I grew up in the 70s in Chicago, but luckily my family vacationed in Florida every year. Of course I loved the beaches and the sunshine, but I really looked forward to tagging along with mom to Publix, a regional grocery chain whose slogan was, ”Where Shopping is a Pleasure.” When it came time for college, I moved to the Sunshine State and, 30 years later, I am still a loyal Publix shopper. My job at Miller Heiman Group is to help clients improve their customer experiences, and I need to look no further than my local grocery store for inspiration on how I can help them.
It’s simple: just do what Publix does.
Make your customer service promise big and bold and live by it!
George Jenkins, founder of Publix Super Markets, lived by a simple rule: “The sale is not complete until the meal is enjoyed!” Think about that for a minute. If this were your mantra, what would that mean? What would you have to do differently? How would you have to align your policies?
Let me give you an example. About 10 years ago, I spent a small fortune on a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner. The meat manager helped me pick out the perfect roast and we discussed how to prepare it. I’m a good cook and a standing rib is not heavy lifting; you season it and bake it to a perfect 130°. But when I cut into the roast it was terrible, fatty and tough — not what I expected at all.
About week later, I ran into the meat manager, who asked me if I enjoyed the roast. I told him I was disappointed. He empathized with me, but we both agreed that I would live to cook another day. About 10 minutes later, he tracked me down in another aisle and handed me a Publix gift card for $100 (slightly more than I had spent on the roast). He told me he was sorry I was disappointed and, since we couldn’t redo Christmas, he wanted me to at least have my money back. I was blown away!
So, if you are going to commit to a bold brand promise, make sure you align your policies and your employee empowerment to support that commitment.
Start building loyalty early by engaging children
Why did I love going to Publix as a child? I always felt welcome. Some business treat children like a nuisance, but not Publix. The employees acknowledged me as they walked through the aisles. They gave me cookies or balloons. Now they have cool carts that look like cars and miniature shopping carts that say “shopper in training.” All of these things make children want to go shopping with their parents.
Think about your business and how you can start building positive defining moments for the children shopping with your customers. If you do this well, you will be building your next generation of shoppers.
Create a culture of exceptional customer service
Ask any 16-year-old who works at Publix what it’s like and they will tell you it is tough. They will say things like “they expect me to be really nice and friendly ALL THE TIME.” Exactly! The secret to Publix’s success is its culture of service. It is expected and it is engrained in every employee, and people are held accountable. The culture simple does not tolerate mediocre service, grumpy attitudes or apathy.
If you want to create a culture of service it must be led by the Store Manager. If they walk the walk and hold everyone to high expectations, you’ll know it the minute you walk in the door.
Let it be natural
At Publix you are not met with scripted greetings. There are no 10 foot 10 second rules; there is just natural, honest dialog. When a Publix associate meets you in the aisle, they look you in the eye, smile and say hello. They ask how your day is going and they wait for the answer. When they ask you if you found everything you were looking for, they really want to know so they can go get it for you if you haven’t.
If you give your associates the time and latitude to build real human connections with your customers, it will be noticed and appreciated, and your customers will keep coming back. You will create a service experience that is differentiated.
Treat your associates well
The Service Profit Chain by James L. Heskett says if you treat your associates well, they will treat your customers well and that in turn will benefit the shareholders. This is true at Publix. Associates are offered stock option, good benefits, flexible schedules and growth opportunities. They enjoy their jobs and it shows.
What Publix does is simple not easy. But, if you can create this kind of experience in your stores, you will receive the 4 R’s of customer loyalty — revenue, referrals, reputation and repeat business. Oh, and someone may notice and write great things about your business.