Customer Bliss' Jeanne Bliss: Wegmans Food Markets Excels by Throwing Away the Rule Book

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
In traditional retailing, customer experiences can become stilted when the frontline staff has a list of do's and don'ts regarding how far they can go to serve their customers. At Wegmans Food Markets there is no rule book. There is simply this: No customer is allowed to leave unhappy.

In traditional retailing, customer experiences can become stilted when the frontline staff has a list of do's and don'ts regarding how far they can go to serve their customers. At Wegmans Food Markets there is no rule book. There is simply this: No customer is allowed to leave unhappy.

Wegmans is a privately held grocery store chain with 41,000 employees. The company generated an estimated $5.6 billion in revenue in 2010. What fuels Wegmans's growth are passion, training, and trust. The company allows its employees make their own decisions no matter what customer situation they encounter. A trained, trusted employee will do the right thing
CEO Danny Wegman believes in giving employees extensive training and experience to garner an understanding of the product and service experiences they are trusted to deliver. Wegmans invests more than 40 hours per year on training to back up people's natural instincts to do the right thing with the necessary skills to help them take action. This allows Wegmans to free itself of management oversight. Instead, the grocer simply trusts in the decision making of the people on the floor working with customers. That could mean deciding to give away a birthday cake to a customer whose order was accidentally misscheduled, or cooking a turkey for a frazzled hostess who bought a turkey too large for her oven.

Employees with decision making authority will want to stay
By giving staff control over their own decisions and believing in them, Wegmans can deliver what Danny Wegman calls "telepathic levels of service." This makes employees want to stay. The low turnover of 7 percent versus 19 percent for comparably-sized grocery store chains enables Wegmans to redirect the money it would have spent on recruiting to the constant development of its folks. And with that, profitability has followed. Wegmans' operating margins are estimated at 7.5 percent--double that of its competitors. And its sales per square foot are 50 percent higher than the industry average. By throwing away the rule book Wegmans prospers both financially and in the spirit of the people who work in its stores. Whether they're putting away cans of garbanzo beans or sweeping the floor, everyone there knows that their decisions with customers stick.

Is your "trusting cup" half full or half empty?
Wegmans decided that no customer should leave unhappy. They trust the people serving customers in their stores to interpret what that means. Answer the following six questions to determine whether your "trusting cup" is half full or half empty:

  • How would you rate your intent and ability to trust the majority of your employees? Or do you manage to the minority?
  • Can you identify just one rule you can throw away?
  • Do employees rave about how you trust them today?
  • How does your approach to allowing employees to deliver what's best for customers compare with Wegmans' approach?
  • Do your decisions for trusting your employees to do the right thing earn your company "beloved" status today?
  • What do you need to do differently to move toward earning the rave of customers and employees?

By freeing employees to do what's right for customers, no customer leaves unhappy. What portion of your rule book can you throw away?

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About the Author: Jeanne Bliss is owner of Customer Bliss, cofounder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, and author of I Love You More Than My Dog.

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