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Customer Service Training is Important!

January 9th, 2019 by Kenneth Abrahams

grocery store

Walking into an event there was a sign posted on the wall: “It is never too late to practice the Golden Rule - treat others as you want to be treated.” Great words to live by. Since we were in the midst of the holiday season and I was in and out of venues and stores, that sign made me even more aware of the treatment I received from others. Trust me when I tell you it was a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good to exceptional.


Recently Wegman’s opened near my house at the Natick Mall. One night, I had to pick up a few things and I was in the candy aisle grabbing something for my son and his girlfriend. I ran into one of their staff members stocking the shelves. He said hello and asked if I needed any help. I responded that I was all set and asked him how his day was going. He said his day was great and that he’d be done in about an hour but then followed that up with the comment that he would be okay sleeping there because he loved his job and working for Wegman’s. Same store a few days later, as I was checking out the cashier thanked me for weighing and putting the price stickers on all my produce. She said that she would have been happy to do it for me but my doing it made it easier and faster for her. On yet another visit to that store, I was near the meat counter and I asked a clerk about ground bison (an item that they usually stock).  He apologized that they were out and explained they’d been having a little trouble getting it in. He went on to ask if there was something else that he could help me with. To be honest, when I heard Wegman’s was moving in, I was less than excited, but their customer service is off the charts. Slowly but surely, they are winning me over.


Fast forward to Christmas Eve. We headed to Connecticut as we always do to see my in-laws along with a good chunk of our extended family. Several years ago, we started a tradition of playing some games on Christmas Eve. I needed a few more prizes so we stopped at a Valero Gas/Convenience store in Farmington, CT to get scratch tickets. Six PM on Christmas Eve is not a time that most people are looking forward to working, but the clerk couldn’t have been nicer. He greeted me, wished me a Happy Holidays and was incredibly pleasant. Needless to say, not what was expected based on the date and time. On Christmas morning, I got up at the crack of dawn to get bagels for my family.  Believe it or not, Brooklyn Water Bagels was open. When I walked in, I was greeted by three staff members who genuinely seemed as if there was no place they would rather be at that very moment. While others slept or enjoyed the merriment of the day, these people were serving bagels and beverages just like I am sure they had done hundreds of times before. Standing there across from them, their actions seemed anything but routine; they treated every customer as if they were special and like they cared about them. It really helped start Christmas morning off right.


So much for the positives, others that I encountered did not do such a bang-up job. Several days before Christmas I went into my local Target - it was a mess. Granted it was a few days before Christmas and I didn’t expect fully stocked shelves, but I didn’t expect the place to look like a zombie hoard had gone through it either. Shelves were not only thin on merchandise, they were a mess. It was hard knowing what they even had in many of the departments. It wasn’t as if they had no staff on, as I saw quite a few employees on the floor. They were doing a lot more standing around talking and complaining (loudly) to one another about how tired they were or how glad they were the season was almost over. When I went to check out, there was a group of what appeared to be managers having a quick meeting. They seemed unconcerned about the long lines at the registers or the condition of the store. I purchased far less than planned and went to a direct competitor’s store. That store was chocked full of merchandise and it was clean and organized.


BJ’s Wholesale Club’s trademark seems to be consistently inconsistent. Some days I get great service while other days it is nonexistent or atrocious. In some respects, there is a Forrest Gump “life is like a box of chocolates” feel to it, you never know what you are going to get. On a recent visit in the midst of the holiday season, I was checking out while the young lady at the exit was sitting in a wheel chair slumped down with a surly expression on her face. Having seen her in the store a number of times I knew that she did not need the wheel chair, she simply didn’t feel like standing. When I got up to her she grudgingly asked me how I was and I said fine and asked her how she was and how her day was going. Her response was almost a sneer as she said “could be better.” At that point I went on my merry way.


Perhaps it is from many years in retail, sales, and being in the service industry, or maybe it is because I work with a number of trainers, but I am acutely aware of customer service. Organizations need to spend more time, effort, energy and of course resources in this area. Brick and mortar stores are fighting for every customer and dollar they can get as companies like Amazon consume more revenue than ever before. One of the advantages they can offer is personal service/attention. If there are too many negative interactions like I had it becomes a detraction not a positive.


Every year, several times a year, we bring our staff in to discuss customer service. Like Target, we are in a competition rich environment so we need to make sure we are at the top of our game every event. Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, but we address them immediately. What I saw at Target and BJ’s seems to reflect their culture. They do not exude positivity or warmth, instead it is malaise or indifference they project. Wegman’s is doing something right. They have imbedded in their culture, from what I have seen, a desire to be the best. Their employees seem to really want to be there. Some of this may be by accident but I doubt it. Too many times employees at Wegmans have exhibited an outwardly positive attitude. If you own or manage a business, do not underestimate the value of training. Your staff are often the first and last people customers interact with. Make sure they are up to the task.   



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