Do our life experiences influence our shops?

I was recently in Atlanta, Georgia doing some shops and I had the opportunity to meet a fellow shopper for a late lunch [no, it wasn’t a shop]. We were talking about shops we’ve done when the discussion turned to how our experiences affect the shops we do. Or perhaps a better way to say it would be how do our life experiences affect the way we perceive the shops we do.

Obviously, in a shop where there are specific timings, such as McDonalds and Five Guys, those are facts that cannot be changed, i.e. it took 7 minutes and 38 seconds to be served. On the other hand, a question such as, “Was the service timely?” creates a certain ambiguity. Based on our different life experiences, we each would have a different answer to that question. Let me explain.

The shopper I was visiting had taken early retirement from a county emergency management office whereas I’m the victim of downsizing after 19 years in retail, 10 of those in management. The retired emergency manager came from a culture where seconds can make the difference between life and death. I, on the other hand, came from an environment where service had to be balanced with time. Where my companion might say that anything in excess of 1½ minutes might not be timely, my decision might be based on how busy the staff are with merchandising, the number of staff on duty, and the number of customers, along with any wait time involved. Based on my experiences, it’s possible that a wait of 1½ on one day would be timely but on a different day the same wait could be absurdly long.

This led to another discussion point, surveys that don’t take a region’s culture into account. For example, “Did the clerk smile?” It sounds like an innocent enough question, but its use wasn’t thought through all the way. Case in point, the Lumbee Indians of southeastern, North Carolina. Although they don’t have a reservation, there are areas of North Carolina where they are the majority population. You enter a Lumbee-owned business and you will receive a friendly greeting, friendlier than a non-Lumbee owned business on many occasions. Just don’t expect a smile. It’s not in their culture. It doesn’t mean they aren’t happy.

One size fits all surveys don’t always work. So what do you do in a situation like this? My solution has been to answer truthfully and then explain the details of the situation, either in the “comments” section of the survey or a separate email to the scheduler. So far, I haven’t had any problems.

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