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Kroger at Graceland: Your Employees Failed Tonight

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 30, 2012

Please forgive this aside….but it is food related. I went to Kroger to get ingredients for a chili competition.

Some people look to find fault in any business interaction they have. They are snipers – looking for any slight imperfection to focus on and exploit to make a scene or show their sense of superiority. You know these people – you see them and cringe when they are in front of you in line at the store or send back every other item from a restaurant menu. I strongly dislike those people. I am not one of those people. I hope I am not a crotchety old man yet.

I have had a rash of horrible customer service experiences lately. These horrify me because while mistakes happen in the service world….correcting them for a customer is generally fairly straightforward: acknowledge the issue, make sure you and the customer are on the same page on what the issue is and how to fix it moving forward, offer an apology and move on.

Earlier this week at Target, I had a dog toy come up without a SKU number showing a price. The cashier tried to find the information she needed, she could not. She called a manager, the manager could not find it and seeing that the lines were backing up she said to me: “how much do you want to pay for this”. We agreed on a price and moved on. That was good problem solving. That was good customer service. I had a horrible customer service experience at a pizza place in Grove City the night before Thanksgiving – the owner dealt with the issue effectively the next day.

I was at Kroger tonight (Friday) about 10:00 pm. It was not busy. The location is at Graceland Blvd. This is MY Kroger – I go there a couple of times a week. I have a favorite cashier there who is great and who I repeatedly see providing great service. They have a developmentally delayed older gentleman who works there that is incredibly slow. I appreciate that the store supports this employee and I see that they place him in lines where his speed and challenges do not impact his team or the customers adversely. That is nice.

So, we all have experiences of chosing the wrong line. I had just enough items and two bottles of wine so that self check out did not make sense. Plus all of the self check outs were in use. There was only one line open. It did not look too bad from a distance. Just a few items on the conveyor. The woman in front of me was well dressed for an evening at the grocery and sported some pretty incredible boots. As I placed my last item down…..while looking at her boots….I noticed she had about 100 jars of baby food still in her cart. My thought: well, this may take a bit. I checked the time in passing.

Another line had opened and closed to serve two customers while I waited. I then started paying attention. The cashier running my line was new. The woman in front of me had a lot of vouchers and a new pamphlet explaining how they worked. Most likely these were WIC or Food Stamps. These were causing a challenge for the new cashier but he and the customer took it in stride as did I because I recall what it is like to be a new cashier. I know people who have to use public assistance and that a trip to the grocery store is not fun for them either. At this point, I was kind of committed to this line and did not want to be a jerk by rushing off because things were running a bit slow.

Things were still moving slow when the 48 slice package of American Cheese had its turn. It did not ring up as a product covered by the program the woman with the very nice boots was using which caused some dismay for the cashier. The woman, showed where it seemed to be listed in her materials and said that the signage in the cheese display suggested that it would be on her list. At this point the cashier asked a young lady, who I believe may be Kaylene (sorry to get your name wrong but you never offered it….see later in the story…. henceforth she will be known as Ms. K.), for help and she scooted off to check on the cheese. The new cashier waited – doing nothing while this was being researched – maybe he could have rung up other items while waiting, maybe not. Who knows. The nice lady with the boots looked at me, said sorry and I said no problem. She then took this opportunity to move the rest of her baby food out of the shopping cart and I helped her with some that were just out of her reach. We waited some more. Ms. K. came back. I could not hear her explanation to the woman with the nice boots but it was something along the lines of the cheese was not keyed in correctly and there was not an easy way to override the glitch. The lady with the nice boots told Ms. K. to forget about the cheese. Ms. K. continued to offer ways to try to make the cheese work in some way but the lady with the nice boots kept saying…”no, that’s OK, let’s skip the cheese”. At this point the woman with the nice boots was a bit embarrassed. I was starting to dread my need to go to the store and Ms. K departed the scene. A few more items were scanned and things started to look better but then a loaf of bread came up. Same issue as the cheese, same interaction to try to resolve the situation, same wait time, the same “no, that’s OK, really, let’s just skip the bread”. The lady with the nice boots says she is sorry again. I said this time, honestly, “That is OK”. At this moment the flustered cashier knocks over a bunch of baby food and starts to restack on the conveyor belt. At the same moment a young couple with a lot of groceries moves in behind me, I see Ms. K. wave someone who she seems to know (or at least is really friendly with) over to a register line which is not showing an open light and she starts to ring this person up. I look to the self check out line….full. I look at the two employees hanging out near Ms. K. not doing anything with any sense of urgency. I feel a sense of dread and then I look to the front of me to see my poor cashier struggling with another voucher. I feel for the cashier. I feel for the nice lady in the nice boots and I feel that the ball is being dropped.

At this point, having been in line for 15 minutes I decide it is time to act. Ms. K seemed to have some authority in this group since she was dressed like a manager, does price checks and has a name tag. I move out of my line, walk over to her – explain (but in my mind, remind her) that I have been in line for 15 minutes and that my cashier needs some help. The hipster bagger that is not doing anything of use with Ms. K in her line starts to tell me there is nothing they can do to make the vouchers work better. To which I indicate that they can figure out some way to help the cashier – to which the hipster bagger says he can bag and he goes over to do so.

I go back to my line. Another snafu occurs, the hipster bagger takes over at the register, I excuse myself to the couple behind me, refill my basket and move over to Ms. K’s register where she is chatting with her customer and moving pretty slow.

I feel no sense of urgency with Ms. K. I feel no sense of acknowledgement. Ms. K. does not offer any apology….”sorry for your wait” or anything. She acts as if nothing has transpired over the last 15 minutes or if she has ever seen me before. At the end of my transaction I ask if I can speak with a manager, she says there is no manager on duty. I then ask if she is in charge and she responded: “yes”. At this point I ask her if she felt if she could have done anything differently. She said “no” – we did not have any staff” (I disagree). Finding this answer to be pretty lame I ask if there is anyone I can speak to and I am told to call Saturday morning and ask to speak to a manager but not given a name. There was no….. “Thank you for your patience or sorry we did not meet your expectations” just….apathy. That is a huge, giant, unforgivable fail. A new cashier is not a fail nor is WIC or Food Stamps (at least to 47% of you out there).

My analysis of the situation is that they did have the staff to open up another line or to have someone working with the new cashier on a difficult transaction. If there was not a manager on duty – they needed someone who could fill that role by being able to take actions to move the lines effectively or show accountability for not doing so. The situation in my line was a perfect storm of a bad line experience – but I should not have been the person to create my own lifeboat but chiding my cashier’s co-workers to help out their colleague and then move myself to a line that should have been offered to me and the people behind me when things came to standstill.

When I left Ms. K. I was disappointed. I did tell her specifically that I thought her team could have done better and that they failed. I then walked to my exit door which would not open because it was now after 10 pm. I then walked back by Ms. K, standing in the aisle, then by the hipster bagger that was now the hipster cashier still ringing up the order for the lady with the nice boots with the new cashier helping him bag.

Dear lady with the nice boots – I am sorry that what was probably your first time using public assistance for food at Kroger did not go so well. You were pleasant and gracious and were willing to give up cheese and bread so you could leave the store in less than 48 hours and I hope I did not make you uncomfortable when I gave up on our line….but I did need to get out of the store in less than one hour and both of us deserved better service than we received. You had very nice boots and you are the best dressed person I have seen at Kroger on a Friday night in my lifetime. Kroger your staff failed really, really, really bad.

At this point, we will use a wayback machine to take readers back to 3rd grade reading group. Here are our questions for discussion.

1) How do you define good customers service?

2) What would you have done if you were CMH Customer in line behind the lady with nice boots?

3) What would you have done if you were Ms. K?

4) Do you go Krogering?

I did get some interesting Facebook comments on this one which I will share:

While your experience could have happened theoretically anywhere, I am not a Kroger fan. There it is.

Our family spends a lot of money on groceries (most do!) and I try not to go to Krogers. When I end up there, I usually leave irritated because of how unhappy (miserable) so many of the employees are…I am sure there are great employees too, this is just my experience. For me, good customer service is when your patronage is truly appreciated. I go to Whole Foods in Dublin and Trader Joe’s in Dublin for an overall better shopping experience…it is worth the drive to me.

I am a Kroger fan for their gas rewards and Community Rewards programs that have given so much money to my kid’s schools. Having said that, I have also changed to Kroger at the Worthington Place — smaller, cozier and staff seem to always be helpful.

Somehow, an odd confluence of letter shapes in the format on my iPhone led me to mistake “at this point I asked her” as “at this point I poked her in the eye” which would be a much punchier ending.

Jim, I love that you can make such a long read about, essentially, standing in line at Kroger so entertaining. Nice write up!

It’s our Kroger too and the experience doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t sound like there’s much accountability…just that people will deal with it and customer service isn’t a priority. Will people stop shopping at Kroger after an experience of this nature? Not likely. Good read though.

14 Responses to “Kroger at Graceland: Your Employees Failed Tonight”

  1. Mike G said

    I would not buy wine at Kroger.

    CMH G. Response: It was an emergency.

  2. Rosa Huff said

    Wow. I feel terrible for your experience. i think you were incredibly patient and went out of your way to try to help both your situation and others’. Kroger Graceland is also our family’s Kroger and although I’m a big fan (of Kroger) for their gas and Community Rewards programs, I too have had several (several) similar experiences that have made me decide to give up on Kroger Graceland (i now go to the one by Worthington Place). Interestingly, my similar experiences at Graceland tend to be on late nights, when i’m just buying 1 of 2 items and yet staff doesn’t seem to be as sharp (or caring)…or fast. Other times when it’s truly busy and lines are long, no issues thus far.

    To answer your questions, good customer service to me is defined by truly understanding what the customer wants (in all its totality — product, environs, customer service) and when issues arise, honing in on what will be a satisfactory resolution for both parties. So, for example, when I complain I usually have a 3 step process (a) describe the situation (b) be explicit about what I want to resolve the matter and (3) ensure we’re on the same page. I think you did all three… and more (by being helpful to the lady with nice boots). I’m not sure I’d have been as patient (actually I’m quite sure). If I were Ms. K, I think I’d have tried to speed up. Your story gives the impression to me, at least, that Ms. K really didn’t care, and that’s too bad.

    Being in the food service industry myself, it’s a challenge to maintain great customer service (i say maintain because it’s like a wind-up clock — you do start with one that’s working and a reminder (wind) always helps for maintainance) but in your situation, I think the employee (Ms. K) didn’t seem to care.

  3. AmFam said

    I have a hard time shopping at Kroger now, every since THIS incident happened: Though that was in Worthington, not Graceland. I think of poop every time I think of kroger now. It is disgusting. My kids even call the Worthington Kroger “Poop Kroger”. They showed some of the worst customer relations and lack of concern for health and safety I have ever seen in a food-selling establishiment.

  4. Jan S. said

    Poor customer service is not limited to Kroger. I recently went to the Giant Eagle on W. Powell Rd. in Powell to buy some lettuce and only lettuce.. I went to the cash register that had a light on indicating it was open. There were three employees standing at the end of a closed register chatting – two women and one male teenaged bagger. I stood and waited and waited and waited. They all looked at me and did nothing. I walked over to them and plunked down the lettuce, and they all looked at me as though I had landed from Mars. Finally, I said: “would you ring this up.” “Oh,” said the one who seemed to be the ring-leader, “I thought you were done and didn’t need anything.” Done with what? I hadn’t been through the line with anything else. A customer walking into a line that is supposed to be open typically wants to buy something. Other than that brief interchange they continued to chat about the bagger’s English class assignment including the fact that he had never heard of Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby. Obviously, none of them had ever heard about taking care of customers, either.

    Frankly, I shop at Meijer for everything besides meat and produce. The prices are better than Kroger, and the service is the same. Kroger may give you points for gas, but you are paying in higher prices so you are really getting nothing. I don’t like that fact that so many of the items in Kroger are Kroger branded. I read plenty of cooking magazines (such as Cook’s Illustrated) and finding the ingredients they suggest is a challenge at Kroger. Not that it isn’t a challenge at Meijer, but I find more things there than I ever did at Kroger. I moved from Ann Arbor, MI where food shopping (at least when I lived there) was not the hassle it is here. I had no problem finding Bell & Evans chicken, there are two fabulous meat markets (Knight’s and Sparrow’s) plus the local grocery chains (Busch’s and Hiller’s) are wonderful. Need quality chocolate, olive oil or a really nice cheese? Easy to find in Ann Arbor at multiple stores. Giant Eagle is somewhat better than Kroger in the selection offered. Too bad Columbus doesn’t have anything to match that. Kroger, with its dominance of the Columbus market was a huge disappointment. I find myself running to Kroger for a few things, Meijer, Whole Foods and the Anderson’s. Grocery shopping in this town is truly a pain, and I find myself settling for less.

  5. Sarah said

    There is no reason for them to be accountable. Kroger isn’t going to notice the loss of your business and that employee will still have a job. I find going into any large corporate anything that having no expectations usually leads to a more pleasant experience. I shop at the Brewery District Kroger and have had many very similar experiences. I just read people and hope it ends soon.

  6. mjb said

    Is your favorite cashier the woman with the black curly hair. I will pick her lane even when there is a longer line. I also love the older bagger even though he is the slowest on the planet. And is the hipster the red headed guy?

    CMH Reply: Yes – the lady with the black curly hair is great and goes out of her way to provide superior service. The red headed guy – while probably a hipster – was not the hipster bagger / cashier indicated in the “incident report”. The red headed guy is really cool and he was minding the self check out area. Both could teach their peers a few lessons on customer service.

    • mjb said

      Glad to hear it wasn’t him. He always is very helpful but I was in there Friday night as well and saw him so thought he might have been the one.

  7. Tippy said

    I have had many horrible experiences at my local Kroger which I have sent up the chain of command. The fact is that they do NOT care. One of my most memorable was two young workers running the checkout talking about how they got a young lady drunk and did to her what young men are want to do. The hair,tattoos and piercing have become even more unpleasant to view. You are dealing with unionized workers who have zero accountability and NO concern for customer service and a management team that refuses get involved.

  8. slr said

    I’m surprised after all that that they didn’t ask you if you wanted to donate money to save the teenage pregnant baby whales or some other such charity.

  9. Tom W. said

    Kroger is dying — Giant Eagle is beating them in their traditional grocery store market. Meijer, Aldi, Costco, Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club are beating them in the lower price market. Whole Foods beats them to a pulp in the high end market. Smaller shops are taking a piece too – such as Trader Joe’s, Anderson’s and Fresh Market. The niche local players in town – Weilands, Clintonville Community Market, Hills Market, etc. all have their fans too further eroding Kroger’s customer base. Kroger goes the way of Big Bear in 5 years or less.

  10. JKS said

    I understand that this is not the point of the story but I couldn’t get past the glaringly obvious, “You had very nice boots and you are the best dressed person I have seen at Kroger on a Friday night in my lifetime…” and paying with food stamps…is it just me…?

    • Jan S. said

      CMH Gourmand Response and clarification.

      Some of my content and a tongue in cheek comment on the blog may have been misconstrued. That being to case – to make sure a few things are clear – I am adding some clarifications before the comment. 1) The woman in front of me in line had great boots – subjectively and objectively. They were thigh high and few people can pull that off and look classy – she did. 2) She was very well dressed and I have never seen anyone that well dressed at the grocery store – that like the boots is an observation and I believe most people would have said the same. 1 & 2 stand on their own. 3) WIC or Food Stamps – have nothing to do with 1 or 2 – it was an additional observation and would have been mentioned whether the woman was well dressed, with good boots abd very pleasant or a wart covered troll with stained sweats. That being said – we now continue with the comment below – already in progress.

      There are many reasons why a person might be using food stamps and still be able to dress nicely: her unemployment ran out and she became eligible for food assistance (her wardrobe purchased in better days would not have disappeared when the unemployment ran out), she once worked for someone who gave her the lovely clothes and nice boots as hand-me-downs (my sister worked as a part-time nanny while in college for a very wealthy woman and was given a number of things that were practically new), she is using food stamps on behalf of someone else who could not get to the store (I don’t know if this is possible), she managed to score some really nice items from Freecycle or from a resale shop. I’m sure there are many more reasons other than what you seem to imply. Plus, describing boots and clothing as being beyond the pale of a Kroger on a Friday night is totally subjective. Neither you nor I saw the woman, and perhaps our reaction might be different as to the exceptional quality of her attire.

  11. Marcus said

    I know exactly who your red-headed Ms K is and I am surprised that she didn’t help you more! She has helped me out on several occasions in the past few years both as a cashier and a manager.

    In general I think that the Kroger at Worthington Square has better service, but Graceland has better selection. Whole Foods has both, in addition to a higher price. Trader Joe’s has great prices but limited selection. No free lunch.

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