Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

It’s been said that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s apathy.

Grocery store customers for the most part simply want to shop for what they need, find things in a timely manner and get the heck out of Dodge.

But a little attention is in order as well. As a customer, don’t you hesitate when you can’t find the capers you need for a recipe? Or in the produce aisle, when you can’t find your favorite hot-house tomatoes or the fresh basil?

At that point, you look around and inwardly cry, “Help!” That’s the point you wish that the produce manager or a clerk will look up from their work, see the confused look on your face and offer assistance.

When do the circumstances actually mesh? Hardly ever.

That’s why produce managers should train their crews to be on the lookout for customers who might need help. The produce department is chock full of items that customers have questions about.

“What’s the difference between regular and Japanese eggplant?”

“I want some fruit this week, are these on-sale cantaloupe good this time of year?”

“The recipe says scallions. I don’t see that anywhere.”

If your crew members aren’t consistently greeting shoppers or (worse) are ignoring them, you might be losing customers and not even knowing it despite having a well-stocked produce department.

Recently I stopped in my bank. As luck would have it I got stuck behind someone trying to organize a financial hostile takeover. Or so it seemed. No other tellers were on duty. I looked around and counted six desks of customerless loan officers that ringed the lobby. All were very focused on their computer screens and not on me, the customer.

The slow burn faded when I was finally waited on. I’m a patient guy, but I couldn’t help but think that one of the so-called leaders could have at least acknowledged me and my wait or even jumped in to help out as a temporary teller.

Customer service is everyone’s job.

If you think that less-than-ideal shopping experience for one or two customers doesn’t matter, think again. Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “If someone thinks they’re being mistreated by us, they won’t tell five people,. They’ll tell 5,000.” In an age of instant Internet business reviews, it’s best to get things done right the first time around.

It’s a standard retail message, but it bears repeating: Coach the produce crew to spread out and limit the chit-chat on the sales floor. Especially train them to look up as they stock and offer in a genuine and friendly manner, “Hi, are you finding everything OK today?”

As the street lingo goes, let ’em feel the love.

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.

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