I’ve been doing more of the grocery shopping lately, mainly quick trips to get a few things missing from the refrigerator or pantry. Being at our neighborhood grocery store so often has me noticing a particular customer service routine that hadn’t struck me when I wasn’t the primary shopper. Before or soon after the checker begins scanning the groceries, he or she asks:

“Did you find everything?”

It’s a great question to identify front line customer service issues because it potentially sets up additional sales. If the customer mentions having had difficulty finding something, someone can run to get the hard-to-find item before the checkout concludes.

The problem, at least at my neighborhood store, is when an item is out of stock, the checkers have no response.

In the past few weeks, I let them know a specific brand of pickles had disappeared from the shelves. The checker’s response was, “Oh.”

Last night, the grocery store was out of the brand and flavors of yogurt my wife wanted. In response to the inevitable question about whether I’d found everything, I let the checker know they were woefully out of yogurt. Her response? “We’ve been hearing that.”

At this point, I have to ask why, if the checkers don’t have a constructive response or remedy when the store is out of something, does the store management continue to have checkers ask this question?

“Can you do something about it?”

At a minimum, there are a variety of easy tactics the grocery store could take to prepare checkers for service recovery. Potential remedies for these customer service issues include:

  • Asking if an alternative brand or substitute would work, potentially with a discount, and then retrieving it from the shelves.
  • Offering to let you know when the item will be available again.
  • Providing a coupon on a future purchase when the item is back in stock.
  • Saying, “I’m sorry about that. Is there something we can do to make it right?”
  • Noting the comment in some way so the shopper has a sense that a manager is going to hear about the stock out.
  • Actually calling a front end manager over to note the comment and apologize for the inconvenience.

Saying nothing (which is essentially what my store’s checkers do), is not only frustrating, it creates the impression their whole customer service effort is hollow.

Don’t Just Ask Questions

So what’s happening with your brand? Are you having your front line customer service employees asking questions so you can solve potential customer service issues through a real service recovery effort?

Or are you asking questions for the sake of asking questions but not giving your front line customer service employees the authority or potential service recovery remedies to legitimately address customer service issues?

If you’re leaving your front line customer service employees and your customers hanging, jump all over this one. You may not get as easy a customer service issue to fix ever again! – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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6 Responses to “Front Line Customer Service Issues – Don’t Just Ask Questions”

  1. Some consultants empirically found out that when the check out staff ask the shopper “did you find everything” that the odds were much higher that you’d rate the store and your experience higher in terms of Overall Satisfaction and Likelihood to Return – so now, they have everyone in their store ask it at check out.  They haven’t however equipped them to be successful in recovering in the event of a service failure… Big difference between wanting higher scores and actually wanting to deliver an exceptional customer experience…

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thanks for clarifying that, Woody. I should have known there was a consultant at the center of this! Interestingly, I walked out of a store and left the cart in the empty yogurt section at a different store (location and chain) last week and went to another one. I’m not sure what is going on with yogurt, but it may be in a bigger shortage situation right now than the feared bacon shortage!

    • b2blog says:

      I’d heard this lame question so many times in the last few years, I had chalked it up to the successor to the “Have a good one” that cashiers used to say. 

      I distinctly dislike the question for three reasons 1. What Mike said; 2. The prescriptions Mike suggested being complex and unlikely to happen; and 3. I’ve already given up and am at the check-out. 

      Oh, and number 4: Me thinking ‘I’ve got a ton of stuff in my cart, I think I did pretty well shopping, can’t you tell????’

      • Mike Brown says:

        I thought about your point #2, Dave when I was writing the post, and realized I felt different about some of these remedies based on whether they were being done for my sake vs. if I were the person behind someone who couldn’t find an item! Check out this FB comment from my friend Carrie Sparkman, and it’s clear some places do take action: https://www.facebook.com/Brainzooming/posts/459455950772571?notif_t=share_comment.  In fact, another chain here when we told them they didn’t have the type of potato chips we liked among a brand they already carried, wrote our suggestion down and began to stock those chips.

  2. Iaincarruthers says:

    This reminds me the old joke they tell here in England about the sweet shop owner.
    Customer ‘Do you have any of that new bubble gum?’
    Owner: ‘I’m tired of explaining to people that there’s no call for it.’ 

  3. Mike Brown says:


    I have a couple of updates to this story. The day the post published, I DM’d the grocery store on Twitter with the link. They told me they would be talking about this at their weekly managers’ meeting, brainstorming (i.e., Brainzooming) solutions. I pitched them on doing the “Brainzooming” since it isn’t Brainzooming unless we’re there. 

    While I haven’t heard back on that yet, I just went to two of the chain’s stores looking for yogurt since the shelves were still empty at the store closest to me. At the second store (they didn’t ask me anything at the first store), I checked out at the service desk and WAS asked about finding everything. When I asked about what was going on with the yogurt, Brianna actually stopped to get more details and completed a “Customer Request Form” to note my question. She took my name and phone number, and said she’d pass it off to the grocery manager. I thanked her for being the first person to actually take some action on an answer to the question, and she apologized.

    Now, we’ll see if I get a phone call!