Blind Obedience.

"Buying Experience" is the most critical aspect of differentiating any business; it is the 'one thing' that allows you to hold on to existing customers and to attract new ones. And therefore, because so many of us increasingly buy online, the brick-and-mortar shopping experience has to exceed all expectations because we have an easy alternative at our fingertips. Yesterday, I was online at RiteAide and stood behind a lovely eighty-year-old sweet lady buying a six-pack of beer.

Cashier: "May I see your I.D.?"

Lady: "Oh, it's been a while since I've been asked that question, young lady."

Cashier: "I'm sorry, I have to do this for the cameras" (pointing to cameras above her head)

The elderly customer, having a great attitude about this, opens her purse and pulls out her license.

Cashier: "Oh, I don't have to read it, it's OK."

Here's the thing: If you train Robo-Service-Reps to just stand around and blindly follow directions because it is their "JOB" then you are creating the type of buying experience that says, "next time go to my competitor."

This idiotic Robo-culture robs employees of their ability to enjoy their work - nothing is fulfilling about scanning thousands of items as a cashier, absolutely nothing. Maybe some employees challenge themselves (I won't be surprised if they are being told to do that) with speed tests; what is the fastest checkout you've ever done? No, there is only one reason for a cashier's job to be fulfilling, and that is by interacting with customers and creating, even for ten seconds, a personalized shopping experience.

It's not hard you know. Starbucks has done that by announcing your first name when your order is ready. Verizon Wireless, repeats your name and then thank you for being a loyal customer. Zappos wants to make you happy even though you're just buying shoes. RiteAid, on the other hand, wants to ensure that no senior citizen can buy beer without proving how old they are.

Here's the scary part; so many marketers, blog writers, and webinar hosts speak about the 'customer experience' that we are getting dangerously close to beating this concept to death. Customer experience is one step away from joining the long list of Forbe's useless words like; core-competency, empower, synergy, move the needle, etc.

But in this case, we can not afford to give up on "customer experience" - this can't become jargon; it is the lifeblood and future of any business.

When you scan beer at the self-checkout lane in a supermarket, you are told to wait for help. For now, the barcode scanner can't tell your age. Minor annoyance but logical. A young lady asking an eighty-year-old for proof is idiotic, period.

Years ago I learned about a brilliant concept that allows us to determine the root cause of failure - you observe an unacceptable behavior and ask: "Is this an event or a condition?" You see, events are one-time occurrences (that can be excused or explained), while conditions indicate an underlying and serious problem.

Is proofing a senior shopper an event or a condition? It is highly unlikely that the young cashier decided on her own to ask for an ID. No, she was told, "everyone gets proofed regardless of age, and you better do your job because we have cameras."

This type of corporate culture that insists on blind obedience has no place in modern 21st-century business. If you're going to completely dismiss the value of human-delivered service, then install self-checkouts (which are never fast and consistently frustrating) lanes.

Seth Godin, in his brilliant TEDx talk, "Stop Stealing Dreams," explains that what is wrong with schools is that they teach students to be obedient and always hold back on their potential. Why? Because nothing is ever good enough and so the teacher (or our parents) are always going to tell us to try harder. And at work, obedience kills creativity, employee initiatives and the opportunity to make a difference especially doing mundane tasks.

There is nothing wrong with developing and implementing processes and systems that create efficiencies in a business. But dismissing the impact employees can make is counterproductive and utterly destructive. Every single customer service improvement has originated by an employee that cared. Tell them to stop thinking and fear the cameras and watch your business go into a death spiral. It may not happen in one day but each bad experience at your shop serves as a reminder that customers have choices and no one has to put up with an insulting or bad shopping experience ever again.

Before you tell your employees to just do their job, ask first if they like their job and what you can do to make it better.