Park Slope Food Co-Op – Is the best customer experience one you create yourself?


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Have you ever been in a situation as a customer where you have thought you would/could do a better job yourself? Have you stood at a checkout in a supermarket and felt the urge to jump over the conveyor belt and start scanning the things you want to buy? Have you ever re-stacked items on shelves that looked out-of-place, or folded clothes that need folding (in your opinion)? have you ever overheard a member of staff dealing with a dissatisfied customer and cringed? One of the reasons why online shopping has become such a rapid and startlingly successful revolution is that it puts more of the experience back in to the control of the customer. You can choose when you want to shop, where you want to shop and how you want to shop very easily. The principle of ‘self-service’ means that you are less reliant on the experience being controlled by others and thus going wrong.

In a bricks and mortar store, self-service has also put more control into the hands of customers – you no longer need to feel the urge to jump over a conveyor belt to start scanning goods – you can do it yourself at a self service till. Despite this, and sticking with the example of supermarket shopping, the customer experience in a supermarket/grocery store is still one that the customer has very little control over. They cannot choose the products, the staff or the prices.

One way that customers can start to take control of these things and the entire end to end customer experience is to consider doing something that they may never have considered before – create and deliver the experience themselves. Park Slope Food Co-Op is a Grocery store in New York. It celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. I have never had the benefit of shopping at Park  Slope. Hopefully one day I will. To shop at Park Slope you must be a member. To be a member, you must work in the store. In other words, the store is run by its customers. Customers purchase the products…..that they want. Customers arrange and receive deliveries. Customers stack the shelves. Customers serve each other. This food co-op is an example of customers generating their own customer experience.

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I have always believed that people who serve customers should treat those customers in the way they expect to be treated themselves. At Park Slope, this is exactly what happens. You can read more about Park Slope in this BBC article published a week or so ago – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25455991

So if this is such a good idea, why do we not see more businesses created by customers, for customers – or in other words, customers working together to deliver their own experiences? It is clear that we live in a world where we expect things to be extremely simple and easy – having to work in your own store to be able to benefit from better prices, better service and better products may not be considered simple and easy to many. As a society we have become very lazy – we want everything to be done for us. The more we want things done for us, the more irritated we become when it is not done to our satisfaction. We cannot have it both ways!

In my independent research into ‘what customers want’ (http://ijgolding.com/2013/11/06/what-do-customers-really-want-the-top-five-most-important-things-revealed/) last year, the top five things we want as customers are:

  1. Value for money
  2. Customer service
  3. Keeping promises
  4. Quality
  5. Ease of doing business

At Park Slope they can guarantee to deliver on all of these – although number 5 on the list could be debated. For the last 40 years, customers of Park Slope have put in the effort to ensure that they can get the things they want – I am sure that there are times when it has not been easy. How many of us would be prepared to do the same? Although we may want these five things (and more), we do not necessarily want them enough to create and deliver the experience ourselves.

I think a co-operative is a wonderful idea. Everyone and everything working together in a genuine, honest way for the good of everyone. There are no shareholders demanding year on year uplifts in EBITDA. There are no highly paid directors competing against each other with conflicting objectives. There are no strategies designed to benefit company first and customer last. The co-operative is a model that benefits one person – the customer – who also happens to be the employee and shareholder. The closest corporate model I can think of (although loosely) to this is the John Lewis Partnership. JLP is not a co-operative. Its customers are not members, and are not required to work. However its employees are all partners in the business. The partnership model has been an integral part of John Lewis’s dominance as one of the most trusted retail brands on the planet.

So the next time you get irritated in a store, or annoyed with your online transaction – ask yourself the question ‘could I do better myself?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, then you may want to look into whether or not you could create your own Park Slope – at least that way, you can be in control of your own customer experience.

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