How May I Help You? How Wegmans Gets Service Right

How May I Help You? How Wegmans Gets Service Right

September 23, 2013

Every once in a while, I encounter customer service so bad that it makes me stop and wonder if some employees don’t know what is expected of them or if they just don’t care.

Recently, we just needed chips to go with a Texas chili, so I stopped at a different store than usual on the way home.  Ready to purchase, wallet in hand, I stood at the check-out counter while two cashiers carried on a personal conversation. One of them eventually scanned my item without a break in the conversation and – since I paid with a debit card – never actually made eye contact or acknowledged I was there.

These kinds of encounters make me wonder where the managers are and if they realize the profit they lose every day by not creating a service culture.
Some companies get it right. At my local Wegmans in Princeton, New Jersey, cashiers greet every customer with a smile and ask if we have found everything we need.  In the aisles, clerks restocking shelves ask if they can help. The products are just the same as at the grocery down the street, but it is such a nice experience that it keeps throngs of customers coming back every week.

Wegmans currently ranks #5 on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work and it’s easy to see that it is because of the culture it has carefully built around employees. On their website, Wegmans clearly defines their values and expectations for employees:

“Who We Are”

“These five statements explain what we’re all about:

  1. Wegmans-whoWeAreLogoWe care about the well-being and success of every person.
  2. High standards are a way of life. We pursue excellence in everything we do.
  3. We make a difference in every community we serve.
  4. We respect and listen to our people.
  5. We empower our people to make decisions that improve their work and benefit our customers and our company.”

Among a number of programs, employees can recognize each other for service with gift cards and are regularly recognized by their managers. And in return, employees reward Wegmans with extraordinarily low turnover and strengthened customer relationships. Everyone benefits.

Core values such as caring, standards, making a difference, respect, and empowerment are a great place to start. They translate easily from the employee experience to the customer experience, so a recognition or engagement program can be built around these central ideas to deliver on the brand promise.  Wegmans keeps its end of the bargain by providing best-in-class benefits and opportunities for both part-time and full-time employees, as well as by being a respected corporate citizen in its communities.

I know that culture is hard to change. It takes time to win the confidence and trust of employees, but it’s worth it to inspire good service and to keep existing customers loyal. Sometimes you lose a few of the teammates not willing to make the effort along the way, but that can be good for business, too. Especially if it means eliminating negative impact on your customers. As an Inc. article on customer acquisition summarized the conventional wisdom, “It’s cheaper, easier, and more effective to retain current customers than it is to acquire new ones.” Next time, I’ll go the long way home and stop by Wegmans.