The Lost Notebook and the Thoughtful Cleaner

Last week I lost a really important notebook (yeah, I know – pretty analogue for a digital retail adviser!). Still, I mention it because what happened after I discovered it was gone reminded me of a very important principle for every retailer.

I was at a conference with great speakers and taking copious notes. By the third day my notebook was already half-full.  Each day for lunch we headed to the nearby food court and on the third day the place was packed. With a big group we struggled to find a table. To create space, I stowed my notebook on the floor. At the end of lunch I forgot to pick it up and didn’t notice until we were back at the conference. 

I was desperate to look for the notebook but didn’t have time to return to the food court until the afternoon break, some three hours after the lunch. I almost didn’t go back, I was so certain I wouldn’t find the notebook in a bustling food court that catered for thousands of customers every hour. After a little searching I managed to find the cleaner who looked after the area where we had eaten lunch. She smiled and told me that she had indeed found a notebook and put it to one side in case the owner returned. I gave her a huge thank you, collected my notebook and headed back to the conference delighted with my good luck.

Later I realised the cleaner’s thoughtfulness epitomizes a common challenge for many retailers. As more purchases shift online or to self-service, our personal interactions with retailers may be fleeting and often with team members who work in process or support roles. The food court cleaner is one example. Others include the team member who delivers a package ordered online to our home or the team member fulfilling online orders on the store shop floor.

Today’s successful retailers adopt a process mindset when it’s needed, but not at the expense of helping customers in need. The challenge for leaders is to combine the consistent execution of routines with a culture that encourages teams to seize opportunities to make a difference. Every time I return to that food court, I’ll be reminded of the thoughtful cleaner.