The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by The Packer staff )

I like to frequently focus on customer service. This is just as important a tangent of the produce aisle as anything else we do.

Recently I wandered into the paint section of the nearby big box home improvement store early in the morning. “Excuse me, miss,” I said to the distracted young woman working the counter. “I’m looking for ‘Bondo,’” (It’s a putty-like repair compound).

“I don’t know what uh, ‘Bondo’ is,” she replied indifferently, and returned to gaze into her phone.

After I tracked it down nearby with the assistance of a far more helpful employee, I was tempted to express some of my irk upon the counter clerk, hold it up to her face and explaining that this is the item I asked about. And being in that department, she ought to learn about a few products around her that customers are certain to ask about. 

I resisted the urge however, took a deep breath and moved on.

Have you ever encountered this in a grocery store? I read a long time ago that shoppers drop you for your competitor not so much for what they think is important, but rather for one too many encounters with the indifferent employee. The one who is unfriendly, ignores customers, and gives the impression that they aren’t interested in helping people.

My two, poor-employee pet peeves? “I’m sorry, I’m going on break,” and “Oh, that’s not my department.”

Grrr. In the produce department, a customer might ask a newer clerk something like, “Excuse me, which of these two pear varieties is best? How can you tell if they’re ripe?” If the clerk is well-trained (and doesn’t know) the best answer may be, “I’m not certain. Let me have my more-experienced co-worker lend a hand.” With that, the newer clerk is wise to listen in carefully to the response.

With 50,000 SKUs in a grocery store, nobody knows everything about every product. But a smart chain does everything to educate employees about product knowledge. Certainly, a produce clerk should challenge themselves to learn as much as possible so that they can confidently answer customers’ questions: when something will be in season, what’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? And so on.

The best quality a clerk can have? A genuine willingness to help people.

My Bondo experience could have been so much different. “You know sir, I apologize — I’m new to this job/department. I’ve no idea what that product is. Let me grab someone who knows.” 

A chain should always train and instill the importance of quality customer service to employees. Your business just may ride on the outcome.

Submitted by Tom Kisling on Fri, 09/13/2019 - 07:53

Pete another peeve I have is when the customer asks a clerk about the taste or quality of a product. In my younger days, I sold 3 trailer loads of produce weekly. If a customer is shopping in my store and asks the clerk, how are the grapes? The wrong answer is "I don't know." Hand the customer a small bunch (3-5 or more) and ask their opinion. Are the strawberries sweet? Here, try one. As my dad would say,"you never hear the fishman yelling, "rotten fish". Engage the customer, making a friend and loyal customer in the process. I also encouraged my clerks to try any of the fruit or vegetables we had for sale so they had first hand knowledge of the taste and quality. We had a receptacle in the back room for blemished or bruised product. Today some sell it as ugly produce. That box was called the speck box and employees were encouraged to take what they wanted for their use. My clerks had first hand knowledge of the products for sale and were also happy to be working for me. They knew that their boss personally approved all the inventory, focused on selling the freshest and most flavorful, and the more they engaged the customer, the better the sales volume and the happier the boss! ;-).