The Target Law

by Steven M. Smith · 1 comment

Have you ever had trouble finding something and needed assistance?

I have. Let me share a discovery about finding things that I made last week.

I was shopping at Target* for some last minute items before taking an eleven mile hike to an alpine lake. I needed Ibuprofen and a Cliff Bar. I was able to locate the Ibuprofen quickly. It was in the aisle labeled pain relievers. But I couldn’t find the Cliff Bar.

I only had a few minutes and Target is a large store so I asked a clerk named Eugene, “Would you help me locate Cliff bars, please?”

Eugene said, They are in the the middle of aisle 6A.”

He started walking toward the aisle, which was 100 feet from where we were standing, “Thank you, Eugene. Please keep doing whatever you were doing. I’ll find it.”

Eugene replied, “Thank you. If you need more help, please come back.”

I went to aisle 6A and the Cliff bars were exactly in the middle of the aisle. “Bingo,” I thought to myself.

I was ahead of schedule. That relief may have caused my mind to access a couple more items that I wanted. I spotted my new buddy Eugene and glided over and asked him, “Eugene, where can I find Backwoods Off?”

He said, “It’s nearby, let me walk you over.”

I followed him over a few aisles and there it was on the top shelf. I quickly grabbed it thinking about the mosquito bites that I wouldn’t have to endure when I reached the lake.

“Thank you. One more item, Eugene, and I’m good to go. Someone told me about a trail mix that you carry. Where would I find it?”

“I’m not sure. It might be near sporting goods. Let’s walk over there.”

We walked about 50 feet. Eugene pointed me at a large display of plastic bags loaded with various  nuts, chocolates and dried fruit concoctions and asked, “Is that what you are looking for?”

“That’s it, Eugene. Thank you. You’ve been a great help.”

“You are welcome,” Eugene said smiling as he turned and strolled away.

I headed toward the cash register feeling good because I was way ahead of schedule. I started thinking about the process.

When I knew exactly what I wanted, Eugene told me exactly where to find it. When I gave him a general idea of what I wanted, Eugene could get me in the general area. If I hadn’t have recalled that I wanted the trail mix, Eugene wouldn’t have been able to help me.

That’s when I had an epiphany —

The more precisely you can tell someone what you want, the more precisely they can tell you where to find it.

I started thinking about the implications. And I realized something even more important, which I’ll call the Target Law —

If you can’t tell someone what you want, no one can help you find it.

It behooves anyone who wants something added to their life to take the time to articulate as precisely as possible what it is that they want (the target). You are much closer to being able to find it yourself or finding someone, like Eugene, who can help you find it.

What happens if you can only poorly articulate your desires? You’ve learned something. You’ve uncovered the desire to better articulate what it is that you want. Someone can help you articulate your desires better when you ask for that kind of help.


*Target is a discount-store chain that has 1,600 stores in the U.S.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

margaret October 24, 2009 at 4:53 pm

The real skill is communication.

Yes, work on articulating your desires in such a way as other people will understand what it is you want, and what you are willing to do to achieve it.

But to get to the next level, the upper echelon of excellent service:

Increase your skills in understanding what other people want when they are NOT communicating well. Eugene was like that. He was engaged and interested, he cared about Target’s customers being satisfied. He listened and had previously remembered his ‘business’ for no other reason than to be able to help random persons if and when he is asked one day. He takes pride in his own competence! Onya Eugene!

In our family-run business, part of the ‘fun’ of the day was intuitively working out what the customer wanted as he or she walked in the door – before they had even said a word. I was pretty good at picking their objective – as well as picking if they had no objective and were just hanging out. Such ‘customers’ were always made to feel most welcome, no obligation, come as often as you want – we’ll eventually work out what it is that we have that you might want!

Mothers would ask, ‘Will this jacket fit my son? He’s 10 years old.’ I’d have to ask, ‘How tall is he?’. People would say things like ‘I want to buy a sleeping bag’. We had 400 different types. I’d have to say, ‘What are you doing, where are you going, when are you going will you be staying in a tent or a van?…’ It was up to me to narrow down the field. It wasn’t up to the customer to know what he/she wanted to start with. Honesty and integrity requires I offer the customer a selection of what he needs, not what I might get the most commission to sell or offload.

It’s never supposed to be up to the customer to communicate effectively in the first place. It’s up to personnel to comprehend, no matter how badly it is coming out of a customer’s brain. I have to understand that the purchase may be a low priority – or the customer may be stressed or embarrassed by their ignorance. It’s up to me to make it an enjoyable experience – it’s not up to them. (First rule of service is serve – don’t expect to BE served or you will be sorely disappointed and very poor at your job!)

Funniest regular occurrence at our store was when a customer would walk up to the counter and say, ‘Have you got these things?’ and they would go through the motions of putting their forefinger to their thumb several times. What they meant by ‘these things’ was a barrel lock (you know those things you put two draw strings through, and you press on the button to draw it up and then let go to stop the string loosening). I’d say, ‘You mean ‘these things’, they’re called ‘barrel locks but everyone always calls them ‘these things’ ‘ and I’d point to the string of them hanging over the cash register, right in front of their eyes! They’d be sooooo relieved that I knew exactly what they were talking about, despite them having to resort to the use of sign language to describe it. It never failed to bring me a bit of ‘excellence in customer service’ joy to my day!

Whether it’s barrel locks or something really important, like a bank loan, that people are needing, it’s up to the hearer to understand and comprehend. It’s not up to the speaker to say it right. Otherwise there is an inappropriate displacement of power – and the customer will not appreciate it, or you. He or she will think you are a jerk, and not at all engaged or committed in your job. After all, YOU are the one getting paid to go through the experience. The customer/client (or subordinate) is generally not getting paid, or paid as much as you, to problem solve in the situation!

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