‘Publix is the most profitable grocery store chain in the world, miles ahead of biggies like Walmart, Kroger and even the mighty Whole Foods’ – Forbes.
This is the CBS News’ list of the Top 10 companies for Customer service for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011.
There are a lot of big names in the list. But quietly lurking in the center and consistently on a year-on-year basis, is Publix. Publix is the world’s largest employee-owned company. Publix, in a whopping 83 years of running, has the unique distinction of having the entire firm owned by the staff inside the company. This means that every shareholder in the company was either a cashier, a bagger or even a baker.
In fact, the President of Publix, Todd Jones was a bagger who eventually rose up the ranks to become President. The founder of Publix, George.W.Jenkins had a simple quote.
Never let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing.
The right thing he spoke about and one that his company still upholds with pride, is exceptional customer service.
How does it feel to be a Publix customer?
The minute you walk into a Publix store, there is a guy outside who greets you with a ‘Hello, sir. How do you do?’
Before your smile vanishes and you walk through the door, there are employees waiting to ask you what you want. You may say ‘Kraft mayonnaise’ and expect them to tell you where the food aisle is.
[pullquote]Every shareholder in the company was either a cashier, a bagger or even a baker.[/pullquote]
They go a step ahead, get you a shopping cart, put the Kraft bottle in and wheel it to you. Publix sets the standard for top class customer service. When you are done bagging your goods and you walk to your car, the Publix bagger takes the bags and walks with you to the car and puts it in and wishes you well. The story isn’t over yet.
Publix has a no tipping policy. The only tipping that happens is the Publix employee tipping his hat to you and walking back in contentedly.
Publix – Customer Satisfaction guaranteed
When most companies struggle to hit 60, Publix received an approval score of 82/100 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The Publix customers themselves are living advertisements for the company.
“We believe there are three ways to differentiate: service, quality and price. We make service our number one, then quality, then price” – Todd Jones, President, Publix.
They are so strong on their customer service principles that they have a customer satisfaction policy right on their website –
“We will never knowingly disappoint you. If for any reason your purchase does not give you complete satisfaction, the full purchase price will be cheerfully refunded immediately upon request.”
They stand by their word too. At any point of time, if you are not satisfied with your product, you can go right back and return it and they will refund the complete amount.
Differentiate with service
While Walmart was painting the town red with their ‘Nothing can beat our price’ attitude, Publix went ahead and decided to take the giant head-on with its customer service culture instead.
They put up a billboard saying ‘Walmart does not always have the lowest price’. The CEO William Crenshaw feels that he can give customers the right kind of shopping experience which is key when compared to just low prices.
They ensure that they spread the word of customer service in everything they do; even in their advertisements.
In the Forbes article on Publix vs Walmart, Crenshaw says that his strength are his polite, knowledgeable and efficient employees who help make your one hour shopping experience memorable and warm so that customers will keep wanting to come back and shop at Publix.
Great service begins from within
According to the Wall Street Journal article on Publix, there was not a single employee in Publix who had not started off doing menial jobs within the organization.
“First, take care of your customers. Second, take care of your associates. They will in turn take care of your customers.” – George.W.Jenkins, Founder – Publix
A company known for great customer service will always take care of its employees well, who in turn will extend that happiness to the customers.
When there was a global recession and every company was laying people off to manage their budget, Publix did not lay off a single person. Instead, they cut costs by launching Publix Essentials, a program that lowered costs by 20%.
They have not only given stock to each and every employee to convert them into a shareholder, but have actively ensured that no employee ever gets treated badly either.
Publix has paved the way for exceptional customer service by instilling strong principles in their employees to focus on customer satisfaction over price and quality. I’m sure there is a lesson to learn here for everyone.