True Value targets better service

With J.D. Power scores in its sights, the co-op rolls out in-store chats

A True Value University video describes the “chats.”

Customer service -- and ways to improve it -- took the stage in Dallas during the True Value Spring & Rental Reunion.

The Chicago-based co-op is rolling out a new national training program that brings some new techniques and tools to its members, including a focus around organized, in-store "chats." The goal of the program: boost customer service.

Lori Birkey, the co-op's director of True Value University, described the new training program by first explaining what it's not. "It is not e-learning," she said. "Our newly developed customer service does not require that you take you associates off the floor to watch and learn. It is not classroom. And it is not a canned program."

What is it, then? "It is a program that identifies your strengths and needs and areas of improvements in your store," she said. "It is customizable, simple and quick to execute."

Birkey drew spontaneous applause from the members assembled in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center when she described the training as free. Fifty retailers participated in a first round of the training in Dallas.

True Value’s “chat”-focused training program designed to boost customer service was one of the key takeaway’s from the co-op’s spring Reunion. The co-op believes the term "chat" describes how best to lead small groups within the store. "A chat is how we are describing the tools you'll receive in the training," she said. "By conducting a chat, you give a clear idea of expectations and work with them to put best practices into effect."

The co-op says a survey showed members spend more time on customer service and selling than anything else. The same survey found that retailers wanted the training delivered in the store.

“One of the things we can do is improve customer service, building not just customers but customer’s for life," said Blake Fohl, the co-op’s senior VP of marketing and chief customer officer. “As we build awareness and drive traffic to your stores, it is your job to ensure you create a superior customer service experience that will in turn create loyal customers for life.”

The development of a national customer service training program was described as a response to poor customer-service scores in various surveys, particularly the J.D. Power customer service rankings.

True Value ranked fifth behind Ace, Menards, Lowe’s and Home Depot. In sixth place on the list was Sears.

Rather than criticize the methodology of the source of poor survey results, as Bob Nardelli of Home Depot famously did a decade ago when the University of Michigan’s consumer surveys reported low marks, True Value has taken a direct approach to boost its scores.

“What really jumped out for me was how poorly we ranked in the J.D. Power Survey," Birkey said.

The co-op will measure the results of the training by monitoring the results of its mystery shopper program customer satisfaction surveys, and units per transaction at POS. It will also watch the J.D. Power results closely. The training, she says, hits on all the areas measured by J.D. Power.

"The ultimate measure will be do we see a difference in our J.D. Power scores," she said. "That is up to you."

Steve Kramer was one of several retailers who applauded the co-op for its direction and its general-session focus on customer service. "They presented some not so favorable news, but we need to know those things,” he said. “And they’re giving us some tools to help us take care of those things.”

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