‘At The Home Depot we put the associate and the customer at the top’

Seth Adler
Posted: 02/13/2018

In this week’s podcast, the Director Online Contact Center at The Home Depot talks about his career to date and the importance of the associate-centric culture in his current role.



Thom Hacker is the Director Online Contact Center at The Home Depot. In this week’s podcast interview with host Seth Adler he says that the ‘h’ after the ‘t’ in Thom is no accident. It’s been placed there after years of progression.

Hacker is responsible for supporting the online environment through his customer contact center. Any online purchase or order questions that the customer have for The Home Depot go through him and his team. Interactions with the center run the gamut but the top two are ‘help me place an order’ and ‘where is my order’ (or WISMO), which is actually around 50 per cent of all calls.

He sees opportunity in the progression of the order but there are folks that still do want to call. Understanding that, Hacker truly enjoys working on the strategy of creating an effortless customer experience.

“I’m gonna tell you like it is…but I’m also gonna be there to help you.”



Seth Adler: From The Home Depot, Thom Hacker. First, some supporters to thank, and thank you for listening.

This episode is supported by CX Network. CX Network provides expert commentary tools and resources developed by customer experience professionals and industry insiders. With a growing membership and global portfolio of events, CX Network ensures you keep your finger on the pulse by delivering practical and strategic advice to help achieve your business goals. Wherever you are on your customer strategy journey, join the CX Network's global community today. Go to cxnetwork.com for more.

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The H after the T in Thom, of Thom Hacker, is no accident. It's been placed there after years of progression. Thom is responsible for supporting the online environment through his customer contact center. Any online purchase or order question that you, the customer, have for the Home Depot go through Thom and his team. Interactions with the center run the gamut, but the top two are help me place an order, and where is my order, or WISMO, which is actually around 50 per cent of all calls. Thom sees opportunity in the progression of the order, but there are folks that still do want to call. Understanding that, Thom truly enjoys working on the strategy of creating an effortless customer experience. Welcome to CCW Digital on B2B IQ, I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on CCWDigital.com, or through our app on iTunes, within the iTunes Podcast App, in Google Play, or wherever you currently get your podcasts. Thom Hacker.

Thom Hacker: It's Thom with an H.

Seth Adler: I ... why did you decide on ... 'cause you could go Thomas, of course, but you could go Tom, no H.

Thom Hacker: There was a progression. It used to be TJ, actually.

Seth Adler: Interesting. Interesting.

Thom Hacker: Yeah. Thomas Junior.

Seth Adler: Aha! All right, so dad's Tom, too?

Thom Hacker: Dad's Tom.

Seth Adler: And is he Thom with an H, as well?

Thom Hacker: He's Tom, with no H.

Seth Adler: Oh, this gets even more intriguing.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, it's even more intriguing, yeah.

Seth Adler: So was it to kind of decipher, the male type of thing?

Thom Hacker: No, it always boggled my mind, why people don't spell it with an H, 'cause if you think about Thomas, the shortened version of Thomas is T, H, O, M.

Seth Adler: Yeah, it's appropriate.

Thom Hacker: Right.

Seth Adler: Why would we remove the H?

Thom Hacker: That's right.

Seth Adler: Just because we're shortening it to Tom.

Thom Hacker: Exactly.

Seth Adler: We're not pronouncing the H, when we say Thomas.

Thom Hacker: Nope.

Seth Adler: We can do this.

Thom Hacker: It worked.

Seth Adler: Yeah, sure. When you explained to your father that you were keeping the H, so to speak-

Thom Hacker: Yeah, well it was TJ, then Tom with no H, and then Thom with an H.

Seth Adler: When did you switch to H?

Thom Hacker: So there was progression. I went from TJ to Thom.

Seth Adler: Yeah, how old were you then?

Thom Hacker: Oh, gosh, that was freshman in college.

Seth Adler: Okay. So it was TJ, all the way through high school?

Thom Hacker: Yeah, my family still knows me as TJ.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Thom Hacker: So it's funny, when my wife calls me Thom, all my cousins will be like, "Who's Thom?"

Seth Adler: Yeah, we don't know that guy.

Thom Hacker: But I changed it to Tom when I met my wife. I figured that was a good progression out of childhood, into adulthood, and moved to Thom, and then when I moved out of the role I was in at Home Depot, and started a new journey, or career with Home Depot, in the online world, everybody that I've known, for the last 11 years, I'm not working with anymore, so I figured okay, I've always wanted to spell it with an H, now's the time, no one would know any different.

Seth Adler: So that's when we added the H?

Thom Hacker: That's when we added the H.

Seth Adler: Very interesting. I mean, this is ... so you've always wanted the H, essentially?

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: And there was no need for the H, when we were TJ.

Thom Hacker: Nope.

Seth Adler: Why did you not initially put the H in? I feel like I might be doing too much here, but I actually am interested.

Thom Hacker: It's a good question. I don't know the answer to that. It was just a way to be a little different. Just like okay, now that I'm Thom, why didn't I start it with an H?

Seth Adler: Yeah, it was in retrospect.

Thom Hacker: So I couldn't go back and do it at the time I was doing it, like okay that would be a little weird.

Seth Adler: Yeah, sure.

Thom Hacker: 'Cause everyone that I work with and hang out with is like, okay, why are you putting an H in there now?

Seth Adler: So as you progressed into different parts of your life, so to speak.

Thom Hacker: That's right.

Seth Adler: All right. And we'll get into maybe a little bit more about that progression, but first we want to make sure that we know what you're doing now. So what are you responsible for?

Thom Hacker: So now I run a contact center, one of three, for the Home Depot, supporting our online environment. So any purchases that you make online, any order questions that a customer may have, those customers will come to either my center, or two of our other centers.

Seth Adler: Okay, Thom's your guy.

Thom Hacker: I'm your guy.

Seth Adler: Now I just noticed that you said "The Home Depot," like people say, "The Ohio State." Is that-

Thom Hacker: It is The Home Depot.

Seth Adler: All right. That's something I should be getting used to.

Thom Hacker: Sure. We'll train you to say The Home Depot.

Seth Adler: Was that also a progression, or-

Thom Hacker: No, it's actually always been The Home Depot. A lot of people just mistakenly call it Home Depot.

Seth Adler: Right, but not you.

Thom Hacker: 'Cause if you look at our logo, actually, it's The Home Depot.

Seth Adler: Yeah, I'm thinking about it now, and I'm seeing the "The." All right, so what kinds of inquiries, requests, complaints, et cetera, are coming in from E Commerce to Thom's team?

Thom Hacker: It's the gamut, you name it. Our top two interaction types would be, "Help me place an order. I'm replacing a refrigerator, I need one with these dimensions, I want to spend X amount of money, help me figure it out." So our associates will help with that. The other is, "Okay, now that I've placed my order, where the heck is my order? It was supposed to be here yesterday, it never showed up, my shipping tracking says it's delayed, tell me why." So it's really the two call types, or interaction types, is placing an order, and what we call WISMO; where is my order.

Seth Adler: WISMO.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: So what percentage of WISMO do we have?

Thom Hacker: It's a pretty high per cent. It's at least half of our calls.

Seth Adler: Okay. Now is that generational? In other words, I know to check tracking before I head to you guys, personally, and I'm Gen-X. So how much of it is generational, and how much of it is maybe better, more improvement of information on your end?

Thom Hacker: Right, yeah. I'd say it's a little bit of a mix of both. We've got some opportunity from a progression of your order standpoint. Some systems don't necessarily always talk to each other. But we're continuing to improve that. That's one of the easiest things that we can fix is just be proactive in what we're telling our customers. But even so, when we tell all the information that's needed, some of them still want to call, and I think that's where the generational piece comes into play, is you've told me all the reasons why, but I need to call and just confirm that's the truth.

Seth Adler: Yeah. I still need to ... the computer thing says this, but I'm gonna want to hear it from a person.

Thom Hacker: Yup.

Seth Adler: Which is nice, right? And you kind of just kind of opened up, hey, yeah I'm looking at the future, I'm also managing today. How do you organize your mind and your time, as far as percentage of time in today, and percentage of time in tomorrow?

Thom Hacker: That's a good question. So what I really like about this role, it's the best of what I would consider both worlds. I came from the field, when I first started with the company. I love working with people, and interacting with the people. The other part of me likes the strategic side of the business, and being in the position I'm in, I get both sides of that part of the business.

For us, what's on our mind right now is how are we truly going to create an effortless customer experience? When you think about a customer visiting our website, and then either chatting, or making a call to us, we've already failed them. Why did they have to chat with us? Why did they have to call us? So we're constantly feeding information to our business partners to say, "Here are the call types, here are the chat types that we're getting, and the reasons why," to help them try and solve for more of the self serve options.

Seth Adler: So good, you know what you're doing.

Thom Hacker: I like to think so.

Seth Adler: You're on top of it. It might be because you've been there for how many years?

Thom Hacker: 14 and a half.

Seth Adler: All right. Now before we get to these 14 and a half years, and the progression of your career, because you were only at one other place before that, right?

Thom Hacker: That's correct. I was with Target before Home Depot.

Seth Adler: Only big box, for Thom.

Thom Hacker: So far.

Seth Adler: Thommy Big Box, is what I'm gonna call you. So if you don't mind, by the way-

Thom Hacker: No, not at all.

Seth Adler: All right. So here's loyalty, right? And you and I are basically the same age, Gen-X, and my buddies, and my friends, and my colleagues, nobody sticks around for 13, 14 years anymore.

Thom Hacker: Right.

Seth Adler: You get 10 somewhere, that's a tremendous amount, and that's our generation.

Thom Hacker: Sure.

Seth Adler: Younger, I mean-

Thom Hacker: It's even less.

Seth Adler: Yeah, you read all the articles, we don't need to tell you. Talk about loyalty to an organization, and keeping things new for a guy like you.

Thom Hacker: Yeah. I would say the loyalty is more on the organization's part to their associate. So when I left Target, and came to Home Depot, on day one, I thought it was the biggest mistake of my life.

Seth Adler: How so?

Thom Hacker: The environment in a big box home improvement retailer is much different than a mini hard line, soft lines retailer.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: In terms of, if you compare Target to Home Depot, back when I started at Home Depot, our systems were so antiquated. I mean we were running things in DOS applications while the environment I came from, we had scan guns that could tell you how much of something we had in stock in the stock room.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Thom Hacker: So it was drinking through a fire hose, but I quickly realized the culture at Home Depot, and the fact that they really put their time, and they invest in your growth and development.

Seth Adler: How so?

Thom Hacker: It's everything, in terms of a conversation, is geared around how can I help you get better? We don't, and even the philosophy in our center is the opportunity that we have to talk with our associates, it's not sitting down and really pointing the finger at them, and telling them what they did wrong. It's giving them the opportunity to tell us how they think things are going, and to allow them to write a path of development for themselves. You know speaking ... coaching on calls, we'll listen to a call, and the supervisor doesn't just jump in and say, "Here's what you did right, here's what you did wrong." It's more around, "Okay, tell me a couple good things that went on in that call. Tell me a couple things that you want to improve on, in that call." They take the ownership, and they grow with it, where it's not the other way around, which feels more like you need to do this, or else.

Seth Adler: Yeah, and that's on the call side. On the career side, that's a tough way to manage, meaning the onus is on the manager. How do you set that up so that you can actually get constructive feedback, as opposed to, "Well if you're gonna let me talk, I'm gonna talk."

Thom Hacker: Right. For me, specifically, if I look at my career, you have to want the feedback. If you're not open to the feedback, then you're gonna get stuck doing what you've always been doing. So if you're open to receiving that feedback, whether positive or negative, that's when you need to drive for it. So my career at Home Depot's all been about tell me, if I messed up with something, or you don't like the way I'm doing something, tell me. 'Cause I just need to get better. And that's at all levels. That's at the peer level, that's at the direct reporting relationships, that's at the boss level. So all of that feedback is really what allows me to kind of take a step back and say, "Let me reflect on the feedback I'm getting, and how do I continue to improve on who Thom is?"

Seth Adler: Yeah, and that's built into the structure of the whole organization.

Thom Hacker: That's right, yup.

Seth Adler: And it almost, the call center specifically, the contact center specifically benefits from it, because it's a great way to manage a contact center.

Thom Hacker: That's right, it works. It's all about our culture. We have values that we live by, we have eight core values, and we have something we call the inverted pyramid, which is really putting the associate and the customer at the very top.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: And the CEO and upper management is at the bottom. They're, “the least important”. Because if you think about it, without your associates, and without your customers, there'd be no business.

Seth Adler: Where are you? Yeah.

Thom Hacker: So our founders, Bernie and Arthur, said that if you take care of the associate, they'll take care of the customer, and the rest will take care of itself.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Thom Hacker: And truly, that's what I live, in the center that I'm running today, and I can see that in the results.

Seth Adler: So let's talk about a tough nut to crack, as far as an associate. Obviously, without a name. Maybe someone that really didn't understand what you're talking about. You have to want the feedback, somebody that didn't want the feedback. And I'm specifically asking for maybe somebody that we were able to turn around, 'cause if you can't change the people, Thom, change the people.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, right.

Seth Adler: So can you give us an example of that?

Thom Hacker: Absolutely. This traces back to, really, almost the start of my career. When I was in loss prevention, before I was in the customer side of the business, I was in a district that I ended up getting moved to a district closer to home, and there was a, what we called a loss prevention specialist, undercover agent, walking the floor, catching shoplifters, and at the time, when I took over that district, my regional manager said ... I'll just name this person Joe. "Joe needs to go. He is not gonna make it." And he had already given up on this associate.

Seth Adler: I'm done.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: And I'm like okay, "First of all, that's not the values that I live by. Give me time."

Seth Adler: Okay. Now when you say, "That's not the values that I live by," that sounded like it was personal Thom values.

Thom Hacker: Oh, yeah.

Seth Adler: As opposed to Home Depot values.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, it's a mix of both.

Seth Adler: Okay, all right.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, I don't know Joe from Joe, so I wanted to get to know who this person is, and really what's the makeup of this individual, and I said, "Give me three months with this individual."

Seth Adler: Give me a quarter.

Thom Hacker: Yeah. And I just spent time, got to know the inner workings of Joe, what made Joe tick, what made him excited, in terms of job performance, and really kind of tried to steer where he wanted to go with the organization around to some of the opportunities that my regional manager saw in him.

Seth Adler: Okay, so dive in though, like day one talking to Joe, obviously you saw what the other guy saw, right? "Oh, maybe Joe does need to go."

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: And then kind of take us through that opening of, you gave us the kind of panacea strategy, but where were those moments of enlightenment.

Thom Hacker: So, to what I said earlier, I'm transparent. I sat down with him and said, "Look, your brand that you set for yourself is not the best, and people don't think very highly of you."

Seth Adler: You shared that right away?

Thom Hacker: Oh yeah, right away. Because this individual knew, from earlier conversations, I'm gonna tell you like it is, but I'm also gonna be there to help you, and when you think about the fact of performance feedback, whether it be job related, or behavioral related, 88 to 90 percent of your associates want that feedback. They want honest, actionable, and timely feedback. Whether good or bad. 'Cause if you really ask most people, their goal is not to not excel. So you just gotta find what makes them want to excel.

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: So that's what I focused on with Joe.

Seth Adler: What was his initial reaction, when you're like, "Hey, buddy, people don't like you?"

Thom Hacker: The fact ... it was a little surprising for him, but I think what he appreciated was that I didn't give up on him.

Seth Adler: And you were looking him right in the eye.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: And I told him, "From here on out, regardless of what's been told to you in the past, we're gonna have candid conversations, and my goal is to see you exceed. If you don't, then I feel like I've failed you as a leader."

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: "But it's a two-way street. You're gonna have to put in effort, as well."

Seth Adler: So obviously that process that you're talking about takes a long time, took under three months, if I'm guessing right.

Thom Hacker: It did.

Seth Adler: And you kind of solve it the way that you told us. How much of it goes back to that first conversation, of you looking him dead in the eye and saying, "Here's what's what. I'm here to solve it with you, if you want to."

Thom Hacker: Yeah, right. I think all of it goes back to that initial conversation.

Seth Adler: Right? Yeah.

Thom Hacker: Every single piece of it. You know, three months goes by, and he went from being kind of on the bottom of the list, to being on the top of the list, and he got promoted within the first six months that I had him, and he became the subject matter expert for our district, I mean when you talk about success story, really taking somebody that wasn't thought of very highly, to now not only the district, but the rest of the region reached out to him for advice, that made me feel like I've accomplished what I was set out to do.

Seth Adler: Absolutely, and congratulations. Two things. What did that other manager say?

Thom Hacker: "You were right. I appreciate you taking the time to focus on the development, and not give up on him."

Seth Adler: And Joe, as SME Joe, what was his kinda looking back to you, realizing what you and he had done together, what was his feedback?

Thom Hacker: His feedback was seeing how transparent our conversations were, and really making that a part of his life, now.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Thom Hacker: Because when he got promoted, he now had people that worked for him, and he carried that philosophy on, in having those transparent conversations.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Did he say, "Thank you?"

Thom Hacker: Oh, yeah.

Seth Adler: All right. He knew what happened type of thing?

Thom Hacker: Oh yeah, he knew what happened. The funny thing is, I still talk to him to this day, 'cause this was literally 12 years ago.

Seth Adler: Oh wow, all right.

Thom Hacker: He, now, he's since gone on and left Home Depot, but he still texts me to this day, and asks me for advice.

Seth Adler: There you go.

Thom Hacker: Because of that relationship that I've built with him, on day one.

Seth Adler: I love it. All right, so then obviously, look at this, I mean we got, sure, the Home Depot values, but we did say, yes, there are Thom values.

Thom Hacker: Sure.

Seth Adler: So let's go all the way back. Where are you from?

Thom Hacker: Born and raised in Illinois.

Seth Adler: Okay. Where in Illinois?

Thom Hacker: South suburbs, Tinley Park, Illinois.

Seth Adler: Okay, so this would make you a Chicago White Sox fan, right?

Thom Hacker: It would. You're exactly right.

Seth Adler: And so you remember 2005, with Ozzie Guillen, and the boys, right?

Thom Hacker: Yup, yup.

Seth Adler: And Robin Ventura, unfortunately, does not want to manage the Mets in 2018. We just heard. What are your thoughts on this? I'm just kidding, I'm not really asking you that. So growing up a White Sox fan, right? When did you ... you said you like people. When did that become apparent to you?

Thom Hacker: Oh, gosh. Probably, yeah, I had a rough high school.

Seth Adler: You did? How come?

Thom Hacker: Yeah, I was the quote-unquote nerd.

Seth Adler: Really? You look like a cool guy. You got the nice style going, and the whole deal.

Thom Hacker: Yeah. I appreciate that.

Seth Adler: I mean nerd like I was really good at school, or nerd like I didn't get social?

Thom Hacker: Really good at school.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: Like I was social with that group.

Seth Adler: Your people.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, yeah.

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: I think it was at that point, because a lot of the time I spent in high school was with friends, and that was kind of that support factor, to get through it. And really, my first job, when I started working at Target, that's kind of where it all started, because you have to make friends in the area that you work in, in order to want to get your exposure out there, and I think that's when it started clicking for me.

Seth Adler: Got it. You were able to kind of open up the shell, a little bit-

Thom Hacker: That's exactly right.

Seth Adler: Because you had to.

Thom Hacker: Yup.

Seth Adler: All right. So you got that job while you were in high school?

Thom Hacker: Yeah. I started working at Target when I was fifteen.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: And got a worker's permit.

Seth Adler: Worker's permit, so that's my fifteen year old birthday present from my father. Happy birthday, here are your working papers, go get a job.

Thom Hacker: Right.

Seth Adler: Absolutely.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, seasonal toy help.

Seth Adler: Yeah? Okay.

Thom Hacker: Is what I started at Target with. And I was a temp associate. After my four months, or whatever, through holiday, I got approached by the LP department, the loss prevention team, and asked if I'd be interested in a permanent role.

Seth Adler: What did they see? Is it I just can't not work? Like this guy, he just won't stop type of thing? Or what was it?

Thom Hacker: So I'm very dedicated. I would probably consider myself a workaholic. And it started at that age. Even before I worked at Target, and then Home Depot, my parents had me doing things, in terms of responsibility at the family business, or whatnot. So-

Seth Adler: Okay. Entrepreneurs, then?

Thom Hacker: Was, no longer.

Seth Adler: Okay, yeah, but at the time, so you were helping out the family business?

Thom Hacker: Correct.

Seth Adler: So that helps with the work ethic, right?

Thom Hacker: Sure, absolutely.

Seth Adler: 'Cause you've got to get up and do the thing, because you know what? No one else is gonna do it. What kind of business was it?

Thom Hacker: Right, yeah. Oh, gosh. It was ... they made compression tanks for railroad cars.

Seth Adler: I was not expecting that. I was figuring a five-and-dime, Thom. No, we were doing something.

Thom Hacker: Yeah. It was in manufacturing.

Seth Adler: And did you have any relations with those customers, back in the day?

Thom Hacker: No. For me it was like ... at that point, it was go cut the grass on the property, that's what I did.

Seth Adler: Do the thing that you can do. Talk to-

Thom Hacker: Yeah, clean up the shop, go cut the grass.

Seth Adler: Talk to no one, Thom. All right, so already in the very first position that you have, they see Thom. Did you see what they saw? Did you know what they knew?

Thom Hacker: I knew I was a hard worker, but to me, that's just the norm. That's my expectation.

Seth Adler: How could you not be? Right?

Thom Hacker: Yeah, yeah.

Seth Adler: Now answer that question. In other words, now you manage people. You manage many people. Some of them aren't workers, let's be honest.

Thom Hacker: Yup, you're exactly right.

Seth Adler: So I come from the same philosophy. I literally don't understand how not to work. Like I get up, I work really hard, then I go to bed. I wake up, then I work really hard, like that's just ... that's what you do.

Thom Hacker: Right. It's nature, yeah.

Seth Adler: Explain to me this other personality.

Thom Hacker: The non-worker?

Seth Adler: Well it's just the one that isn't as workaholic as you, you know?

Thom Hacker: To each their own. If that's what that individual wants to do, then so be it, but-

Seth Adler: Right. How do you, with your personality, manage that person, with that personality?

Thom Hacker: It's really figuring out what do they want to do.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Thom Hacker: If they're telling me, "This is what I want to do, and I don't want to do anything more," okay. You're doing what you're doing, you're performing.

Seth Adler: Here's what we need you to do. We need you to hit these.

Thom Hacker: Yup, exactly.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: If it's, "Hey, I want to do more than this," then it's a different conversation.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Thom Hacker: Well what you're putting into it, right now, you're not gonna get out of it what you want.

Seth Adler: Right. I, yeah, that's the ... I would love a raise, and I would love to be promoted.

Thom Hacker: The corner office, yeah.

Seth Adler: Yeah, exactly. It's like, "Well you know you're not doing the job you have, right?"

Thom Hacker: Yup.

Seth Adler: So there's some of that. Okay. So in loss prevention, what did you actually do really well? What did you change, if anything?

Thom Hacker: That's a really good question. So I went through the ranks of LP at Target. I wouldn't say what I changed in LP happened at Target. It didn't happen until I came to Home Depot.

Seth Adler: Well let's just make sure that we describe how that switch happened, right? 'Cause it's literally-

Thom Hacker: The transition from Target?

Seth Adler: -the only transition that you have, right?

Thom Hacker: Yeah, very fair. So I won't bore you with the long story, but I went through three different levels at Target. Entry level door monitor, undercover agent, and then became a salaried leader in a building.

Seth Adler: Okay. Just real quick, I know that we're, you know, tangent, tangent, tangent, but undercover Thom, what's that like? Do we have the earpiece?

Thom Hacker: No, no, no, no, no.

Seth Adler: No?

Thom Hacker: Walkie talkie in the back pocket. Plain clothes.

Seth Adler: Yeah. And what are you looking for, as undercover Thom?

Thom Hacker: Behaviors of shoplifters.

Seth Adler: Aha. What are they?

Thom Hacker: Oh, gosh, there are many. I got so good, I could sit in the food avenue of Target. If you're familiar with a Target layout, and I could literally watch people, as they're walking in, and say, "Yeah, that person's gonna take something."

Seth Adler: Is it fidgety? What is it?

Thom Hacker: It's, yeah, it's reading body behavior, body language. The interesting thing about being in the role of LP, it's given me a lot of experience in terms of being able to read people from a body language standpoint.

Seth Adler: Well because this is why I'm diving in on this, because you just told me, before, about the managing people. "What you do, Seth, is," this is you talking, "You just ask them. You tell them what you need, and then you ask them what they want." This is the opposite of that.

Thom Hacker: Right.

Seth Adler: You don't get to talk to these people.

Thom Hacker: Nope, nope.

Seth Adler: So how do you have both brains, I guess, right? So what are you tapping into, to read that body language for that loss prevention person, and then how are you applying that body language to that same direct kind of conversation?

Thom Hacker: Sure. It's reading the ... for me, when I'm talking to somebody, I'm reading their body language to figure out how I'm gonna have the conversation.

Seth Adler: What do you mean?

Thom Hacker: How they're positioned in their chair.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: What are their facial expressions? And I will watch the body language change, as I'm having a conversation. If it's the body language is starting to turn negative, then I know I'm pressing too hard, so then I'll lighten up, and go in a different direction.

Seth Adler: Huh.

Thom Hacker: If somebody's sitting with their legs open, kind of sit back in the chair, relaxed, they're open to the conversation.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: If you start talking to them, and they fold their arms, or they kind of lean back, and start to tap the table a little bit, you're starting to hit a nerve. There's different things you can ask questions to get a baseline of somebody. If you ask somebody where were they born, how old were they when they, I don't know, had their first kiss, or something like that, your eyes go in certain directions when you're trying to recall the truth.

Seth Adler: Okay, okay.

Thom Hacker: Then when you insert something where you know they may not tell the truth, and you're trying to get underneath that piece of it, you watch where their eyes go.

Seth Adler: Get out of here.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: So where'd you have your first kiss, okay, I go up to the right here for that one, and then where were you at 5:00 PM on Sunday, I go up to the left-

Thom Hacker: You go up to the left.

Seth Adler: It's like, oh, well one of those is not true.

Thom Hacker: Exactly. It's more than likely gonna be where were you at 5:00 PM.

Seth Adler: Very interesting.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: Is the direction, and I guess you'd learn this in loss preventions school type of thing, is the direction always the same on everyone, or?

Thom Hacker: No. It's completely different.

Seth Adler: And that's why you have to ask both questions.

Thom Hacker: Yup. You gotta get the baseline.

Seth Adler: Interesting.

Thom Hacker: Some people look down to the left, down to the right, up, left, and right.

Seth Adler: How old were you for your first kiss?

Thom Hacker: 13, I think.

Seth Adler: Okay. That's pretty early. That's pretty good.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: Did you marry your high school sweetheart?

Thom Hacker: I did not.

Seth Adler: All right. You're the kind of guy that would. You're a loyalty guy, right?

Thom Hacker: I appreciate that.

Seth Adler: Well you're married now, right?

Thom Hacker: I am, 15 years.

Seth Adler: All right, where'd you meet her?

Thom Hacker: In college.

Seth Adler: Okay. What school did you go to?

Thom Hacker: Well I went to community college in Illinois, Moraine Valley, and then I got my degree from DePaul University.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: But we met at the community college.

Seth Adler: At MVCC, as they call it, right?

Thom Hacker: There you go, you got it.

Seth Adler: All right. And DePaul, what degree did we get in DePaul?

Thom Hacker: I got a bachelor's in marketing and business.

Seth Adler: Aha. All right. Where is DePaul?

Thom Hacker: It's in Chicago.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: There's two campuses. You have one in the loop, and then one in Lincoln Park.

Seth Adler: And which one were you at?

Thom Hacker: I commuted back and forth to both.

Seth Adler: Got it. Decent basketball team for DePaul.

Thom Hacker: Yeah.

Seth Adler: So you, every March, you gotta do that.

Thom Hacker: I'm actually not a huge sports fanatic, believe it or not.

Seth Adler: Interesting, interesting.

Thom Hacker: It's too much of that working hard thing.

Seth Adler: I got you. I don't have the time to care this much about them.

Thom Hacker: That's right. Right, right.

Seth Adler: Which is fair.

Thom Hacker: Too much would fill this part of the brain, and not allow the other stuff to stay there.

Seth Adler: Yeah. You said marketing and finance, right?

Thom Hacker: Marketing and business.

Seth Adler: You said marketing and business, right? Marketing, I can see the business thing, right, we're just going, we're doing the thing. Why marketing?

Thom Hacker: It excited me, back when I was going through school, about the different ways to reach out to people, and make a difference, and see how a certain message can be translated differently to each individual. And although I'm not using that degree today, I still feel like I am.

Seth Adler: Yeah you are. Totally are. Absolutely. You're telling me that you ... I mean the things that you're saying.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, it's the way I sell things to people-

Seth Adler: Absolutely.

Thom Hacker:- and have the conversations with those individuals.

Seth Adler: So you started in loss prevention at Home Depot, I would imagine.

Thom Hacker: I did.

Seth Adler: For how long were you there?

Thom Hacker: I was in LP with Home Depot for 11 years.

Seth Adler: What did you change in LP? 'Cause you said, "I learned enough at Target, I didn't implement." What did you implement at The Home Depot?

Thom Hacker: Yeah, one of the biggest things that I'd say I changed, not only for Home Depot, but I'd like to say for the industry, as well, I used to go to NRF and RILA conferences, and I've spoken a lot there, and a lot of the things that we did at Home Depot is we kind of changed the way you think about loss in a company.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: Most companies think about loss in two ways.

Seth Adler: Shrinkage.

Thom Hacker: It's either theft and fraud, or it's operational.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Thom Hacker: We added a third element. It's called systematic, or IT.

Seth Adler: It's our fault.

Thom Hacker: Yeah, that's exactly right. And we changed, at Home Depot, the way we looked at shrinkage. Shrink is a mixture of not having what you should have, and having too much of what you should have. So it's called shrink and swell. And shrink is the combined number. It's the net number. Well what we ended up looking at is we saw shrink on the rise, and we were trying to figure out why. And after months and months of trying to figure it out, I'm like why don't we separate the two of them out. Let's look just at the swell, and let's look just at the shrink. And what you could see is we were becoming more accurate, because we were reducing swell. We were also reducing pure shrink, but swell was reducing faster, on a rate, than shrink was reducing.

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: So it looked like shrink was getting worse, when in reality we were just becoming more accurate.

Seth Adler: Got it. Huh.

Thom Hacker: So we changed the way we looked at that, and we presented that at the NRF and RILA conferences, and shared examples of how we separate the two, and then what we look at, from a systematic standpoint, and that was kind of my go out on top, that was the last big thing I did, when I was in that role, and then I thought to myself-

Seth Adler: Let's win the Superbowl and retire.

Thom Hacker: That's right. It's time to go do something different.

Seth Adler: And you say that the rest of the retail industry has reacted to that.

Thom Hacker: From what I can know today, yeah. I mean I've lost touch with a lot of the LP industry, but I know, specifically at Home Depot, they still speak to it that way.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Thom Hacker: And some of the peers that I still keep in touch with outside of Home Depot, they still talk about looking at it in that perspective.

Seth Adler: So I'm trying to read your face, right, and learn some Thom lessons here myself. It seems like you're more pleased that the business learned the lesson than you are proud of yourself for doing it.

Thom Hacker: Agreed.

Seth Adler: Why is that? That's a very unique-

Thom Hacker: I'm very humble.

Seth Adler: Yeah. No, serious, that's really tough to do. Is your dad, or your mom, is your mom, are your parents humble, or like where-

Thom Hacker: Yeah, they are, they are.

Seth Adler: Okay, all right.

Thom Hacker: That's just who I am, though. I mean I'm not about taking the recognition. It's ... I'll be there to help lead the team to do it, but it's the team that's really producing the result.

Seth Adler: All right. So now obviously, if we do these presentations, and we're affecting the way other people do it, let alone one of the biggest retailers there is, we're doing okay. What was the next kind of remit for Thom?

Thom Hacker: For me, it was tracing back to what I went to school for, and said, "I didn't go to school to be in LP all my life, so what's next?" The whole reason why I relocated from Illinois to Atlanta was to get into the main office for growth opportunity.

Seth Adler: Let me get into HQ, yeah, let me do this.

Thom Hacker: And I said, okay, after 18 years in loss prevention, 11 at Home Depot, seven at Target, said, "I need a new challenge." And the great thing, tracing back to the culture that I was talking about at the company, is they will take risks on their associates that have a proven track record of success.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Thom Hacker: I wanted to prove to the organization I can do more than just LP. And I started looking for opportunities within the organization, and online is growing rapidly.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Thom Hacker: So why not try something there? I got dumped into the workforce director role, and that wasn't my cup of tea. I did that for a year.

Seth Adler: How come it wasn't?

Thom Hacker: I was done with numbers. I did numbers all my life in loss prevention.

Seth Adler: I got you.

Thom Hacker: I didn't want to do it anymore. But I did it for a year-

Seth Adler: Yeah. I'll do something different, I want to do something different!

Thom Hacker: Right. So I did it for a year, and my goal was to make myself uncomfortable, and I think I did that, because A, I left LP and operations, and I moved to online. I didn't understand online, at the time. I then went into a call center environment. I didn't know anything about call centers.

Seth Adler: Right.

Thom Hacker: And then I got assigned the workforce role. I didn't know anything about workforce management.

Seth Adler: That's three for three, man.

Thom Hacker: You want to talk about being uncomfortable? So I did that role for a year, and did it well, made some changes there, and my general manager came to me and said, "Would you ever consider running a facility?" And I thought back to myself about what I wanted to do with my career, and I loved, like I had said before, I loved being out in the stores, but I love the strategy side, and the contact center allowed and afforded that opportunity. So I said, "Yeah, I'd definitely be interested." Went through the stack of interviews, and two years later, still doing the same role.

Seth Adler: There we go. All right, so advice for your colleagues running facilities. Maybe one, maybe two, maybe three pieces. What would you say, "Hey, do this, do this, don't do that."

Thom Hacker: I would say always make yourself uncomfortable, challenge the status quo, and don't think that what has always worked will continue to work.

Seth Adler: And some of that is that challenge the status quo thing.

Thom Hacker: That status quo, yup.

Seth Adler: Because I was gonna ask, you don't seem like too much of a rebel, man. But challenging the status quo as in we always do it that way, and that's why we do it.

Thom Hacker: Right, exactly. That's not an acceptable answer.

Seth Adler: Right. That makes no sense.

Thom Hacker: Why do we do it this way? Well we always have. Okay.

Seth Adler: Based on what?

Thom Hacker: Right. If you want to grow, we can't keep doing it this way.

Seth Adler: Man, I could talk to you all day, but I'll give you the three final questions. I'll tell you what they are, and I'll ask you them in order. What has most surprised you at work along the way, what's most surprised you in life, and on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be on there. I should mention, we're here at CCW, outdoors.

Thom Hacker: Outdoors.

Seth Adler: And you might have heard a bus pull up. So this is a good time for us to get out. What's most surprised you at work?

Thom Hacker: Most surprised me at work would probably have to be all of the different types of personalities.

Seth Adler: You think you're gonna walk in, everybody's gonna, well maybe some mom, dad, maybe some of these, my buddies, but all sorts of people are out there, aren't they?

Thom Hacker: All sorts. You can't make everybody happy. You gotta find the mix to make the most people happy.

Seth Adler: Right. You can't please all the people, all the time.

Thom Hacker: That's right.

Seth Adler: Do we know that? Do you think we, you know, like at least contact center folks know that? Do you think we, leaders know that? Do you think corporate America understands that, or no?

Thom Hacker: To a certain extent. I think everyone's on a mission to try and make everybody happy, but I don't think that's ever gonna be the case.

Seth Adler: Right. It's okay if we do well in the percentage. Don't try to get the hundred percent.

Thom Hacker: Right. It's that 80-20.

Seth Adler: It's that 80-20, there you go. What's most surprised you in life?

Thom Hacker: That's a really good question. Most surprised me in life, you know what, I'd have to say is in terms of dealing with things in life, nothing is impossible. Myself and my wife both went through a lot of medical challenges, and we just stayed determined, and that's kind of our motto, is determination. So what's most surprised me in life is when tough things are put in front of you, just be determined.

Seth Adler: Yup. I, in my lifetime, have ... there was a moment there where I was spending a lot of time in hospitals, and I'm not anymore. It sounds like there's a lot of time you were spending in hospitals, and it sounds like you're not anymore.

Thom Hacker: Oh yeah. Not anymore.

Seth Adler: So congratulations on getting through that.

Thom Hacker: Same to you.

Seth Adler: You know what I mean? All right, Thom.

Thom Hacker: This is the tough one.

Seth Adler: Thommy Big Box. On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be on there.

Thom Hacker: Man. Yeah, I'm gonna embarrass myself right now. Back when I was in college, I was a huge fan of boy bands.

Seth Adler: Okay, oh my god, really?

Thom Hacker: So, yeah. I don't know the one track, I would have to say anything on Backstreet Boys, or N'Sync would be fine with me.

Seth Adler: Here's what's happening right now. I'm shocked, but every woman that's our age that's listening loves you even more.

Thom Hacker: Oh, I can show you pictures of what I used to look like. Everyone called me Justin Timberlake.

Seth Adler: Unbelievable. Thom, really appreciate it.

Thom Hacker: Appreciate it.

Seth Adler: And there you have Thom Hacker. I'm gonna tell you like it is, but I'm also gonna be there to help you. And a former, formerly troubled employee, he still texts me to this day, and asks me for advice because of that relationship that I built with him on day one. Very much appreciate Thom's time. Very much appreciate yours. Stay tuned.

Seth Adler
Posted: 02/13/2018