Spanish Customer Service: A Lesson for Marketers

I felt closer to my butcher in Spain than I do to most of my neighbors in the USA. We shake hands, we smile, we talk recipes, he knows about my son and how well he is sleeping, and he usually gives me an extra slice of really good jamón when I order some. His name is Patxi Goñi and he runs a market stall inside one of the great markets in Pamplona. He takes his time with me, he is never in a rush, and he can see whether or not I have much time and adjusts accordingly. He is extremely attentive to my needs as a human, much more so than as a buyer of meats.

I compare this to my experience at my local grocery store back in the USA. Sure the checkout clerk is very pleasant, and she is quite efficient…too much so. The prompt to “swipe my card” is up before I have had a word in, and there is no eye contact when she says, “have a good day!” Some of the magic of a human interaction has been lost.

It’s interesting that when I am waiting to be served by Patxi, I take a number but am treated like a human.

However, when I am served immediately in my local store in the USA I feel like I have just had take-a-number service. Ironic, isn’t it?

Now, with Patxi in this example, sometimes the waiting lines were a bit too long for my tastes, so I would turn to a third example, that could present a middle ground that works for all.

In the small-sized Eroski supermarket, we had practically everything we needed in a relatively small space. Sure, we didn’t have as many choices, but we could always get by on what we found there. Gradually got to know everyone who worked there. Workers would often continue conversations we were having before, for example about yogurt flavors of a certain brand.

In the Eroski sometimes there would be a long line, but because of the small size of the store, cashiers would appear almost instantaneously. This allowed them to plan for bursts of customers while treating each of them like a real, breathing human being. The only time when things felt a little bit “efficient” was Saturday morning, where everyone was doing their shopping for Sunday (Almost all grocery stores are still closed in Pamplona on Sunday). Still, there was never any rush, and you almost always received courteous, human service.

I think this middle ground is the ideal that most companies today should hope to strive for, especially with respect to resource planning. Simple analytics of tracking busy times and having extra staff available, even if that is not their primary function, is essential.

Here is the marketing lesson:

In a typical marketing filter we have

Awareness à Understanding à Interaction à Transaction

And in a world where the “interaction” phase of our marketing is so susceptible to the distractions and busyness of our life, we are missing a HUGE opportunity in not planning how to treat the customer like a human being, adding so much value to their interaction that the transaction becomes the seamless next step.

I have a few ideas for small steps we can all make in whatever position we have, either inter- or intra-organizationally. These include the following:

  • Asking the other how they are doing before asking them to do something for you
  • Spending time getting to know someone’s interests, asking them about their hobbies and outside work life, etc.
  • If they have family, ask them about their family—each and every day.
  • Check in with people even without a business need, just once a day.
  • Build in an extra few minutes with every person you are going to talk to.
  • Have someone critique your emails for intelligibility / tone / etc.
  • Make birthdays a big deal, send them a special note (even email) on the day of.
  • Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact.
  • Make a written / visual reminder to have every conversation begin with the other person in mind.

We interact and care for another person always. This is fundamental to being a “good” marketer, otherwise we end up as manipulators, because marketing is something we do “for” someone, not “to” someone.






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