THE STORIES ABOUT PUBLIX SUPER MARKETS employees providing extraordinary levels of service — loaning customers their cars or reading a blind customer the weekly ad over the phone, for example — are legendary.
It is a culture that has been fostered since the chain was founded by George Jenkins in 1930, after he had been snubbed by the new owner of the supermarket where he was working and set out to build a company where employees were appreciated and customers were doted upon.
To perpetuate that culture, Publix relies on strong hiring and training practices, but more than anything immerses its employees so deeply in the concept of providing exceptional service that they embrace it as the only right way to perform their duties.
“From their first days on the job, new associates are immersed in a culture of customer service,” wrote Joseph W. Carvin, the former Publix human resources executive, in his 2005 book, “A Piece of the Pie: The Story of Customer Service at Publix.” “Friendliness surrounds them. People are greeting each other, asking about each other's families.”
Maria Brous, director of media and community relations, said employees embrace that familial environment at the retailer.
“We always talk about our Publix family, and no one rallies around family like Publix folks do,” she said. “We are always there to share milestones and tragedies, and we go through these life cycles together.”
The culture of customer service is perpetuated, in part, by the company's practice of promoting from within, according to Todd Jones, president.
“That is a pretty big part of our culture — when you have [more than] 1,000 stores, and those store managers have been promoted from within,” he told SN. “It's not easy to do.
“But it's a wonderful opportunity, when those store managers see that they can continue to grow with this company.”
The Publix culture is something his managers instilled in him when he first started working at the chain in 1980, he said, “and it's something I try to pass on whether I am working in the store or talking to a truck driver.”
New hires — generally part-time store workers — go through a period of “self-selection,” during which they learn for themselves whether they are cut out for a life of high-level retail service, Carvin wrote in his book.
“The good news for us at Publix is that most of our associates can tell immediately if Publix is the company for them, and most can answer that exact question within their first 90 days of employment,” said Brous. “From the very first interaction with us in their interview, to their first official day on the job at their orientation class, our associates understand our passion and commitment for our customers.
“We speak of treating our customers like kings and queens in our home, and that our customers are always right. We focus a majority of our training on the customer experience and on giving back to the communities we serve. When newly hired associates report to their first day at their work location, the emphasis on customer service continues when they job shadow.”
The average tenure at Publix for store managers is 25.1 years, she said. Retail hourly workers average about 5.1 years at the company, and hourly support workers average about 9.1 years.
In addition, Brous noted, employees who are passionate about pursuing additional opportunities within the company are encouraged and trained to do so.
“If someone wants to work in the bakery, and they are passionate about it, while they might not have the talent yet as a decorator, we work with them to develop that talent,” she said. “We give them an opportunity to try that, if they are passionate about it, they might excel at it.”