Thursday, February 7, 2013

Let's hear it for the Staff of the Cambridge Street Whole Foods

 I have a  paper to write this weekend. I went to the Whole Foods by North Station because the idea of having no food in the house while writing a paper sounded like no fun. But tomorrow is also the day a giant snow storm called Nemo is going to find all of us in the Bay State. Consequently the Whole Foods by North Station was a bit of a madhouse. I have never seen a longer, more epic grocery store line.

I considered going home and trying the grocery store tomorrow morning but the idea of no food in the house + paper made me decide to get 'er done. It would take however long it took (I had a book and phone to amuse myself with while in line) and at the end of it I would have food to eat while procrastinating or looking out the window and feeling alarmed.

When I started the line was so long (back past the deli, the bakery through cheeses and into the dairy section) I wondered if I would just get in line and shop as I passed by the relevant parts of the store. The store was mobbed by yuppies who were freaked out that no one would be around to feed them tomorrow "No one keeps food in their house--they all just come here every evening and buy dinner" explained the woman behind me in line. "Of course I don't have any food in my house on Fridays either--because I do my grocery shopping on Saturdays." She added.

This could have been awful (Apparently in some grocery stores it was--the Market Basket in Salem called the cops) but it wasn't because of the staff. There were staff members directing the checkout traffic and managers bagging groceries.  There was a man with chocolate samples as the line snaked by the bakery. There were plenty of people behind the deli counter. There was a man in an apron at the (usually DIY) hot soup bar. All of these people were calm and smiling. We could see that they were actively doing something to make things run smoothly. It didn't matter that not all the people they deployed were actively speeding things up--I don't think the chocolate guy or the soup guy were making things any speedier--everyone who was on the floor was trying to make this as pleasant as possible. By their sheer number (and their calm friendly manners) they succeeded.

Part of what makes a mobbed store so unpleasant is the lack of staff--there are 50 of you to every one of them so there's never anyone around to answer your questions or keep the mob in check*. By deploying people every 2 feet or so--even doing something as silly as ladling soup at a soup bar--they ensured that we all behaved. It also helped that it was clear that some of these people were management. None of them were wearing suits (this is Whole Foods after all) but it was clear that some of these people had keys to the office.

Why am I writing a blog post about a trip to the grocery store (aside from the fact that I'm avoiding a paper?) I'm doing this because it's an excellent example of how good customer service and good management and such things are rare.

In the end it only took about 5 minutes for me to get in line and check out. I made sure to thank the man who pointed  me towards a checkout line that was freeing up. "You guys are doing a great job!" I said. The woman behind me agreed.

*I'm not being dramatic here--people behave better when they know they're being watched--even if it is by the 22 year old girl who does cheese samples.

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