Make Them Look Up

The Promise Land

Over the holidays I became a fan of Wegmans Food Markets, a growing supermarket chain that sat atop the 2005 Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work for List.”  If you’ve ever been to one then you know it has outstanding food at reasonable prices and the in-house market makes you think you’re somewhere other than heading for the baked goods aisle.

As if this weren’t enough the customer service is what some consider to be the best in the industry, and perhaps one of the best in the entire service industry.  Much has been written about the “employees first, customers second” philosophy Wegmans adopted, an approach shared by the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, and Marriott, to name a few.  However, what struck me most wasn’t the free ham being doled out by the charismatic butcher (who happened to keep my daughter and I entertained for over 15 minutes), or the cheese guy with the cool accent who led me to the “brie” promise land. It was the train.

Above the heads and perhaps missed by some was a train that ran inconspicuously throughout a part of the store. I’m not even sure I would have seen it had it had not been spotted by my keen-eyed four year old. Yet when I saw it I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Each aisle I turned down I checked to see where it was, whether or not it was still moving, and how far it had progressed since the last spotting.  It was pleasant, fun, memorable, and brought me to another time and place although I could never pinpoint when. It was a perfect compliment to an enjoyable experience during one of the busiest shopping days of the year. So why is this the train so important and why should an organization, a non-profit entity or a for-profit company care?

The Train by Jennifer Nicholson

The train represents a pleasant escape for the customer, the unexpected and added element to whatever experience an organization is trying to deliver.  It is the intangible little thing that may not make immediate sense, or speak directly to a mission or vision, but it manages to breathe a little life into an engagement and perhaps makes an incredible difference in an experience.

For Non-Profits
During last month’s ASAE Technology Conference there was a session on how organizations should consider using online games to increase membership for their organizations.  Generally I agree with this and think perhaps there’s a real opportunity for games (or other things) to change the experience for members. It certainly can’t hurt for organizations to continue to think differently. However, what can’t be missed by nonprofits and for-profits alike are the other elements that also make Wegmans great: its commitment to its employees, to its customers, to quality product and to reasonable prices.  I also think there’s an opportunity here for organizations to over analyze and ultimate kill the idea of using games to engage (not necessarily recruit) members, especially if they think too much about the outcome and not enough about the value of  what I call temporary escape.

For Companies
It’s time for every company to continue to add elements to the experience it delivers to its customer base.  Consumers are faced with so many choices and options that it may just be the companies that concentrate most on providing an escape to their own experience that outlast the rest. By fine tuning the fundamentals (mentioned above) and figuring out how to make them look up, the experience will become unforgettable.


7 thoughts on “Make Them Look Up

  1. I ❤ the train at Wegman's, in fact, so much so, I took my nephew who's a train fanatic, to the Wegman's, just to see the train! We also then bought a few things and had lunch there as well. 🙂

    But I agree with you about Wegman's, they get it right, their employees care, alway have smiles and always are very helpful.

    What I'd really like to see Wegman's really start to engage their customers socially. Even just offering specials for foursquare mayors is a start. They'd be so great at this, because their customer service is so great – it's just a natural extension.

    Great post!


    • Li,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments and I’m sure Wegmans is happy to hear the next generation of shoppers are already enthusiastic about their approach. I have to think they have considered the social piece to their strategy and maybe it’s just a matter of properly projecting their in-house culture, something they do so well, outward. Either way I look forward to seeing what they do.

      Thanks again and as an aside your company has a really nice website.

  2. Hey Brian! I love this post. I’ve heard a lot about Wegmans but I haven’t had the chance to visit one yet. Now I am going to make a special effort.

    I love the “employee first, customer second” mindset! It is so twenty-first century. The companies that are employing this philosophy are seeing astounding results. Yet, so many companies are appalled at the thought. For example, I made an “employee first, customer second” suggestion to my former employer and… let’s just say the response wasn’t good.

    In his book “Tribes” Seth Godin says: In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from mangers who push their employees to do more for less. And he is so right! It is time for more companies to start following the Wegmans example.

    Thank you for this important reminder.


    • Dena,
      Don’t forget to look up when you drop in on a Wegmans, that is if you can make it past the brie.
      Your quote from Godin’s work is exactly what many organizations are beginning to realize which perhaps means a sweeping shift in the degree to which organizations invest in their employees.

  3. With information coming from all directions, it is very important that non-profits finds ways to engage with their members. Your example of the Wegman train is something that all of us need to keep in mind.

    • Bob, thank you for commenting and you’re right, organizations need to make sure they continue to find ways to engage members and be a part of the conversation. As important is not being afraid to experiment with things like the train. It would be interesting to know if the train was part of Wegmans original strategy or if it was a product of multiple attempts to provide a pleasant distraction.

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