Office Depot Customer Service: Competition Is Right Next Door

November 26, 2012

I am pleased to introduce Donna Gurnic, our Market Development Coordinator here at CTS Service Solutions. After hearing about Donna’s Office Depot story, I encouraged her to share it in her own voice for our Customer Service Stories series.

Last week I had the most unique experience I have ever had as a customer.

I was searching for a specifically sized clipboard and was using only a picture text message for reference.

I walked into a major office supply chain and asked a store associate where the clipboards were. He groaned and mumbled, “Oh boy, I don’t really know.” He then asked another associate who was on the phone, and the associate rattled off something about aisle 10.

Aisle 10 was a bust. They didn’t have what I was looking for, and it was obvious the staff had hit the limit of what they could (or would) do for me, so I left the store without even receiving a “have a nice day.”

Competition Is Always Waiting

My next stop was at Office Depot in Altamonte Springs (Store #30), where a cashier warmly greeted me as soon as I walked inside. I told him I was looking for clipboards, and he directed me to the appropriate area of the store.

Office Depot Customer Service | Purple Clipboard

On the way, I was intercepted by a friendly associate, we’ll call her Lucy, who escorted me to the clipboards.

As we walked, I commented on how much better they were at helping customers than the folks over at the other office supply chain. I told her that I had just left there, and they really didn’t do much to help me.

She stood with me while I deliberated over whether to get the clipboards with the purple geometric patterns or the blue checkers. After about a minute, I told Lucy that I would text a photo to my boss for approval, and told her, “I promise I’m not going to buy them online.”

She replied warmly, “We can always order them for you if you’d like.”

I finally bought all of the purple geometric clipboards they had. As Lucy walked me to the register, I told her how much I loved coming in the store and how nice everyone always is to me.

Then she did something that surprised me.

She asked if I wanted to share that with all the employees over her radio.

I shrugged and said, “sure!”

Lucy took off her headset and pressed the microphone button while I announced:

“I just wanted everyone to know that I really appreciate how helpful everyone is every time I come in here. You are all so much nicer than [other office supply chain], and I just really love coming in here.”

Lucy put her headset back on and all of a sudden, I heard applause coming from all over the store. I looked around and all the employees were clapping, smiling and nodding their heads toward me.

I immediately began to blush. I felt like I was the only customer in the store.

Before I left, I must have thanked Lucy five or six times. On the way out the door, she made sure to say, “Thanks for coming in and have a great day!” There was nothing phony about her service delivery; she treated me with care, patience and respect.

I imagine this isn’t the first time Lucy has let a customer do this, but it sure felt like it.

Maybe it is one of Office Depot’s hidden systems? If so, it didn’t make a bit of difference to me. Lucy WOW’d me in a moment that didn’t demand it.

Simple Gestures Can Create an Impact Many Times Greater Than Intended

I was not only WOW’d by Lucy’s gesture, but I learned some valuable lessons from her:

  • It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to make someone’s day.
  • A compliment can be felt more by the giver than the receiver.
  • Helping a customer through the decision-making process increases the likelihood that they will actually make that purchase.
  • Customer facing professionals like Lucy begin solving customer challenges with can, not can’t.
  • Making it easy and fun for a customer to give good feedback encourages them to do so.

The team at Office Depot in Altamonte Springs showed how the simplest gesture can have a notable impact on a customer. In this case, a focus on the customer and a few small things done right provided an immediate contrast with a weakly performing competitor.

The team at Office Depot turned a simple order for clipboards into a link in the chain of customer loyalty, and it only took a smile, some attention, and a quick WOW.

When was the last time you felt you were the only one in a store who mattered? Have you ever had a poor experience and gone to a competitor to be WOW’d?

15 thoughts on “Office Depot Customer Service: Competition Is Right Next Door”

  1. Hi Donna.
    That’s a great way to start a Monday. Not sure about the purple clipboards though. Mr. Toporek should have suggested orange (on brand, right?). Anyway, I just love the positivity you guys demonstrate here. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that attitude was so commonplace that discussing it became redundant?

    This post make me think about how we treat should our colleagues in a similar manner. Like customers. I have to consciously check myself occasionally when interacting with the folks I work with to ensure I treat them with the same respect as my clients. Familiarity has a way of diluting the care you take with a customer. That’s why it’s so difficult to understand why CS reps dismiss customers in the way you were at “the other Gus” place.

    1. Okay Ralph, always got that designer’s eye going. The clipboards were for a retail business. We’re all about the purple there. 🙂

      You’re so right about colleagues — our internal customers. Familiarity can chip away at the way we treat people. Of course, we will never have the formality that we keep with a customer, but it is good to remember to focus on how we are communicating with those we work with.

    2. Hi Ralph,

      Yes, it would be wonderful if we had only great service to discuss! You make a great point about familiarity. We should always strive to treat our current customers with the same attention and energy that we do our new or prospective customers. Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. I.LOVE.THIS story! I just finished completing an online survey for a major chain here in Canada, where I was very candid about my NON customer experience, or what I like to call my customer dis-service experience. (and as a total aside, don’t you love surveys that are skewed to force you to the answers they want to hear, rather than open-ended questions or combo of both?)

    How wonderful that there are indeed people out there, representing the businesses they work for, who give a sweet hot potato about their customers. Not the experience I had recently:( Thanks for sharing. Cheers! Kaarina

    1. Hi Kaarina,

      It sounds like the chain you visited was a lot like the first store I visited that day. It’s definitely interesting to see the contrast between the two experiences I had with each store, especially when their products are so similar. Thank you for your comment!

  3. This is funny to me, because I oftentimes think the employees at my local Office Depot are almost too helpful 😉 But I’m usually in the store to buy an ink cartridge or that high-end inkjet paper that costs a small fortune, so I’m zoned in on what I want and don’t want to be messed with … 😉

    Seriously, if I have a specific and fairly unusual need like you and was treated so well, I’d be singling their praises too! It’s also great to know that employees actually like where they work and take pride in what they do.

    1. “… are almost too helpful” If only that were the problem with all customer service, I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

      And I know the overpriced paper you’re talking about; based on the price, I think they use a special tree that was preserved in an iceberg!

    2. Hi Craig,

      Thank you for your thoughts! I think the real challenge for customer facing professionals is to know when to approach a customer who might need help, and when to leave a customer alone to carry out his or her mission.

  4. A great tale of customer service!
    It’s a constant surprise how many businesses fail, like the first chain you visited. The primary point of customer interaction, and yet so little time and effort is spent.

    1. It is so true, Daniel. I wonder why some customer facing professionals aren’t more creative in how they interact with customers. It is so easy to make someone’s day, and it can be done even in the most ordinary retail setting.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

  5. Great example of two businesses with two completely different cultures: One where the attitude is apathetic, and the other where the attitude is helpful, service minded and customer focused. The punch line to this story is when the employee of the second business asked the customer to announce over the loud speaker, for everyone – especially the other employees – to hear, just how happy she was.

    1. That’s what struck me about the story as well Shep — the stark contrast between the first store and Office Depot. It illuminated the difference in cultures and why that matters!

    2. Thank you for your comment, Shep!

      It is amazing that the difference between the two cultures was palpable. I noticed it within just a few seconds of being in each store and it influenced the experience from start to finish.

  6. Fantastic story and so true. There’s more competition from ever. It’s easier than it’s ever been for a 14-year-old kid in Milwaukee to build something that’s more interesting, and if he provides better customer service (which he might; what else does he have to do with his spare time in Milwaukee?) then he can totally eat your lunch. Any companies not focusing on this are going to be gone within 10 years.

    1. I agree, Evan. Companies with physical stores have to provide really great customer service, especially when online retailers like Zappos and Amazon are providing amazing service digitally. It will be interesting to see the companies that are still here after those ten years!

      Thanks for sharing!

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