How is your produce department perceived?

I’m talking, of course, about your customers. If they’re in your store they must be satisfied, right? Especially if they’re regular customers. The ones you see week-in and week-out.

Sometimes however, you see less and less of one or another. There are lots of reasons that customers leave. Some simply move away, and others — well, some others quietly “vote with their feet,” as some like to say — find someplace else to shop.

This is the kind of business that any grocer can ill afford to lose.

The average produce department can help retain customers. By keeping a clean, neat and organized produce department, customers are far more likely to remain loyal shoppers. Strive for the freshest appeal, and (at corporate level) stay competitive with variety, selection and pricing.

And customer service. Don’t forget this part of the retention-equation.

That’s why I thought about a few, um, service annoyances that customers have conveyed in one way or another over the years. Here are just a few examples:

The aisle-blocker: Everyone knows you must pull out carts or pallets of product to keep the shelves full. Just be aware that during business hours, allow shoppers easy access to aisles and displays. If your cart is in the way, it’s in the way of a frustrated shopper trying to make a purchase.

The chit-chat team: Yeah, your clerks are pals. When they get overly-engaged in conversation or at a loud level, it can be an uncomfortable distraction. Strive to coach your clerks to keep the camaraderie to a tolerable and polite decibel level, and work separately so customers feel free to ask questions or request help.

The ignorer: Ever stand in a service line where the clerk doesn’t even look at you? Even if a clerk is tied up in a task, they should at minimum acknowledge and greet customers. A smile and “Good morning, I’ll be right with you,” is usually enough to let a shopper know that you’re aware of their presence and that their business is important. 

The super-busy employee: You know this clerk. They’re so busy stocking or engaged in whatever task that they look past customers or pretend they aren’t even there. The Tasmanian-devil employee is one that customers look at and think, “I have a question but they’re so busy, I don’t want to bother them,” or even worse, the shopper thinks the worst — that the employee thinks so little of the customer that they don’t even make eye contact.

Customer service level. A perception worth working on, and constantly improving upon.  

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at [email protected].


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