Is There a Resident Expert in the House?

May 4, 2009 by admncc

Do you remember the days when you could walk into a retail establishment and be greeted by an employee who was knowledgeable of the product they were selling?

I’m not that old – so I’m referring to the late-90’s, before the job market really started to change.  You know; the days when you could ask a question about a product or service and the employee could actually answer it.  Or the days when you could stop at a gas station, ask for directions and actually get the right answer.

Everything has changed.  Some jobs are now more difficult to get than others.  Some jobs just aren’t there anymore.  Job seekers are being more selective on where they apply.  Nobody wants to work entry level anymore.  And everyone wants to earn more money for what they do.

Don’t get me wrong – not every establishment is like what I described above.  But a good example of one that is would be Lowe’s.  They are struggling to make good hires.  And because their competition is so tough, they often wind up with younger-unskilled employees who are not the product experts we’d hope for.

That explains why this incident happened there yesterday.  I was looking for a ceiling fan and had some questions for the employee on duty.  After he got done staring at me and saying he didn’t know the answer, he proceeded to stand there and read from the product’s box.  My response was, “Wow, thanks for just reading from the box, now could you find someone who actually knows the answer.”  But unfortunately, there was nobody else around.

That is a very quick example.  But it isn’t just Lowe’s…  This happens at most of the stores I frequent.  OK, let’s back up.  I can understand that there is a constant fight for good new hires.  And I can understand why, for example, the employee working at Home Depot in the paint section is not a commercial painter or why the employee at Gap doesn’t have a fashion degree.  But the issue then becomes one of training.  Meaning – teach them what they need to know!

The moral of the story is that if someone doesn’t have the specific knowledge or experience when you hire them – train them to.  Ask any Recruiter.  It’s all about competencies these days.  Meaning – tell us what you’ve done in your previous jobs.  And if you haven’t done it, tell us how you’d do it for us with the proper training…

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  1. Kelly says:

    I totally agree!!!! Those people would stick around if they felt valued! By not training people and treating them like they want them to stay, they simply chase them away!

    I work for a big ol’ retailer. They laugh at people who are old timers that stick around. No appreciation.

  2. The last company I worked for eliminated the training department.

    Need I say more?

  3. NeoConDon says:

    I do a lot of projects myself. With the availablitly of instructions and videos on the internet to tackle nearly any type of project, questions at a home depot or lowes should be limited to “do you carry this item and what aisle is it in.” If you’re looking for advice, try a hardware store or hire a pro. I never really thought of the associates at one of those stores as one who know how to actually use the item, but occasionally you get lucky.

  4. Marissa says:

    One of my daughters worked at Home Depot and the other worked at Lowe’s. I know – how could that be – that I’m so young and have daughters old enough to work? But anyhoo, they used to tell me that all the employees hated all the customers. LOL

    But I think everyone should direct their frustration at the top-level management and executives at both companies and demand better training and service. And salary. If the employees were better paid, they might be motivated to improve their expertise, in order to keep promoting, so that it’s not just a drone job.

  5. Dan says:

    I think Don is wrong. You should be able to expect knowledgeable staff no matter what store it is. And I the The CC is right. This kind of stuff happens at more stores than you might imagine.

  6. NeoConDon says:

    Thanks Dan, but what someone should be able to expect is based on opinion. When I go to a Home Depot or Lowes, I expect the lowest possible price with the greatest selection. We’re dealing with high school grads that didn’t go to college…I don’t expect expertise. If these people were experts, they’d be installing electrical fixtures instead of putting them on a shelf. If I want expertise, I go to my local hardware store and pay twice as much for a poor selection. Think of it the way you’d compare Walmart to a computer store. Don’t expect a great deal of expertise when buying a computer or T.V. at Walmart…but you can save a great deal of money.

    But the CC did hit the nail on the head….it is very difficult to find good help these days. My local DIY store is always looking for new people that would actually show up, and when they show up, to actually work.

  7. Chris says:

    I totally with you. I went to buy some of those Skype headset thingies the other day and was asking some basic questions about how the headset would work with my laptop …

    Does it have a USB?
    Do I need batteries?
    How much does it cost?

    All of which were answered with a blank stare, a quick glance at the box and muffled answer indicating they have no idea.

    Needless to say, I walked out and bought the same headset from a guy who knew the answers without reading the box.

  8. william gatherer says:

    NCD… I have to say, If you go to the local hardware store and have half the selection with twice the price, I feel for you. My local hardware store has 3/4 the selection, but the prices are sometimes better. I will take that trade off. I also realized that the Lowes in my area must not have the same “low grade” “low pay” that you are dealing with. I have lucked out and got the “retired” contractor that wanted a few bucks. I certainly understand that training is lacking in some retail areas, and those stores are not alone. But when I worked at BB&B, I had to take a “class” on the items in my department, and then was responsible for the sale of those items. There are some employees that do heed the advice, and others who are “looking for work”. The ambition and drive is missing from our younger work force.

  9. Sugar says:

    I used to work at Home Depot. When Bob Nardelli became the CEO, they started to cut back. They made more money, but the customers became (and still are) more frustrated. There used to be 2-3 people per aisle. Now there’s only one for the whole department. The training that they are set up with is useless. You literally sit in front of a computer for up to 6-30 hours (depending on what department you are going in). Then you are thrown onto the floor and expected to learn, what is the term, ‘baptism by fire’. If you are lucky, someone from the department that has a brain will take you under their wing and help you.

    They don’t give a new employee time to learn anything. They just expect them to know stuff. But CC, you have a point. It’s not rocket science. He should have called someone else.

  10. c.princess says:

    CC I had a very similar experience. It happened at Best Buy. I was interested in a new laptop and requested one of the sales associates to provide me with a little more information. He proceeded to read the little cue card that was displayed in front of the model. I said to him, ‘I’ve already read that. Is there any additional information you can tell me?’ He shrugged his shoulders, said no and can you believe it, he walked away!

  11. Look at you on your professional soapbox. I love it! My recommendation, shop only at Victoria’s Secret. You will never have trouble finding help there. In fact, you may have to pull a few associates out off of you on the way out.

    Shopping irony – You don’t get help when you need it and get too much when you want to be left alone.

    PS Home Depot kicks Lowe’s butt.

  12. NeoConDon says:

    Thanks for the advise Audrey…I’m heading to Victoria’s Secret right now ;=)

  13. Amen! I’ve experienced this in nearly every store lately, but especially Lowe’s and Home Depot. Training is where it’s at, but making them do it is hard. It’s not like we can boycott because it’s across the board. They have us by the balls. I don’t see it changing at this point.

    Hey, Don, we’ll all be calling you to look up the answers on your computer. You’re cool with that, right?

  14. Leo Nevoli says:

    You get what you pay for. I can go to the local Home Depot and stand looking at things wondering what I need to buy, and when I am approached by some one they ask are you looking for something in particular? I then explain my problem, and they have no clue about what I need to fix it, nor can they refer me to someone else in the store.

    There is a local hardware store by my house, their prices are a bit hirer then Home Depot, but I can walk in, and I be greeted by someone asking me can they help me find what I am looking for. I tell them what my problem is, and they take me right to what I need, or they tell me they are going to send me to a section of the store and have John or Bob help me. They get my name, and send me along my way. As soon as I get to the section, I hear “Hi Leo, I’m John. Nice to see you back in the store again. What project are you working on this time?” Or something to that, because the person at the front of the store has already radioed to the working I am on my way. I don’t mind paying that extra few cents because I save a bit on fuel, but I get what I want with an explanation of how to do it.

  15. Tristan says:

    Exactly as others have said, when you go to a massive chain store, you can’t expect quality service. Their obligation is to their shareholders, not to you. Apparently you’re going to shop there anyway, so they have no reason to provide quality service.

    The local community store, on the other hand, wants to provide a service to the community and in turn be supported by the community. If you don’t like crappy service, don’t shop at a crappy service store, however inconvenient.

    We’re just so stuck on the idea (maybe from decades of marketing) that low prices are all that matter. Well the truth is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you save 5% by shopping at Home Depot or Wal-mart, that 5% is coming out of something. Maybe it’s worth it, but if you’re not happy, I’d say it probably isn’t. If you can’t justify spending an extra 5%, you can always do without. I know, that will freak out the consume-a-holics…

    Anyway, it’s all economics. If a store hires knowledgeable employees, they will have to pay higher wages. Spending a lot of time training is a significant investment. If a job is crappy and high turnover is expected, that investment doesn’t make much sense. All of this is going to end up costing the customer more, and since we obviously do not value quality service and will continue buying stuff at the cheapest possible price, there is no reason to have knowledgeable employees.

    If you haven’t guessed where I’m going with the blame…

  16. NeoConDon says:

    I’m not sure I agree with Jennifer Juniper (great blog by the way!) These stores don’t have us by the balls. If we want specific service, we can go to the local hardware store and pay a little more for it. I’ve been known to do this when I’m faced with a plumbing experience I’ve never seen. That’s called capitalism. You can choose to pay a little more for education when you need it, and great selection at great prices when you don’t.

    But lets face it, a ceiling fan is a ceiling fan. If you’re not capable of reading the box to see what it can do, you likely don’t have the ability to install it by yourself. I’m a natural do-it-yourselfer. I reasearch everything, watch how to videos, and then when I know what I want to buy, I grab my flat bed cart at Home Depot and buy my stuff. But we have the choice.

    You want to talk about someone having us by the balls, how about the gov’t and social security. You’re forced to pay 13% of your income for life, and all you get in return is poverty when you retire from your full time job and begin to work your part time job until you die. And there’s no getting out of it. They have us by the balls.

  17. I work at a company doing event planning/marketing/and basic administrative work. Our phone system is set up to “Press 1 for this” “Press 2 for this” you get the idea right?

    Often times our wonderfully stupid customers press 0 for all other inquiries and get me when they should have pressed 1. I listen just long enough to hear them ask something when I tell them I’ll transfer them they get all huffy and puffy “But I was on hold for 7 minutes, can’t you just answer my question.” I respond to them,
    “Actually I can’t. As bad as it sounds I’m not familiar with the technical aspect of our products, if you’ll hold the line I’ll transfer you.” The customers get all annoyed.

    I think this day and age stores don’t really care about their customer service anymore, especially big box stores. They figure they’ll get you in there with their nifty advertising and after that you don’t need help. You come and get what you want and then leave.

    If you want more personalized service you need to go to a smaller mom and pop location. They are usually more knowledgeable in what they are selling but you run the risk of them not having everything you are looking for.

  18. NeoConDon says:

    Jenny has it right. There are stores for those who know what they need and how to do it, and stores for those who do not. That’s called American Capitalism, and it’s beautiful..Think of it from a full service/self service pump at the gas station. Maybe you don’t know how to pump gas, or you’re dressed for an interview and don’t want to smell like gas…you have that choice to pay 8 or 10 cents more per gallon for someone to pump your gas. That’s teriffic! That’s the American dream. Instead of celebrating that, people attack the “big box” Store. I hate to break it to all of you, but there is nothing more American than Wal-Mart. They provide good products at an excellent price (Except General Electric…I don’t buy their products because they’re a bunch of commies)

    Bottom line: If you expect to go to a discont store and get the Sak’s Fifth Ave treatment, you need to get over yourself.

  19. Jen says:

    I completely agree about Lowes. I won’t even shop there anymore unless there is something that is easy to find and I know exactly what I want.
    I work at an equestrian shop where having a knowledge base is critical. It’s a very niche type store. People expect us to know a lot about horses and all aspects of English riding. Without the expertise, a shop like this could not exist.

  20. Tristan says:

    Don, you’ll have to define “American” before declaring Wal-Mart as the epitome. W. once used “American” to describe having to work three jobs just to support yourself and your family… It could be argued that Wal-Mart, through business tactics, is largely-responsible for pushing jobs oversees which in turn increases poverty in our country as American suppliers (jobs and productivity) are destroyed. This has the same effect as socialism, in my view–trying to do what’s best for us is actually harming us and could ultimately destroy us.

    Wal-Mart is just a business, and I’d suggest they do as much to hurt as they do to help. As people are pushed further and further down, they HAVE to shop at Wal-Mart to maintain a mediocre quality of life (the best Wal-Mart can provide)….VERY similar to how socialism works.

    The difference is that this is just business, but that doesn’t make it inherently-better.

  21. NeoConDon says:

    I’m not sure I follow you on how someone who shops at WalMart will be pushed by them into a mediocre quality of life. I have shopped at WalMart since the first one opened near me because I can buy the exact same products for less money. My family earns double the national average income, we have very little debt, and a nice disposable income. We shop there because it’s a great way to buy and save more so we can continue to build wealth. Iguess it can be argued that Walmart pushed job overseas, but that argument would not be correct. Liberalism did that.

    With the exception of them carrying all of those stupid green products and General Electric products that I don’t buy, Walmart is the epitome of capitalism, freedom, and American exceptionalism.

    Is a person more American if they buy a T.V. from Best Buy as opposed to WalMart? Likely, they don’t know what they’re doing and need someone to deliver it and hook it up. Otherwise the T.V. is exactly the same, just more expensive at Best Buy. If you look at Target and Kmart, the only difference is selection and price, but the idea is the same…same lazy employees, same clientele, and same capitalist attitude.

    Suppose I wanted to buy a pair of Khaki’s. Is someone who buys “Bills Khaki’s”, an American made product sold at Sak’s for $100 more American than someone who bought 3 pairs of “Wrangler” Khaki’s at Walmart with the same $100? What about Ivory soap, or Tylenol, or a loaf of bread, or frosted flakes? Certainly you don’t think it’s unamerican to buy Frosted Flakes from Walmart. Walmart employs more American taxpayers than any other company. To think that WalMart has caused the problems for our economy is a pretty big stretch. To say that WalMart yields the same effect as socialism is absurd…respectfully, or course.

  22. Tristan says:

    Of course Walmart isn’t the cause of the state of our economy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a contributer. Is buying an American made pair of pants more American than buying a pair made in China? That depends on the global economy.

    Buying Chinese products is probably bad because we can’t afford to pay them (given the national debt + trade deficit), and they know it, but since they collapse if U.S. consumers quit buying, they’re stuck accepting government IOUs. Good for us, we can buy cheap crap for next to nothing.

    Unfortunately, it’s still cheap crap (“They don’t make ’em like they used to…”) and we do need “unskilled” labor here in the U.S. unless we want to keep paying for people to be on welfare forever. Education is not the solution for a high school dropout. And what happens if we default on our debt to China? War is declared over much less…

    So I’d say buying Chinese products, while almost unavoidable, is contributing to a very nasty international situation, and a huge portion of Walmart’s wares come from China.

    This is not unique to Walmart, but Walmart is unique in that it is growing into every corner of the nation and putting local retailers out of business with cheap Chinese products. This contributes to poverty by eliminating local retailers and suppliers and in turn “forcing” those formerly-employed people to shop at Walmart (if not work there also). In a sense, the rest of the community benefits from lower prices and greater selection, but in return for low prices they get crappy products and service (as somewhat discussed in another recent topic). And since these crappy products are at the core of the U.S.-China relationship, they are at the source of an international problem.

    While lead paint got people thinking for about 2 minutes, no one ever considered the larger picture and the precarious situation we are putting ourselves in. We fund China, China funds our government debt, so in that sense, buying Chinese products allows the federal government to continue to grow at an unsustainable pace. China wouldn’t fund our government if they didn’t need us to buy their crap.

    So by this roundabout argument…not only does Walmart resemble socialism, it funds socialism :D…

    It’s a stretch, I know…trying to bring global economics and international politics down to the level of the shopper is way too complicated, but the logic is there…you and I are the straws that break the camel’s back.

  23. NeoConDon says:

    I’m going to give you a huge capital E for effort there. None of these stores are perfect, and if you take KMart, Walmart and Target, they certainly have a sum of issues, but they are simply a choice we have as consumers. The majority of the blame lies on our liberal gov’t and the labor unions. They do all they can to punish business, and that forces business to move out of the States. For the most part, I’ve found the quality compared to price to be better if it’s a foreign product than if it’s an American product. Our quality has gone way down hill, and our price has gone up. We have become a nation of consumers. We provide service to the world, and the world provides products to us. The only place that has a real negative impact is in the fuel of capitalism, also known as crude oil, and our military. With all the steel we import, I’d hate to think what will happen if we go to war with Russia…Where will we buy our steel??? Walmart…???

  24. Tristan says:

    I don’t have a problem with competition or capitalism or the existence of Walmart. I just don’t like their products or services and therefore hope they don’t destroy everyone.

    I don’t agree that being a nation of consumers is largely-harmless. The services that we provide often amount to doing nothing, gambling, or swindling people. We’ve been doing those three things to ourselves, also, for at least the last 30 years. We built up a whole lot of wealth based on nothing. Now it’s all tumbling down…

    Quality has gone down because we are lazy and drunk on easy money. We wanted profits and didn’t care what it took to get them. Well, here we are. No amount of financial smoke and mirrors can create a free lunch.

  25. NeoConDon says:

    You’re dead on there Tristan. If somehow the people could stop the cruelties of liberalism from coming out of the one and a half political parties in Washington, perhaps we could return to being both a producer and consumer. At least we need to begin drilling for our own oil so His Royal Highness, King Barry the Great doesn’t need to bow to the arab thugs in Saudi Arabia. THEN our energy companies and not our gov’t can begin developing profitable forms of alternative energies that can save our consumers money.

  26. Tristan says:

    Oh, but we’re too special to service our own addiction to oil. We need to drill in a desert somewhere, not in our precious tundra (a.k.a. a desert that is frozen…)

    What you’re suggesting is crazy talk, like decriminalizing drugs to eliminate drug cartels and bring the underground into the light. We don’t like to go to the source of the problem, we like to paper over it to hide such ugliness.

  27. Zig says:

    NCD, if you earn twice the average American wage, why are you a conservative? With four kids and one earner, your wife, in your house, you are all poor white trash! Do you like the status quo? You need to get on the OBAMA bangwagon…maybe your standard of life will improve! If you earn only twice the average, you need financial help. You can say you don’t, but, with 4 kids, we all know you go without! Walmart is the devil. NCD, you really are missing out on all that life has to offer!

  28. NeoConDon says:


    Whoever “educated” you should be water boarded.

  29. Tristan says:

    Just a head in the sand, Don…

  30. NeoConDon says:

    It’s like he doesn’t even read the postings he responds to. I’d like to complain about the liberals on this blog. If libs are going to be allowed to make comments, they should at least be able to prove that they are not ignorant and not stupid.

    But I can only guess that Zig is jealous of me because he’s not smart enough and too lazy to do everything that I do. My guess is that if he didn’t have his union boss telling him when to go to the bathroom, he’d wear diapers to work everyday…of course if and only if King Barry says it’s okay, and if they’re environmentally safe.

  31. Extreme John says:

    I write about this kind of stuff all the time as well TCC, I worked for Home Depot for 10 years in 10 different locations, in three different states. I was with the company in the “Hey Day” of 150 stores all with the same amazing customer service values. Through the years that began to go away and the HR officers along with a few others made it impossible to get rid of employee’s that just didn’t fit the mold.

    Poor customer service makes me sick to my stomach and it seems to happen at every single place I go, just like you said above. So sad, remember the days of hard working good old fashion customer service.

  32. Reward good customer service and punish bad. Find the right channels for feedback and use them. Do not assume you won’t be heard. I defend employment termination cases, and have seen plenty of “customer complaint” terminations. Not for one complaint, but some people get to have too many in their files and have to go.

    And don’t use a place with knowledgeable employees but higher prices just to collect information and then go buy online or at a discounter. If they have the info. to help you when you buy, they’ll probably be there for you later if you have a warranty issue, need installation help, what have you.

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