Hello shoppers...

Any company that wants to compete for our hard-earned drachmas and doubloons, can't offer so-so-stinky customer service and expect to get them, not in this so-so-stinky economy. You don't bring a butter knife to a gun fight unless you're a GUESS model shooting a "West Side Story" themed ad rip-off.

Some companies, however, bring customer service howitzers - and shoppers are thankful for the heavy artillery. Here's a peek at two such gun-slinging retail heros.


Fareway in Norwalk - Bringing It Freaky Friendly


Talk to Brian Greiner, store manager for Fareway in Norwalk, and you immediately want to rub his head, toss him a nickel and tell him to scoot and go buy himself a wad of Bazooka. That's because the youthful-looking 32-year-old Greiner appears closer to 14, the age he started bagging groceries and got his first taste of the biz.

"I have a lot of family who work in the grocery store business," said Greiner when I chatted with him last week. "I started young and just never left."

That career arc took him through several grocers around Des Moines, including one who emphasized the front end of the store.

"You learn the importance of personalizing your service," says Greiner. "That's my expectation with this crew - and they're awesome."

The Norwalk Fareway opened in August 2007 with a young Greiner at the helm and an even younger staff under his wing, which makes what they've accomplished even more impressive; creating an exceptional customer service culture that Greiner calls "Freaky Friendly."

It was a term he first heard during a seminar presentation by nationally renown marketing guru Harold Lloyd, who works with the Iowa Grocers Association.

"Lloyd teaches that if you're going to claim to be good, be the best," says Greiner. Clearly the staff at Fareway in Norwalk has taken the message to heart.

I discovered this, and everything else about Norwalk's Fareway, entirely by accident as I stumbled in one day searching for emergency mushrooms and less emergency toothpaste. The very-young girl at the check-out counter wasn't your typical ambivalent teen, killing time till her shift ended and the lip gloss and Miley Cyrus began.

Instead, she blew me away. "How are you doing today? Doing anything exciting? Have you had a good day?" Wow - I've had dates that were less engaging.

When I told her how impressed I was with her friendly demeanor, she smiled and said, "We call it freaky friendly."

And so it is.

Greiner says that when a customer asks, "Where are the eggs?" the employees won't just point to the aisle, they'll take you there, and tell you what's on special. I suspect they'd also carry them to your car, ride home with you and cook them.

"Everybody's bought into the freaky friendly idea," says Greiner. Bingo! There's the key to creating a customer service culture in a retail setting - having complete buy-in from the top, down. Greiner says it's contagious.

"The entire staff works very hard on the front end of the store, watching customers, watching each other, engaging patrons. We get a lot of calls from customers about how good our service is."

And the occasional blog mention. Keep up the freaky friendly work, kids. I know old farts who could learn a lot from you. 


Quik Trip - The Ultimate Greeters


Try walking into a Quik Trip, any Quik Trip,  without being greeted with a "Hi!" or "Hello!" or "How are ya?" Go ahead, I dare you. It's almost impossible, unless you come in through the chimney - like trying to pass metal through an airport detector without the alarm going off.

All that glad-handing is by design, says Mike Green, store manager at QT on Ingersoll in downtown Des Moines - one of the best of the best local QT's when it comes to delivering "freaky friendly."

 "We're trained by corporate to either greet each customer as they come through the door or before they're rung up, "says the Houston-born Green, who originally got on with Quik Trip "until something better came along." 15 years later, nothing has.

Green says QT hires good people, for positions that pay above the competition, then run them through a rigorous in-store training process. But that's only the beginning.

"Each store is secret shopped once a week by corporate," says Green, "and each employee is scored on specific sets of criteria, including customer greeting, counting back change correctly, store cleanliness and employee appearance." Green says that if an employee meets all the criteria, they receive a $50 bonus in their next paycheck. "It's a great incentive." Plus the entire store is also graded once a month - if it meets certain criteria, then that store also receives a bonus.

"Managers also attend a half-day "Good Merchant School," says Green, "and we're encouraged to read customer service training books." He counts Raving Fans and Fish, the classic chronicle of a Seattle fish market store, among his favorites.     

I asked Green - who has achieved a certain level of fame among longtime downtown QT patrons - if he gets recognized when he's not working at the store.

"I get it all the time - someone will shout, 'Look! It's the Quik Trip Dude!' My kids think that's cool."

So do we, Mike - thanks for giving us all these years of hi's, as one of the best QT dudes in DM.


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, marketing strategist and radio show host. Email him at jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

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