From WalMart to Joe's Corner Shop, nearly every retailer today claims they differentiate themselves by having better customer service. Bakeries too, from the largest supermarket in-store chains to small independent retailers, often claim their service is best.
When it comes to customer service, the “little guys” really have an advantage. Exceptional customer service is difficult to execute, especially when everyone claims it to be their specialty, especially in a bakery and even more so across a chain of bakeries.
Buehler Food Markets, Wooster, Ohio, this month's featured in-store bakery operation, has figured out how to execute. It is a smaller chain (11 stores) in comparison to other mammoth supermarket chains in the U.S., but it also does things differently than most. Buehler Food Markets has structured training programs.
The results of the structured training is evident in the back of the shop, where customer service begins with production of quality, eye-appealing products. And in the front of the shop, where sales associates understand the bakery products and demonstrate a sense of pride in the bakery.
Buehler Foods' Bakery Merchandiser said it best, “People don't realize the amount of work or level of knowledge that goes into a bakery sales role as opposed to any other department in the supermarket.”
We learn from the good examples and the bad examples. At my local supermarket, a large chain, the in-store bakery was promoting its new muffins a few weeks ago. The supermarket had draped a huge banner outside the store promoting them. It featured a tempting photo with a variety of plump muffins and text touting the “bakery fresh” muffins inside.
The sign did the job. It made me want to check it out. It made me “need” to get muffins that day. But, then I entered the in-store bakery.
When I got to the muffin display, there were very few left. Only empty crumb-laden muffin pans sat in the display. The muffins that were there were mislabeled. The blueberry muffins were placed on the bran muffin shelf, the sour cream muffins were placed on the chocolate chip shelf, etc.
Despite my first instinct to continue-past the muffins to buy something else (probably not from the in-store bakery), I decided to try these muffins. I picked out a few as I looked for a bag to put them in. No surprise, the bag holder was empty.
The sales associate looked at me as I waited patiently for her help, but I had to address her. When I asked her for a bag for the muffins because the display was empty, she handed me a bag and went back to what she'd been doing. She did not say anything, nor did she walk ten more feet to refill the bags for the next unassuming customer.
I did buy the muffins. They weren't bad, but I already had a bad taste in my mouth from the bakery's lack of execution. Customer service is more than having an associate near by to help, it is delivering on promises. My supermarket made a point of telling me it had fresh muffins inside, but it didn't deliver.
Hopefully the poor service in my supermarket is not chain wide. Buehler's does have an advantage because it is a smaller chain. But, structured training in any chain or single-unit operation goes a long way towards at least establishing company standards. At most, it gives employees the confidence serve to customers exceptionally and solve problems on their own because they know your guidelines.