Cultivating Patience with The Real Food Shoppe

It’s not often we’re inspired by the content on Facebook these days, but a recent post by Tabatha Starr got us thinking—in a good way. Why has patience escaped customers, and how do retailers bring it back? We sat down with the owner of The Real Food Shoppe in Plainfield, Indiana to get her opinion on patience.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and The Real Food Shoppe. 

My name is Tabatha Starr, and I own The Real Food Shoppe in Plainfield, Indiana. We are a small, independent health food, supplement, and retail store, and have been in business going on three years. We bought the store after finding our passion for a healthier lifestyle after our youngest daughter experienced some health issues as a small child, and we were able to treat it with diet and proper supplementation. I previously worked in health care, no doubt an industry where face-to-face customer service is very important and also on the decline.

2. The convenience of modern retail is breeding impatience in customers. How do you experience that in your own retailer? 

Unfortunately it is something I see far too often, and it’s really shifted just in the past few years. We now live in an instant gratification society, and waiting for the personal customer service we once expected is no longer what people are seeking. Grocery stores are removing standard check-out lines and replacing people with do-it-yourself kiosks to avoid having people wait in line. You can order your coffee and have it ready for you when you walk in the door, instead of, again, waiting in line. Grocery shopping is a thing of the past thanks to online ordering and delivery, and being put on hold is the 2018 equivalent of being hung up on. 

Last week I had a customer come in while I was checking out another person and ask if we carry a certain product. I said yes, pointed and gave an exact location in our store where to find it. Her response was “I don’t have time to look for it, can you just get it for me.” I said, “Sure, just give me a minute to finish checking this lady out.” Now, in this time, she could’ve walked over to the freezers and grabbed the product, but instead she mumbled under her breath expressing her frustration. I chose at that moment to stop my experience I was having with the first customer to go grab the products. After I handed them to her, instead of “thank you,” all she offered was a request to read her the ingredients because, again, her time was limited. I made the decision right then and there to excuse myself and finished checking out my customer who had been beyond patient during this entire experience.  

3. How do you intentionally work against that culture of impatience? How do you prioritize connection with your customers over convenience?

For me, I’ve had to realize that you will not make everyone happy, and that what we’re providing is a community experience more than a sales service. I want to be able to ask how someone’s kids are, how they’ve been feeling since starting a particular supplement, what they’re doing this upcoming weekend. Those things are very important for me because I believe it shows them that we’re doing more than just selling a product. It’s building relationships. 

One of my mottos is, “Education over sales,” and it is something I am not willing to adjust. So maybe we will lose the impatient, instant gratification-seeking customer(s), but I think the customer base I am building and retaining appreciate it and have come to expect that from us.

4. How do you train your employees to take the same perspective?

We are currently in our early stages of hiring but I can tell you our motto of education over sales and community first is a priority and the first thing I want new hires to understand.

5. What advice would you give to other retailers facing the same challenges? 

Don’t take it personally. I did in the beginning. I thought I’m not fast enough, or we’re not doing enough. Maybe we should offer evening delivery services, or change our hours to be more convenient to people. But watching the trend over the past two years has shown that somehow that still wouldn’t be enough for some. At some point, demand leads to unrealistic expectations, and being a mom, I have to find the balance of work versus home life. That will come with some sacrifices, but that’s ok. I also think appreciating the amazing customers who support you for your weaknesses as much as your strengths is important and helps you to remain positive and know you’re doing a good job.

6. We’re including a “Dear Walmart” article in this month’s newsletter, where we address the retailer directly and hold a conversation about how they could positively impact the entire world of retail if they’d prioritize the customer experience. If you could speak directly to retailers like Walmart and Amazon who are prioritizing convenience over connection, point out how they’re impacting retail, and advise them on how/why they should change, what would you say?

We can’t compete with overnight free delivery or groceries at your front door within an hour. And that’s ok. What we and other small business are providing is so much more important than that in the long run. But a change industry-wide needs to happen. Customer’s expectations will eventually exceed applicable solutions. By one of these big companies gradually swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction, it will shift industry-wide. Get back to prioritizing customer service. Not by being the fastest at what you do, but by prioritizing the human experience.

7. Anything else you’d like to share about cultivating a great customer experience?

I think when you’re passionate about what you do and confident about the business you run, the rest just falls into place. It sounds cliche, but when your customers can feel that passion, they begin to trust that you are providing them with more than just a sales pitch. At least in my industry there is a genuine care for their well-being and trying to improve their quality of life. That cannot be done without taking the time to get to know someone.

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