Guitar Center: Striking A Customer Service Chord


Hello shoppers…

One of my great joys is telling you about companies that offer great customer service – especially when I tell you on Mr. not-so-great Monday, when the reflection of the weekend’s glorious journey has all but disappeared from our rearview mirror.

Then here come the staff at Guitar Center to blow up my metaphor.

I stepped through the GC front door – at 3910 University Avenue in West Des Moines – on Saturday, searching for an external microphone for a video camera that didn’t do a good enough job recording my voice during videotaped training sessions; heaven forbid someone watching the session playback, miss one scintillating word.

What scintillated next was the amazing customer service.

No matter where I walked through the large Guitar Center store, every employee I passed – we’re talking about over half a dozen staff members - looked me in the eye, smiled and greeted me…and meant it. I felt like Miss America riding through on a parade float.

Combine the consistent glad-handling with the wonderful tapestry of music being strummed, pounded and scratched on guitars, electric pianos and DJ turntables and you had one of the happiest, happening retail environments I’ve ever stepped into: Electrifying.

Take that, cemetary-quiet raTget. (Click this sentence to understand the reference.)

As good as it was, it got better, in the form of Bryce.

He is the wonderfully engaging young man who spent over an hour trying to figure out how to get an external microphone to work with my Sony HD Handycam.

He patiently connected adaptors and wires to the base unit and headset; everything checked out, everything worked until he tried connecting it to the Sony, which had other ideas. (I found out later that there’s only one external mic that works with this unit – made and sold by Sony.)

My minor disappointment at the lack of a solution was obliterated by the joy of finding Bryce and his co-workers; they are an extraordinary group of smilers, greeters, engagers and thankers (which happen to be four of the Five Pillars of Great Customer Service that I teach – click this sentence to find out more).

Later I asked David Trotter, one of Guitar Center’s Assistant Managers, if the company has a customer service training program.

“Not really,” he replied. “We just speak to and acknowledge all customers to avoid customer complaints. Plus it protects us from having stuff stolen.”

It wasn’t romantic. But you can’t question the results. In fact, engaging customers so they’re less prone to get sticky fingers is a retail philosophy also practiced by Quik Trip, another great customer service provider. (Click this sentence to read my review of QT.)  

David also told me that Guitar Center doesn’t use Secret Shoppers, but “we do phone shop other stores.” Good call.

There are 214 of them across the country: three in Iowa, including Cedar Rapids and Davenport. The Guitar Center location in Des Moines opened in 2005.

One of their newest hires – and brightest stars – is Bryce, who will celebrate his 1-year anniversary in October.

The Boone native is modest about his customer service talents – “I like to help people” - and quick to give credit for his happy vibe – “I got it from my parents.”

Hire happy. Train skills. It ain’t rocket science.

Another one of those non rocket-sciencey but cool things they do at Guitar Center is to say “Good afternoon Guitar Center” whenever an employee pages another. Simple. Smart. Fun. Ditto the sign greeting customers as they walk through the front door: We’re glad you’re here.

Yet nothing says it better than the smiling faces of Guitar Center’s employees, who create a soothing music for their customer’s souls without ever playing a note.

Members of the Guitar Center ensemble (l to r): Matthew, Brian, Bryce, Joe, Mikiel, Paul and Harold


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog   

Click to email Jonnie (   

Phone: 515-480-4190



, checking that it worked yet mystified when it didn’t work with the Sony.


 and headsetsnew products he popped right outThe “bad” news (more just marginally irritating, really) was thatSheer joy. Take been inside. It hat needed help recording audiolooking for an extern

Smile Project Winner #7: Kay Roberts, Cambridge Court Apartments


Hello shoppers…


…and welcome to the start of the work week.

While we may be less than thrilled at the idea that next weekend is five times further away than the fun-filled one we just finished, there is light at the end of our tunnel – and you lucky blog readers don’t even have to wait till the tunnel ends to get it…

May I present the non-stop smiling face of Kay Roberts, Smile Project winner #7.


I met Kay – who has been renting 1, 2 and 3 bedroom dwellings for Cambridge Court Apartments in West Des Moines for about a year – while searching for a new place to call home; I didn’t have to get any further than CCA’s office to feel like I’d found it.

That’s where Kay greeted me yesterday with the sort of ingratiating smile, warmth and genuine desire to please that one normally associates with someone who is paid to sell a house, not rent out a 900 square foot two bedroom apt with cat deposit and optional garage. (Click to see how often Des Moines real estate agents smiled during similar visits.)

When I let the cat out of the bag and told her she’d just won $25 for doing what she likely does naturally and for free, Kay wasn’t buying – at first.

“Is this for real?” she asked.

I let Jackson and Lincoln answer for me.

Kay was equally surprised when I told her I’d only been smiled at seven times by someone in retail, since The Smile Project began four months ago. (Click to find out how it got started.)

“I can’t believe that.”

Tell me about it. (Click to read about previous Smile Project winners.)

What’s equally hard for the world’s unsmilers to understand is the complicated process which Kay uses to ensure that potential renters will see, feel and experience her grin.

“It’s easy. I just smile.”

I hope all retail frowners are taking notes.

Meantime, your endearing smile and contagious joy is enthusiastically noted here, Kay, on display for the blogging minions to see and not just those stopping in, seeking a place to call home.

For them, the garage may cost extra. But Kay’s smile is on the house. :)


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog   

Click to email Jonnie (   

Phone: 515-480-4190    


Smile Project Winner #6: Bill Jack, Borders


Hello shoppers… 




Did you think that last night – while you were people-gawking at half-price night at the Iowa State Fair or relaxing in your backyard barbecuing while the kids threw around a frisbee or guffawing with friends watching Family Guy – was the last time you’d see a smile for a while, either on your own puss or someone else’s?   

Ohhhhh! It’s SO much fun when I get to give you a happy Monday morning present that blows all of that stuff up! 

May I present the non-bookish smile of book store employee Bill Jack, service manager for Borders at 4100 University Avenue in West Des Moines and Smile Project Winner #6. (Click to find out how the The Smile Project works, and how it got started.) 


Stop by Borders and enjoy Bill's "bookish" smile, that's anything but

I had the pleasure of being greeted by Bill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning grin while shopping at Borders for a bathroom/bedroom reader (short chapters for quick potty breaks, extra heavy to fatigue arms for rapid decent into sleep before scary closet monsters emerge). 

If you believe (as I did, until yesterday) that book store employees are mostly quiet, contemplative, unsmiling intellectuals, then you clearly don’t know Jack.

When I told Bill he’d just won $25 for doing something that is relatively rare in retail (only 60% of respondents to The Des Moines Customer Service Survey said they are smiled at while shopping) the Davenport native was pleasantly surprised, and wonderfully humble. (Click this sentence to take The Des Moines Customer Service Survey.) 

“It’s just the way I am, I guess,” Bill said. “I like to greet people with a smile because it makes them smile, and that makes me feel like I’m doing my job.” 

Bill has been doing his job at Borders for just under a year, and his philosophy about working there may have something to do with his Sharin o’ The Grin.  

“I’m happier at work than away from it,” he admitted. 

We’ll try to keep that a secret from your bosses at Borders, dude, just in case you’d ever want to negotiate a raise. 

As for keeping the rest of your feel – good smilin’ story buried in the discount stack, Mr. Jack? Too late – it’s now on everybody’s Monday best seller list. :) 


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.    


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog 

Click to email Jonnie (

Phone: 515-480-4190  


Get Your Great Customer Service Fix At The Iowa State Fair


Hello shoppers… 

Find great customer service at the Iowa State Fair? Man, these tough assignments… 

Yet someone must do it. And since he’s busy, I’m game. 

Finding four of the Five Pillars of Great Customer Service (that I teach with The Buyosphere) – smiles and greetings from engaging and thankful Iowa State Fair-goers is about as tough as finding an expletive at a Chicago Cubs game. 

Yet that is exactly what your friendly neighborhood Unsecret Shopper went shopping for at the 1,286th (in cow years) Iowa State Fair: cuss words. 

With none heard (moderate temps, very few bugs, short ride lines, an abundance of flop shovelers) I turn instead to a pictorial overview of the smiles, greetings, engagings and thankings that I Fair-found in barn-fulls. 



To get to the Fair, you first gotta park. 

I spotted Matt as I cruised down Grand yesterday morning around 8:30, and quickly gave into his charms, the kind that comes with standing out in the middle of the road and motioning with a large, dangerous stick towards one’s driveway.

I whipped into his yard at 2901 Grand and forked over the $10 that then allowed me, along with 15 other Fair visitors driving their own wheels, to tear up his yard and give him an excuse to not mow for the next 10 days. 

In spite of his weapon, Matt was charming. He talked about park-pimping his yard to make a little extra jack while he’s in-between gigs. “Every little bit helps,” Matt said with a smile. He’s engaged, and so really meant it. He plans on marrying the love of his life in January 2011, around the date of his girlfriend’s birthday. 

Chicks dig that entrepreneurial spirit, my friend. 



Carolyn, at the Fair box office, made me another 5 bits lighter. But with her pretty smile, I was happy to do it. 



Somebody sells ‘em, somebody takes ‘em: Harold did the honors. He told me he’s semi-retired, and that working at the Fair “keeps me out of trouble.” 

One look at that devilish grin, Harold, and there is no doubt in any of our minds that you are a man who can, indeed, get into mischief.   



After strolling a bit down the main boulevard, I took a turn into the Natural Resources Building, where Ben shared all of his natural smiling resources. 

This very engaging Fisheries Biologist with The DNR comes from good stock: his grandfather was a game warden. “I’ve always loved the outdoors,” Ben said.

He also enjoys the inevitable requests for law enforcement intervention: Somebody’s trying to square dance at the round house. Bring yur gun!

“People look at the patch on my arm and assume I’m a cop,” he said bemusedly. While this Iowa State (and North Carolina State) grad doesn’t pack a weapon, Ben does carry an unconcealed smile, which will disarm anyone. 



It was time to get some breakfast and sugar up, for the hours of walking ahead. 

I looked for the longest line, and found it at The Wooden Shack, where Loren and Judy VanGorp have been serving up Pella’s famous dutch letters and other sweet treats for 10 years. “The stand has been out at the Fair since 1947,” said Loren, who shouted out “Who’s next?!” as Judy expertly filled patron’s orders, grabbing and wrapping Bismarks, Turnovers and the very popular Puff Pillows. 

Pastry has its own built-in customer service. Loren and Judy were the wonderful extra powdered sugar, free of charge. 



            (A Drop Popz ball)                    (What happens when you drop it) 

Properly shugged up, I moved onto The Shoppers Mart at the Grandstand. 

I perused dozens of displays, ready to stop at the first one where I saw a smile, which finally came with Jen, who brought her beautiful grin and engaging manner all the way from her native Cleveland. “I’ve been traveling and selling for a company out of Atlanta for three years,” she said, “but this is my first trip to Iowa,” which she likes better, now that the heat has subsided. 

Noticing the confused look on my puss, Jen explained that a Drop Popz ball is “a ball that you turn inside out, then spin the half, drop towards the floor and catch when it bounces waaay up.”  

I was having waaay too much fun watching her catch it, to try it myself. 

It’s awesome that Drew Carry isn’t the only uber-happy, fun-loving person to come out of Cleveland. 


Some must learn to smile. Others are born that way - at the Varied Industries Building.



Inside the Varied Industries Building, I saw an engaging young man, Evan Stumpges, standing and smiling in front of an unsmiling but still engaging car. 

Behind him, said the Mechanical Engineering student entering his fourth year at Iowa State, was one cool solar-powered car. 

“We just finished the American Solar Challenge Race in June,” said the Southern California native, who has been working on the car, along with other members of the ISU student team, for two years. “The race is 1100 miles, starting in Tulsa and ending in Chicago.” Evan drove a six-hour leg – in a car that can hit top speeds of 70mph, but normally cruises at 40. “We had some electrical issues early on and ended up 11th. But we finished real strong.” 

Evan is also making a strong impression at the Fair, during his first visit to it. 


No matter how or if it turns, the Ferris Wheel is always smiling, along the Midway


The unsmiling man on the right is either the security detail, or an unhappy voter

Another thing – in this case, person – who always seems to be smiling is Governor Chet Culver, who greeted people at the entrance to the Administration Building, minutes before he began MC’ing the parade. 

I wanted to go back and pay the Pink Panther guy $100 to rent his costume for 5 minutes, then come back and see how many questions I could ask the Gov about Iowa’s endangered panthers (so much so that there aren’t any, and never have been) before the security guy took me to the ground. 

Dare to dream, foolish blogger…dare to dream. 



The smiling celeb-fest continued, as WHO TV-13’s Brooke Bouma didn’t initially notice I was taking her picture. “Hey! I didn’t see you there!” she exclaimed, after looking up from signing an autograph. I quipped, “A TV personality that doesn’t sense a nearby camera?” That brought a laugh, and a made-for TV-smile. 


Not posted: "Politicians," with arrows in every direction



Too inept to win anything at the Midway but still want to claim you scored 10,000 at Skee Ball? 

Talk to Katie. This New Mexico native, who teaches English as a second language back home, is making her first visit to Iowa, and setting a happy standard that her Sponge Bob brothers attempt to emulate. 


Even the 1,323 pound pumpkin is smiling. See??


"Keep the line mooooving, people - and tell the sculptor to keep her cold hands off my udders."



Traci – working hard at the Ag Building – has been serving up sodas and smiles at the Fair, alongside her mom, Karen, for over 30 years. 

This year, there’s even more reason to be happy. 

“My mom is having me work the booth this year,” she explained, “and letting me keep the proceeds, which will go towards my son’s tuition, at Iowa State.”  

Jonathan, her ISU engineering student son, will hopefully return the favor one day by designing a smiling robot that will do the pouring. 

Sergeant Ford shows potential Marine recruits that you can have a strong AND soft side


No smiles here, just as you'd expect - but you can't help but smile, and feel proud, as you watch the Color Guard step past



In the Cattle Barn, I found a man who is as proud of his work, as we Fair visitors are thankful for it.  

Warren has been working at the Fair, in “maintenance,” for four years. Yet this city boy – and by that, I mean Warren “grew up in New York City” – has come to love what Iowa offers. 

“I don’t know how I got here, or how it happened,” Warren smiles as he recalls, “but I know it beats living, and almost dying on the streets.” 

Cow flop, and the freedom it has brought to one man, never looked so good. 


"The Fair? BOARRing..."



"I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille. Left profile only, please."

Lily, a three year-old Belgian beauty from Sparrow Farms in Zearing, posed beautifully at the Horse Barn. 

Owner Paul Sparrow spoke fondly of these magnificent draft horses. 

“Belgians were originally bred in Europe to carry knights in armor, for battle, so they had to be large” he explained, as we watched family members battle the clock, to prepare Lily to be shown. 

Lily will likely be showing her stuff in front of smiling Fair onlookers for many years to come, as Belgians live well into their 20’s and 30’s. 


"Closed ended questions? Baaaaaaad..."



Outside, where no livestock hung out but you knew they weren’t far away, Sherry Gonder, along with hubby Brian, happily tended to tire kickers and browsers of their many Featherlite trailers. 

This ain’t their first time at the rodeo. 

“This is our 19th year at the Fair,” Sherry said, and not in a I’m-tired-of-this tone that one might have expected. 

Her positive energy could be one of the reasons why the Gonders operate the 2nd largest Featherlite dealership in the country, in Bondurant. 

“We love it out here. The people are great, and we have a lot of fun.” 

Expect to see her shining smile and the couple’s shimmering Featherlites next year, their 20th, at the Fair


Katdaddy keeps visitors smiling, singing and clapping, on the Budweiser stage



As Emma and Jenny give a smile and a wave at the beginning of their Fair journey, it’s time to end mine. 

Whether you’ve been to the Iowa State Fair recently, not for a long time, or perhaps never, it hardly matters: the Fair is a sun-kissed childhood fantasy frozen in time, patiently waiting to be thawed by each August’s summer sun, to lure us back with the promise of familiar smiles and sights and tastes and sounds. It provides us with the ultimate customer service experience, by being exactly what we remember it being, and nothing else. 

And therein lies the greatest joy of all for us…it doesn’t have to be: It’s The Iowa State Fair  – going on now through Sunday. 


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.    


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog 

Click to email Jonnie (

Phone: 515-480-4190  



The Ultimate Solution For Keeping Retail Bathrooms Clean


Hello shoppers… 


None of us like to go potty using any potty other than the one our bum has become most abumstomed to i.e. our toidy at home. 

That’s as cool as the other side of the toilet seat - if we’re right there.  

But put us on the road, six cups of coffee and 37 miles away from the familiar “feel” of home “plate,” and our options narrow: 

1. Hold it till we get home. 

2. Use a coffee can in the car, like I had to, until the age of 6. 

3. Use a hidden tree, like I’ve been doing since some point after that. 

4. Use a public restroom. 


Retailers tremble at our shopper’s propensity to select the last option, especially if it’s theirs. 

"Pleeeze don't pick number 4! Purty purty purty pleeeze, with sugar on it!"


John Wykoff, a national marketing consultant and sales trainer (and no relation to the man in the above photo) put it succinctly, in an article for, The Little Detail That Matters For Small Retailers: 

“Women frequent a restroom twice as often as men. Women over 20 and those who have had a baby frequent restrooms even more often. Women are very sensitive when it comes to the cleanliness and supplies when they use a restroom. If the women’s restroom is not up to her standards she will NEVER come back to your store. Women control 85% of all discretionary dollars spent in the US.” 

That’s why. Dudes will go about anywhere, and do. But if Mom, wife, girlfriend, grandma or sis think the ladies room is a gross-fest, it’s game over, and they’re gone, for good. 

We have fewer issues with a dirty bathroom when its our dirt, in our bathroom. 

But our standards, regardless of gender, are much higher when we’re soiling on foreign soil, along with hundreds of other soilers.   

The most common places we potty away from home are, reasonably enough, those that are most convenient: convenience stores. 

But that easy access also creates a massive problem for CS owners, managers and employees, who have to try to keep up with our bladders and colons.  

As Dean Martin sang, Ain’t that a kick in the head – with “head” in this case supplying the one guffaw in this post. (Click this sentence to see why the previous one is funny, and so am I.)  

This head-kicking point was dramatized in some of my Secret Shopper reviews, which uncovered some less than stellar bathrooms. (Click below to read more.) 

Kum and Go Pt 1   Kum and Go Pt 2  

Casey’s General Stores  

Auto Repair Shops 

So what’s the ultimate solution for keeping retail bathrooms clean, since that was this post’s headline? (I have to stop being this funny.) 

I stumbled upon it last week, while vacationing in Milwaukee. (Click this sentence to see why the last one isn’t funny, but is extremely interesting.) 

On our way back from catching the last of two baseball games at beautiful Miller Park in Milwaukee, my buddy and I stopped in Dodgeville, Wisconsin (pop. 53,595 + 2, briefly) to gas up and, sure enough, make more room for more diet soda drinking along the 230 miles still left till terra Central Iowa firma. 

We pulled into a Kwik Trip. While my friend pumped the gas, I headed to the men’s room inside the store. 

As I entered, I saw this sign on the wall – and immediately knew I’d found a great work of customer service art. 


Here’s why this sign rocks: 

1. Holding owners accountable: There’s no question in our consumer mind, based upon this extraordinary sign, that a specific someone, somewhere, is looking out for our best interest. In this case, the particular someones happen to be the owners of the entire Kwik Trip franchise – over 400 stores in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and growing.  

Now that’s customer service.  

2. Holding managers/employees accountable: If you’re an employee at this Kwik Trip store, do you want to be the one who gets pulled aside by your manager, who got the call from their regional manager, who got the call from KT corporate, which may have come directly from Don and Steve and Zietlow, for all we know, telling you that a customer called and complained about a dirty bathroom, during your shift? 

I suspect that most of the Kwik Trip store employees will do whatever it takes to make sure those calls and conversations, never take place. 


I have no scientific research to back up my supposition. But I’m a guessin that Kwik Trip bathrooms are consistently clean, whichever one you go to, to go.  

Every business owner commited to great customer service, should follow their lead – especially convenience stores.  

Because whether you’re a busy retailer trying to keep a bathroom clean, or a full bladdered consumer in search of one that’s not dirty, a simple sign seems to have provided a solution for you both. 

Or you can toss a coffee can in your car. You make the call.


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Click to email Jonnie ( 

Phone: 515-480-4190   


Enjoy Great Customer Service In – Milwaukee?


Hello shoppers…  


"And here's the 73rd pic of Grandma pretending like she's biting into the world's largest pecan, in Brunswick, Missouri!"



There’s nothing worse – other than going through hernia surgery post-op , taking a drink of milk when you get home from the hospital that’s two weeks past code, dropping the rotten gallon milk jug on your big toe, or trying to write an email to your local grocery store to complain about the unexpected curds, and noticing your home internet service is down, where it stays, for a month,  than suffering through someone else’s vacation photos.  

So let’s look at some of mine from last week. Yeaaaaaaa!!!!!  

The purpose, in this instance, is purely scientific: to demonstrate that I didn’t overspend for my $250 Blackberry, and to show photographic proof of the surprisingly high level of customer service experienced last week while on a 2-day vaca-stay in Milwaukay.  

That’s right. Milwaukee. The one in Wisconsin.  

"Hey kids, who wants to spend our summer vacation where Laverne and Shirley live?!"


No one vacations in Milwaukee. Not intentionally.  

“Hey Bianca ! Where are you and Emmerich vacationing this summer?”  

“Oh Porsche, listen to this! We were thinking about staying at The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi in mid-June, The Puri Le Mayeur Villa of the Tugu Hotela in Bali in early July, and closing out the month with two days at the Milwaukee Airport Motel 6.  

“You lucky sausage!”  

Which is what our hotel room kinda smelled like. I’ll pop the casing on that one shortly.  

Milwaukee doesn’t show up on CNN/Money Magazine’s list of the top 100 best places to live in the US in 2010.  Our own Ames, Iowa is 9th. West Des Moines is #75.  The first Wisconsin town to appear is Waukesha, at #50.   

Okay, so this is a list of cities with populations under 200,000, and Milwaukee has 604,477. But you can see what I’m getting at.   

There are also the  Milwaukee jokes – about their excessive drinking, their penchant for ranch dressing, sausage and cheese, their weird accents, their insanely cold and snowy weather, their cannibals (Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, who lived in another Wis town, but close enough) and their baseball team (The Brewers):  

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Prince Fielder says he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Milwaukee. Mainly because it’s the only city in America where he’s considered thin.  

Jokes aside, The Brewers were the main reason I and a good friend schleped the 375 miles up the I-35 north corridor, across Highway 20 east, up Highway 151 north and across I-94 east, to The South Airport Motel 6, in the first place.  

The Brew Crew and my beloved Cincinnati Reds were polishing off the last two games of a three game set at the beautiful Miller Park, and it was the closest the 2010 version of The Big Red Machine would get to Central Iowa.  

If you’re a sports fan, you can forget the Five Pillars Of Great Customer Service: The greatest smile, greet, engage, thank and follow-up you can experience is when your team wins.   

Yet as a wonderfully surprising bonus, the staff at our Motel 6 got things started on a winning foot.  

Sure, the room smelled like a weekend with a just released Lindsay Lohan, and okay, the bathroom door came off in my hand. (Travel tip on the dope rhyme: ask for a room other than #227.) 

But the front desk ladies both smiled as I entered the front office, were extremely courteous, addressed me by my first name as they handed me my two door keys, and remembered it, and greeted me by it the next day, when I checked out.  

That ain’t bad for $49.99 per night, plus tax.  

Living up to the promise of their marketing: Behind that unassuming front entrance lies great customer service


It also isn’t too shabby for $30.23 – the amount it took to fill up at a Milwaukee Kwik Trip (which should not be confused with the other Quik Trip chain, which sounds eerily similar). 

In fact, at each of the four KT’s we visited those two days (in and out of Milwaukee) the clerks smiled easily, greeted heartily, engaged thoughtfully and thanked thankfully. (There’s one exceptional KT stop in particular that I’ll tell you about in tomorrow’s blog.)   


There was great - and unexpected - customer service at these stores


The great customer service continued at Miller Park.  

The parking lot attendants smiled and said “Hi!” and “Welcome to Miller Park!” as they took my seven bucks, and waived us through.  

Joel (and I’m guessing at his name because I forgot to ask), a young man selling game programs at a kiosk inside the stadium’s entrance, kept the happy mojo going, with a smiling “Hi!” and engaging way of explaining the difference between a game program, which was free, and a Brewer’s 40th Anniversary Program, which was free plus $10.  

What’s a baseball game without 5,230 calories? Not one!  

It was on to the snack bar, where Bob (and I’m guessing at his name because etc etc blah blah), who was on active duty, and volunteering as a food server, greeted with a huge grin and a “Welcome to Miller Park! Can I get ya a cold one?”  

My gut didn’t mind the closed-ended question. Here’s 12-75. Hand me seven pounds of nachos and a 5 gallon Brewer souvenir cup sized diet Pepsi, please.  

Nachos are naturally smiley


The fans in the stands were happy, too, even as their Brewers team got walloped 10-2 that night, and 12-4 the next afternoon. 

No one got rowdy. No one got stupid. In fact, even as the Reds put a hittin hurtin on Brewer’s pitching, fans sitting around us were smiling and laughing, and extremely engaging, asking us where we were from (Iowa) and what we did (television stars).  

"Did I mention that I co-anchor the TV-8 news in Des Moines, with Kevin Cooney?"


Could all that uber-friendliness have been the cold-filtered malt, yeast, hops and barley talking? Sure. The feet of the beer vendors barely touched stadium concrete, in three and a half game-long hours, each day.  

But 9,999,999,999,999 bottles of beer at the park, doesn’t explain everything…  

The sausage race sausages were smiling...


The cameraman was smiling...


My friend Matt (kinda) smiled - and he NEVER smiles on camera


The employees and fans and people in and around Miller Park and throughout Milwaukee were as nice and engaging to us as you could possibly imagine.  

I drove to the 26th largest city in the country, seeking baseball victories – and came back an even bigger winner, from having met the wonderful people who inhabit the picturesque place its indigenous Native Americans called Millioke, meaning: Good Beautiful Pleasant Land.  

They were (W)right. 

The only joke I’ll tell about Milwaukee from now on, is the one on me, for not going there sooner.  


That’s one even Miller Park smiles at – if you look at it just right.  


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Click to email Jonnie ( 

Phone: 515-480-4190   


The Smile Project Winner #5: Meet Jim Kidd


Hello shoppers… 


"Welcome to raTget"

(Click picture to find out what “raTget” means.) 


A tourist’s trip to London usually involves a visit to Buckingham Palace, where attempts are made, sometimes successfully, to get one of the otherwise stoic Palace guards to laugh. (Click inside these parenthesis to read a clean but funny top 10 list of “Things You Don’t Want To Hear At A Tattoo Parlor,” that will make you laugh.) 

A shopper’s trip to Hy-Vee Convenience Store on Mills Civic Parkway usually involves a visit to the check-out counter, where any attempt to get the jovial Jim Kidd to frown will be an utter waste of time. 

Stop in and try it. I (fresh-baked) double dutch (cookies) dare ya. 

It will be particularly difficult now that Jim has been officially declared winner #5 in The Smile Project.  

As soon as I stumbled through the entrance to the Hy-Vee Gas Station at 665 South 51st Street in West Des Moines on Monday afternoon, temporarily blinded by the twinkle reflecting off Jim’s constantly exposed toofers, I figured we’d have a winning grin. 

All Jimmy had to do was keep his chortles super – charged, until I grabbed a snack and sashayed towards the counter…  

47 seconds and a counter-clockwise jaunt around the convenience store later, Kit-Kat and Diet Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi firmly in hand, Whoomp! There it was! The big ole grin of big ole Jim!   

As he smilingly scanned my Kit-Kat bar, Jim said, with a voice that must be what Santa Claus sounds like if he ever stayed long enough to chat on Christmas Eve, “These are really fresh. I just put them out.”  

He could have told me they’d been air-dropped out of a helicopter that left Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory earlier that morning, and I’d have believed him.  

I quickly whipped a twenty and a fiver out of my wallet’s secret IN CASE OF SMILE compartment (To paraphrase Foghorn Leghorn, fortunately I keep my money numbered, for just such an emergency.), put the cash on the counter, and told Jim why I appeared to be overpaying for my candy bar and soda by $21.89. 

“You gotta be kiddin,” Jim Kidd(ingly) said through a smile that did the seemingly impossible, and actually increased in size. 

He turned and looked behind him at store manager Mike Barger, who was watching and listening in, wearing a pretty good-sized grin of his own. 

“Is this legal?” Jim asked the boss. 

“Sure it is,” Mike smartly replied, without feeling compelled to crack open the Hy-Vee manual, under Weird Blogger: Contests.  

I asked Jim what his title was. Before he could answer, Mike chimed in: “Chief smiler!” 

That’s a management position, Michael. Jim, I’m thinking that’s at least a 40% pay hike. How about you?? 

Jim told me he’d managed quite well in previous customer service positions, but that “this” – meaning “this greet for show, smile for dough” dealio – was something new. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” he explained. 

It hasn’t happened to anyone, Jim, other than the smiling 4. (Click this sentence to read about winner #1.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #2.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #3.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #4.

Now watch, and enjoy, winner #5. 



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Email Jonnie at:   

Phone Jonnie at: 515-480-4190   


Secret Shopping KCCI: Lessons Learned From Iowa’s Customer Service Leader


Hello shoppers…  

If I asked each of you to make a list of businesses that offer great customer service, I’d bet you dollars to blog posts that “KCCI” would appear way down the list – as in, “not on it, because that’s stupid.”  

That’s reasonable. KCCI isn’t a mall, a store, a kiosk, a lemonade stand or a station wagon full of puppies for sale in a Walmart parking lot. If they sold women’s separates at KCCI, you’d think we’d have seen Stacey Horst in a The Horst Collection soft focus TV ad by now. 

I’m not even sure they have trinkets to pimp or give away at KCCI’s front desk, like little Weather Beacon Key Chain Flashlights that shine red, white, green and blinking lights, or With Love, Andy Garman autographed hockey pucks, or Karlin Covers Iowa State Map Puzzles, with each county piece embossed with a caricature of Steve’s head, wearing a huge grin beside a word bubble filled with some folksy greeting, like “How y’all in Chickasaw!” or  “What up, Winnebago!” or “You’re all-righta, Ida!” or “Keokuk, you suck!” to see if anybody’s paying attention. (The entire merchandise list can be found by visiting, which doesn’t exist.)  


(I’m just sayin…) 

Too bad they’ve never asked me about this.  I could have made The Hearst Corporation hundreds.   


Imagine KCCI hotdogs, hand sanitizers and lawn fertilizer. Picture KCCInn and Suites, KCCiPods, KCCi-Ci's Pizza...


After last week’s extraordinary experience at the KCCI studios, I’m revising my own list of places where the service is boffo, and putting the TV station up near the top-o.  

Before you start writing your own smarty pants list titled, Rumps Jonnie has kissed and put “Kevin Cooney” in 1st, let me say, Cooney-gorically, that you’re right.  

Actually, Kevin started the smooch-a-thon by calling me Thursday afternoon. He was very kind, and complimentary of The Unsecret Shopper blog, which he said he’d been reading for months. I extended my sympathies. Then we agreed to get together and do an interview for his Sunday Newsmakers show.  

The show was taped on Friday and aired on Sunday. I had a blast, and hope no one who watched was permanently injured. Litigious inquiries can be submitted by visiting…oh never mind.  

While the show is over, and Kevin’s out searching for his next news maker, what hasn’t stopped, for me, is everything else that happened around my thankfully limited time on camera.  

I’ve been on TV before, and not America’s Most Wanted. Being shot (again, not AMW) is fun, exciting, something cool to share with friends, family, trainees, managers and business owners who will most likely never get to experience the thrill of the glare of studio lights and television cameras.  

But it was the peripheral stuff, the stuff before and after the shoot, that’s stayed with me. What I experienced in those moments is worth retelling here, as it is, in most ways, a blueprint for how retail businesses should be doing their business.  

Let’s use the four of the five great pillars of customer service that I use in training – smile, greet, engage and thank –  as a template, to see how KCCI did, just like I was going there to shop for a Kurtis Gertz Bobblehead.   


Imagine this, bouncing on your car dash


1. Did they smile as I entered?  

Linda, the KCCI receptionist, hit me with a cheek to cheek grin that barely fit her face, the moment I walked through the auto-sliding KCCI building front doors. How often do you get that as you enter an office, a store, any business?  

2. Was I greeted as I entered?  

Quicker than you can say, “We’ll be right back with John Mclaughlin’s hotter than a sweatband in a fireman’s helmet forecast,” Linda blurted out, “Hi! How are you?” and meant it.  

Can you remember the last time you were greeted like this, upon entering a business?  

3. Was I engaged?  

As soon as Linda got off the phone, she started asking me about the warm day outside, and talked about how much she was looking forward to being out in it, after work.  

Again, think about your retail day – the convenience store clerk, the car salesperson, the bank teller. How often do any of these people, ask you, about you, and tell you about themselves?  

5 minutes later, I got a second helping of smile/greet/engage as Kevin approached, hand outstretched. “Hey Jonnie, how are you? Great to finally meet you in person!”  

He led me to a conference room, where we had the most wonderful conversation about KCCI.  

Kev and I talked about the station’s history, about past personalities, about their recent reunion, about who showed up, who couldn’t make it, and who had passed on. He described his early days as a young reporter, plopping himself down in TV-8’s anchor chair in 1982 and staying there for 30 years, about the on-air staff who had come through their doors since – those who were happy broadcasting campers, and those whose personalities didn’t always mesh with management.  

I reminisced about playing tennis with the late Paul Rhoades (who passed away in 2007) and once serenading the still quite alive Kathy Soltero, who now sells real estate in Colorado. I told him the story of walking up to the entrance to the old KRNT TV studios one cold, dark winter morning to tape a Church Of The Air show featuring my hometown Cambridge Baptist Church, and being scared out of my 8 year-old Buster Browns, by a huge hulking backlit figure, who turned out to be the gentle Russ Van Dyke, KRNT’s famous backwards temperature-writing weather guy.  

I’d see the exact same image again, a year later, on the movie poster for The Exorcist - a connection that Russ would have hopefully laughed at, as Kevin certainly did.  


My kid version of Russ Van Dyke, minus the creepy music and elevating bed


Kevin’s engaging ways continued, as he introduced me to Ron, the show director, along with the teleprompter operator and another person working on the floor, whose names I obviously don’t remember, but whose smiling faces and laughter, I’ll not soon forget.  


I broke two of these. Estimated replacement cost for KCCI? $8,888,888.88


After the shoot, Kevin continued the full court engagement press, giving me a mini-tour of the facility, and introducing me to staff, like news director Dave Busiek, who I’d never met and who was wonderfully engaging and gracious, and Dana Cardin, who was just as nice but couldn’t quite recollect that we’d met before, during a story he shot during a morning radio show bit I did in the mid-90’s, involving racing rats, frogs, dogs, pigs and disgruntled postal workers, to determine who would win that next day’s Iowa-Iowa State Football game.  

ISU won 3 out of 4, and got crushed the next day, 27-10.  

4. Did they say thank you?  

Kevin, Dave, Dana, the floor crew, Linda, were all thank-you machines, expressing their gratitude to me for coming in, and for not being potty-mouth on-camera.  

Smile, greet, engage and thank – the entire staff at KCCI, did it all. Name the staff, and the business, who does it at all.  

Yet, if I’m going to evaluate KCCI on a “retail” basis, we can’t forget 5. The bathroom…  


The irrefutable potagraphic evidence


It was spotless. Do TV people even have bowel movements?  



Sure, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch – perhaps even one as big as The Weather Beacon is tall (200 feet) to talk about KCCI as if it plays in the same sandbox as Hy-Vee, Home Depot and Best Buy.  

Yet consider this: Just like the stores that sell salad dressing, shingles and CD’s, KCCI also has a commodity to sell  – its personalities, and its programming.  

We “buy” by tuning in. The “money” we spend is Nielsen Ratings, which KCCI NewsChannel 8 has dominated for over 30 years. Those ratings translate into real cash, that advertisers – like Hy-Vee, Home Depot and Best Buy – spend (and a lot of it) to have their ads air, during the highest rated local news in the country.  

There are multiple layers of “customer service” being offered here by KCCI, along with tremendous ratings and revenue success. Are they related?  

Viewers obviously enjoy the smiling, greeting, engaging “Fantastic Four” of Kevin, Stacey, Kurtis and Andy. I was in broadcast-hog heaven, being engaged by Kevin and the rest of the KCCI staff. NewsChannel 8 generates high ratings and massive revenue for the station. Is all of that, just a coincidence?  

Perhaps Kevin Krause, the Senior VP of Marketing for Kum and Go, said it best, when he told me that “A store’s customer service rating has a direct correlation to that store’s revenue. The higher the ratings, the higher the revenue.  

Working for a Convenience Store leader, one Kevin knows it. Working for Iowa’s News Leader, another Kevin does it.  

Now let’s hope business owners are tuning in, and get it.  


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT. Email Jonnie at  



The Unsecret Shopper Doesn’t Go Shopping – And Finds A Smile (Project Winner)


Hello shoppers…

This particular space, on this particular day and at this particular time, is traditionally reserved for the semi-agitated (fully agitated, if it’s about raTget) evaluatory musings of your friendly neighborhood Unsecret Shopper, in the form of a detailed Secret Shopper review of a randomly selected local business.

With our nation’s birthday so close you can taste it (I’m tasting grilled burgers and brats with double slices of melted real, sharp cheddar cheese, sitting atop bakery-fresh buns, loaded down with all the fixins and parked in their summertime reserved space, alongside their dear friends – homemade potato salad, baked beans, Ruffles potato chips, AE Chive and French Onion Dip and hand-cranked homemade ice cream, all consumed under a shaded picnic table, assisted by 189,320 suddenly appearing out of nowhere flies – how about you?) however, I thought it might be an appropriate time to put down the uber-critical attitude, move slowly away from the ‘puter, and take a blogging breather from busting on good, hard-working folks, just because they don’t cough up a smile within 1.4 seconds of my appearance. (That program will return at its regularly scheduled grumpy time, next Thursday.)

In its stead, this week? Admittedly, nothing was coming to mind (probably cause me mind was on fooooooood) until 9:37pm last night.

That’s when I stood at a check-out counter at Dahl’s Foods, 5440 NW 86th Street in Johnston.

I’d just placed my reasonably priced package of whole baby-bella mushrooms on Dahl’s trademark crazy-cool semi-circular rotating check-out counter, and was watching it slowly being transported towards a set of obviously skilled, scanning hands, when I happened to notice they were connected to the arms, which were attached to the torso, atop which sat the head, which possessed the face, upon which appeared the most beautiful, warm, unwavering, pleased-to-be-checking-me-out, nobody-has-any-business-being-that-happy-that-late-at-night smile, of Beth – who immediately rescued me from painful writer’s block, by becoming The Smile Project winner, #4.

Instead of trying to explain to Beth why I was about to hand her $25, I tried to explain to her boss, Store Director Kenny Kane, why I was about to hand one of his employees, $25.

As Ricky Ricardo once said, he didn’t need much ‘splainin.

Kenny, in fact, had read the Secret Shopper review of the Dahl’s on E.P. True Parkway, and so was familiar with my blog.

“Didn’t the night crew do better than the day staff?” Kenny asked.

Somewhat pensively, I replied, “Uh, yeah.” I hope you’re not married to someone who works there.

Apparently he wasn’t, because he didn’t punch my lights out. Instead, Kenny was lights-out gracious, even finding another employee to take over for Beth, so I could give her the good news, and the cash.

She accepted both with an even bigger smile, if that’s possible.

What Beth represents – to Kenny, her co-workers, the customers she serves, and all of us – is all the possibilities that come with being happy, and choosing to serve that way.

Thank you for making that choice, Beth. This is for you.

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT. Email Jonnie at

A Death In The Family: Emmie, Dr. Bolser And The Power Of Customer Service


Hello shoppers…

Is there any customer service that makes us feel less like a customer, than what we receive during our greatest moments of crisis?

The police officer that responds to our 911 call. The ER doctor who stabilizes our child’s vitals. The psychiatrist who talks us off the ledge. It is their job to solve our problem. Yet it is their humanity that lays its warm hands upon us, quelling our fear, stilling our heart, easing our pain. In these critical moments, they are not employees fixing what we bought. They are heroes, saving what we love.

One that couldn’t be, was the much loved Emmie.

Late Friday night, at Iowa Veterinary Specialties, a 24-hour animal hospital on SW 63rd Street, I stood beside Lorri, a beautiful friend, while Dr. Karl Bolser, an incredible veterinarian, tended to Emmie.

She’d suffered a paralyzing seizure, an hour earlier.

I carried her limp body into the Clinic, where a concerned receptionist checked us in to an exam room. We were joined shortly by Dr. Bolser, who was greeted by tear-stained faces and heavy hearts.

Dr. Bolser, who neither one of us had met, listened intently while we described what happened, nodding his head as he looked over Emmie. After we finished, he tenderly offered his prognosis, and our possible options.

I’ve met and worked with many skilled, compassionate vets over the years, bringing them injured dogs, diseased cats, crushed turtles, colic horses and sick ferrets.

Yet none of them was the equal of Dr. Bosler. His humanity ruled the room, larger even than his technical skill as a vet, which appeared sizeable in its own right. I’ve never met a veterinarian who possessed such an amazingly kind nature, wonderfully gentle spirit and warm nurturing demeanor. 

It was a moment, with two heartbroken people and a suffering dog, which demanded all three.

Before Friday’s sequence of events, the 12-year-old German Short Hair had lived a good, happy, relatively healthy dog’s life.

Emmie had been raised as a puppy by Lorri and her children.  She’d been turned into a skilled hunting dog but exclusively outdoor pet by Lorri’s husband, then been set free many years later, as had Lorri, by her courageous divorce. To celebrate, Lorri brought Emmie inside, to stay, where all dogs should be allowed to live, play and dream, to love and be loved, as not a dog at all, but as the shortest, hairiest member of the family.

The first time I met Emmie, I felt something less than adoration.  She expressed her joy at seeing a new friend pull into her driveway, by running up to my six month old Prius, crashing her large paws onto my driver’s side door and happily digging her happy claws into it, which immediately diminished the car’s value by $2,362.09.

Several weeks later Emmie was a bargain, costing me just eight bucks in what would be known as The Pasta Incident, when a very silly blog writer left two quarts of expensive gorgonzola pasta from Gateway Market in his Prius’ backseat “for just a moment” while he ran in the house, returning way too long later to find one empty container and one full dog, with a cheesy ring around her snout.

There was Emmie’s silly hound dog barking when you barked back equally silly at her, and her low guttural moan when you softly rubbed her belly, making you want to rub it all the more, which was certainly her point. There was taking Emmie for a walk, and your sore arm asking, “Who is walking who?” There was the late afternoon sound of opening the fridge, signaling Emmie that it was “ham treat” time, which would send her lumbering into the kitchen, her long toenails making the most annoying clicking sounds, followed later by another annoying sound, signaling the release of her room-clearing ham-gas, that was certainly Emmie’s revengeful way of saying, “THAT’S what you get for yelling at me about my toenails!”

There was her wonderful obedience, as she’d always go into her crate with a simple “Kennel, Emmie” voice command. There were her hilarious summer stare-downs with nearby laughing rabbits, who would toy with her, as they knew exactly how far Emmie could reach before her shock collar was tripped by underground fencing. There was the beauty of the smile you were sure you could see on her face every time you let her in from going potty, thanking you for freeing her from a lifetime spent outside, and allowing her to call the inside of your home, her home, too.

A final moment of freedom was now coming, for Emmie.

Lorri and I asked Dr. Bolser to leave the room, where we then spent a few minutes talking about Emmie’s options.

Yet looking at Emmie as we talked, her eyes still rolled partially back into her head hours after her seizure, her breathing coming in occasional shallow gasps, her legs splayed and nearly unable to support her weight, we both realized that there were not several options for Emmie, but just one.

Several minutes later, Dr. Bolser returned, syringe in hand, assistant by his side.

While Lorri and I wrapped our arms around Emmie, Dr. Bolser gently inserted the needle into her arm and depressed the plunger, releasing the tranquilizer into her vein. We held Emmie and whispered I love you’s into her ear, as her head slowly slumped down to the metal examination table.

15 seconds later, it was over. “She’s gone,” Dr. Bolser said, softly, lifting the stethoscope from Emmie’s chest.

And so she is.

It is never easy to lose someone you love, especially when the loss is stark and sudden, as it was with Emmie. Yet we understand the rules going in, that each living thing that we love is mortal, governed by the rules of God, who will call us home on a day and at a time of his choosing.

As Emmie was called home on Friday, all of us who were left behind, who were touched by her, feel a little emptier today without her, and we grieve her loss.

Yet in the process of losing her, we have gained something, too.

It is the beautiful discovery of a very special man, who likely doesn’t consider himself special at all. Yet Dr. Karl Bolser’s incredible warmth, compassion and gentility will remain in our hearts forever, wrapped around the memories of Emmie, who now runs free.

Go chase the bunnies, sweetheart.


Emmie     1998-2010

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at