet may be just outside the store but I haven't been through it more than the once! And if you are sympathetic at a place you pay to be why can't you be sympathetic at a place you are paid to be?

What seems to escape some employees and some retailers is that retail is also in the business of hospitality. As customers we want to feel welcomed, valued and at home in a store and not as if we are a nuisance or simply a unit to be sold other units of stuff. And the simplest guide to giving people hospitality is to make them "feel at home". Its a cliche that we need to reclaim the truth of in customer service. We need to make customers feel as if they are in a place that they can be comfortable, be themselves, be welcomed and relax.

I've been into some great stores over the past 2 and a bit weeks where the team has instantly made me feel at home. Its been fun to be there and you get the feeling that they are interested in you as a person, rather than an economic unit. And it shows in the way the rest of their customers treat their stores. The places are tidier - its harder to disrespect a space whose inhabitants treat you well. The customers are often on first name basis with the staff and, on one occasion, I saw them actively helping a staff member to locate something for another customer! You know you are on to a good thing when you're customers help with the work!

What makes them do this? A sense that it is their place. Its no surprise that at these stores customers ask how we feel about "their" Warehouse. Because they've been made to feel at home by the people who treat guests in their home away from home the same way the do in their own homes.


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