At first glance, you wouldn't expect a dinky, non-descript retail hut hiding in the shadow of a 200,000 square foot hut-eater, to offer top-notch customer service worthy of Queen Nefertiti, and be thriving to boot. Especially not when the place is pimping just one thing - batteries, for the love of Eveready.
Don't most people, like, just buy 'em at the grocery store?
No! said the monkey to the battery-operated chimp. In fact that off-the-hizzle combo of "extreme" customer service and encyclopedic product knowledge has rocketed Interstate Batteries at 1090 73rd street (officially in Clive, but it doesn't feel like it) into the retail stratosphere, as one of the great customer service stories in Des Moines.
It wasn't always great and it wasn't always Interstate Batteries.
The 1546 square foot apartment-sized space was originally occupied by Battery Patrol, and before that, probably cows.
What it has become in the interveening 15 years is a dynamic blueprint for how a business, any business, should do their business.
Make no mistake: This is a corporate-structured company with a corporate-sized customer service mandate, handed down on high by Interstate Batteries' home office in Dallas, where the company first put down roots in the 50's.
Today, over 1,400 employees nationwide follow the Interstate Batteries Extreme Customer Experience Pledge, (or probably face certain death) which is proudly displayed on the wall of every store. (which are in all 50 states)
"Because we want you as a customer for life, our team members will provide you with extreme customer service, offer a greeting and handshake within 15 seconds, provide an introduction and a business card, communicate special offers and promotions, assess your needs, present the best solution at the best price and provide each customer with a return visit incentive. If we don't meet this standard, please let us know. Thank you."
Wow. These people do not mess around.
What I also won't mess around with is quoting the Interstate Batteries' employees I interviewed, by name. That's because they were unable to secure corporate approval before this blog went to post. I'm naughty, but never vulgar.
What was vulgar was how well-organized and uber-clean the store was when I first visited. You could have eaten off the floor - I had meat and bread in the car...
After asking me to get up off the floor, "Pat" told me that keeping the store spotless and easy to navigate is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce in the entire Dagwood sandwich of customer service training at Interstate Batteries - which hits new employees whoop upside their heads the second their greenhorn feet hit the IB floor.
"The first couple days you work here," he said, "you train, greet everybody when they come in the door, give everybody a business card, introduce yourself, see what people need - you're taught that from the beginning."
The training tools include a handbook and DVD, which lays out what's expected in terms of customer service and product knowledge.
"It takes awhile to get through it all," said Pat. "There are [customer service] scenarios on the computer training [on the DVD] - it's pretty normal."
Normal? I wanted to drag Pat across the street and show him that extreme customer service is about as "normal" as a celebrity without rehab. Yet that's how he described it - not rehab, he seemed sober - very matter-of-factly.
Which is how the handful of employees at Interstate Batteries go about their business - answering phones and engaging customers - in very workman-like fashion.
And they do work - hard. Each of the half-dozen times I visited the store, the parking lot and store was packed. Hmmm - guess people don't just buy batteries as after-thoughts in grocery store check-out lines.
Yet the staff manages to both keep up and maintain the customer service mandate - in part because they are overstaffed, by design.
"We try to let the people know who are coming in, that we know they're there." said Pat. "We don't keep them waiting without a hi. It's greeting, handshake, business card, thank you."
I don't own a flashlight and wanted to buy a dozen D's. My Prius uses a $3,500 Panasonic Metal Case Prismatic Module Hybrid array and I still had battery envy. Hmm - better buy one of those IB Mega Tron II beauties because - well because ya never know when the, uh, power might go out and, um, ya gotta, like, hook up the TV to a, like, boat battery. Or somethin.
Yet don't think for a minute that Interstate Batteries is willing to rest on their terminals. They're actually working on implementing a higher level of customer service.
"Outrageous Customer Service is the company's new motto," said Pat. Sounds like we're getting dangerously close to Freaky Friendly.
What does the new motto mean?
"Just going out of our way to meet the needs of the people who come in."
Yep - that's outrageous, Pat. And preposterous. And outlandish. And another 15 words-deep into the thesaurus. What are you crazy people thinking?
I decided to be the outrageous chicken who crosses the outlandish road to get to the other battery, and visited the next-door big-box store - to see how preposterous Interstate Batteries' prices looked compared to the price-cutting global dominator.
After being ignored for 15 minutes in the Tire and Lube section...
Never mind. What's the point.
What I discovered was a 4-pack of Energizer AA batteries was $3.50 at All-Mart Way, $4.99 at Interstate Batteries.
That seems to fall short of "preposterous."
So - are you willing to pay an extra buck and a half to have a working remote or accurate wall clock, along with the extra extra extra extra customer service that goes with shopping at the dinky hut that employees and management have turned into a shining retail beacon on a hill?
I thought so. Now pass the mayo.
Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show," Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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