MODESTO, Calif. -- Save Mart Supermarkets here has introduced a new, high-touch level of customer service in its bakery-deli department with the grand reopening of a remodel this spring, and customer response has been "fantastic," officials said.
Based on positive feedback from employees as well as on customers' reactions, the company expects to expand the program to other fresh departments, and then probably to other selected stores, an official told SN.
To prepare for the launch of what easily could be called "extreme customer service," the chain gave 22 associates and five deli-bakery specialists a full 40 hours of training that ran the gamut from product knowledge to merchandising to how to handle an angry customer.
The overall program is aimed at creating a "world-class" store that stands out in the marketplace, and is expected to boost total sales, enhance the store's image, heighten employee morale and reduce turnover, officials at the 97-unit chain said.
The bakery-deli department was chosen as the first of the fresh departments to implement the program because it offers the highest potential for differentiating the chain in a competitive marketplace, said Sally Sanborn, Save Mart's director of marketing.
"We felt that bakery-deli can epitomize service more than any other department. We want it to be a world-class department that sets us apart," she said.
The revamped 24-hour store itself sports a bakery-deli department that's been nearly doubled in physical size, a staff that's been doubled, and that includes an associate on each shift dedicated specifically to customer service.
"That person's job will be to see things from the customer's perspective and keep things right. They'll keep the department sparkly for one thing, no smudge on cases, and they'll be there just to help customers, make serving suggestions, answer questions," said another Save Mart official.
The massive training effort, which preceded the store's grand reopening, was formatted as a "boot camp" and included "drills" on team-building skills, food safety, grooming and hygiene, handling supplies and equipment, as well as merchandising, and interaction with customers, all of which play a role in serving the customer, officials explained. Product knowledge also got a lot of attention.
"Our customers expect us all to be experts on what we sell. They want to get their questions answered," one source said. For example, "we explained to the trainees that customers often ask if the outside of brie cheese is edible. Some of our employees had never eaten brie, and especially since it is an item that's growing in sales, we made sure they learned that the outside is very edible and also how that cheese is used."
Prosciutto, too, is an increasingly popular item that employees may not be completely familiar with, the source added.
"It's a hot item. Trainees were instructed that if they're asked how it's used, they can say such things as it can be served with melon, and that a little goes a long way with pasta, for example."
Food safety was a major topic in the curriculum. Indeed, all the trainees have become food-safety certified.
Nearly a day of the "basic training" was built around Deli Basics, an interactive CD-ROM training program produced by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Madison, Wis. A member of Save Mart's management team acted as a facilitator at sessions in which Deli Basics was used.
"I was very impressed with that [interactive-training] program. It's very up-to-date," said one employee.
Much of the training was hands-on. Trainees made announcements over the PA system, prepared product for demos, and made garnishes for platters of prepared foods.
"But the parts employees particularly liked were those that are most often only discussed at management level, such as cost control and gross profit. We figured if we want them to help control shrink, they need to know these things, that if they throw away a day-old muffin without recording it, it has an effect. But we found they want to know those things," said a member of the program's training staff.