No matter what their native tongue, every trainee at Buehler Food Markets, an 11-unit family-owned supermarket chain based in Wooster, Ohio, gets a lesson in language. And one of the first things they learn is that “no” is not on the Buehler's vocabulary list.
Negativity has no place in this company's customer service-oriented culture. So the only list on which “I don't know,” “I can't” or “We can't” can be found is Buehler's list of forbidden-phrases, according to Bakery Merchandiser Roland Krueger.
Telephone service has its own set of no-nos, particularly when it comes to putting customers on hold. No matter how busy they are, employees are instructed to ask if the caller is able to hold and wait for an affirmative response before pressing the button.
Product knowledge is another essential at Buehler's, whether an employee is at the bench or behind the counter. Until recently, the company-gave each new recruit a 43-page manual describing each product in detail.
“Many people don't understand how much knowledge is involved in selling bakery products. We hear that all the time during our trainings,” Krueger notes. “Our employees have to be able to explain whether a bread is made with white or wheat flour, and whether low-sugar or low-fat means low-calorie.”
Krueger added that understanding how the products are made is just as important as knowing what is in them.
“When describing a pie, we want our employees to point out that we make and press our own pie dough, make our own filling and whip the cream we put on top,” he explains. “That's part of suggestive selling, something all of our staff members are trained to do.”
Although the manual put all product descriptions and pertinent information at the employees' fingertips, its encyclopedic size often seemed overwhelming to new recruits, he says. Now each location receives one copy of the document to use for reference.
To keep staffers up to date on new and seasonal menu items, the bakery department holds weekly meetings. In addition to going over the week's upcoming ad, employees sample each new item.
“Even if it's a seasonal item we've been offering for a couple of years, such as rhubarb custard pie or pumpkin pecan ring, we encourage our staff to taste it every time so the flavors are fresh in their minds,” Krueger says.
Company training sessions are often closed-door affairs, filled with closely guarded secrets to be shared with employees on a need-to-know basis. But not at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the door is always open to operators and management from bakeries (and other businesses) from all over the country and around the world who want to learn how to better their bottom line.
From a tiny two-man deli that opened in 1982, Zingerman's has grown into a community of eight businesses, referred to as ZCoB, which includes a bakehouse; mail order, catering, coffee and training companies; a creamery and a full-service restaurant, all united under a single corporate umbrella. One of the most successful of these endeavors has been Zingerman's Bakehouse, which opened in 1992 to supply the deli with fresh bread for its sandwiches, then expanded five years later to include pastries.
But Zingerman's has never been a company to keep its success to itself. And with more than 20 years of experience, the organization believed it had many valuable secrets to share.
The result was Zingerman's Training (a.k.a. ZingTrain), an educationoriented member of the ZCoB that provides a combination of theory and hands-on practice in a variety of disciplines. Instead of limiting attendance to members of the eight ZCoB enterprises, ZingTrain has offered seminars, consulting and speaker's bureau services to businesses from as far away as England, Ireland, Australia, the Philippines and Canada.
Zingerman's Bakehouse is an active member of the ZingTrain team, providing information and specialists for its educational programs. Bakehouse professionals also are available for one-on-one consulting on artisan bread production, menu development and other areas of specialty retailing.
“Bottom-line Change” is another customized consulting program that can help operators make major transitions, such as new product introductions, new process implementation and strategy shifts within their organizations more easily and effectively. A two-day seminar called “Bottom-line Training” advises front-line managers how to get the most bang for their training bucks.
Whether the sessions are held at Zingerman's Ann Arbor headquarters or on location, the company offers a money-back satisfaction guarantee on its training and consulting services.