Q&A is an important part of the job

02/10/2010 02:15:50 PM
Armand Lobato

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

Whether you’re a grizzled veteran or a new clerk with a clean apron, it’s good to review common customer questions, to be fully prepared.

How does this taste?

Some things are easy to describe: sweet, tart, crispy. The best answer (and sales method, at the same time) is to offer a sample. They’ll buy almost 100% of the time.

Can I freeze this item?

“Of course you can freeze it!” I’d often reply. “Trouble is that lettuce will be mush when it thaws.”

Check the freezer case. If something is available there, it’s usually fine for a customer to do likewise.

How do you prepare this item?

OK, so you’re not Emeril Lagasse, but knowing some basics is a great selling tool, especially with uncertainties such as artichokes, chilies, or eggplant.

Where are the scallions?

Or butter lettuce, coriander, romas, Chinese cabbage — do these questions sound familiar?

Many of the multiple-name items can cause confusion. Everyone should know item placement by heart.

Why does my lettuce turn pink, my tomatoes taste bland, or my potatoes turn green?

Knowing how to store, what not to commingle or what is light-sensitive will help extend shelf-life and educate shoppers.

What’s with these green (valencia) oranges?

We know about chlorophyll being absorbed back into the fruit but customers are skeptical. Display some cut in half.
Seeing is believing.

How can I tell if this (pineapple, melon) is ripe?

Always take the time and explain this how-to. Nothing is worse than buying something for today that isn’t ripe. If you are good at selecting the just-right quality, your customer will trust you for repeat business.

Why don’t you have (for example) pomegranates all year?

The list of seasonal items is constantly shrinking, but some gaps remain. Avoid simply saying, “It’s out of season.” Explain the source, and when they can expect to see it again.

Why don’t you carry only U.S. or locally grown?

For whatever reason — country-of-origin or environmental concerns — this topic isn’t going away anytime soon. While chains strive to provide local fare, price, quality or selection factors dictate anything not sufficiently available to be procured to meet demand.

Do you have any boxes?

This is probably the most common question, isn’t it? And it comes just when you’re ready to field the sugar-versus-acid-ratio question too. People always want empty (free) cartons for moving ventures. Keep a few on hand or provide the telescoping lids from full cases in a pinch. It’s easy. Keep them happy.

Customers love helpful, knowledgeable employees. Questions are typically about storage, temperature, ripeness, flavor and availability.

Having patience and courtesy are vital, as well as having a few empty cartons ready too — and it wouldn’t hurt if those boxes for moving also have handles, please.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

Have any tips on how to handle customers' questions? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.



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