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March 30, 2005

The fabulous baker boy

Home baker that I am, my only regular purchase at the Sainsbury's bakery counter is 50 grammes of fresh yeast.

There was a point when I grew very frustrated with Sainsbury's, because, even while the yeast was in stock, I couldn't buy it. The low point lasted three weeks and began with this conversation with a young lad behind the counter:

Me: Fifty grammes of fresh yeast, please.
Him: We don't sell that.
Me: Yes you do, I get it here every week. It's 16p for 50 grammes.
Him: What is it you want again? Yeas? Yeash? I don't know what that is.
Me (temporarily taken aback): Yeast, it makes bread rise... you're on the bakery counter...? Look, can you fetch one of the bakers?
Him: There are no bakers.

The following week, I meet the same truculent young fellow; this time in the company of a baker, who duly fetchs the yeast and serves me in a friendly manner. The third week, I really lose it. The young lad is flying solo again. I request the yeast and he replies, in all seriousness, We don't sell that.

We don't sell that?! Had he not figured out that I come in every week and ask for the same thing? Had he not taken the initiative and asked the baker where the yeast is kept, for when I come in next time? Had he not watched the baker sell me the yeast the previous week?

That week, I got my yeast from Tesco. Tesco don't sell yeast like Sainsbury's do, but if you ask the right baker, he will mutter I shouldn't really do this then bung you a piece of yeast the size of your head.

There is a happy ending to this story. Our young hero becomes a baker. I walk up and ask for the yeast and he goes and gets it. Just like that.

The following week, he is walking away from the counter, his shift over, when he spies me coming up the aisle. He turns on his heel and runs (runs, I tell you) back up the aisle and has the yeast waiting for me when I get there. He tells me that his shift was over, but he wasn't sure if the other staff knew how to serve me the yeast, which is why he ran back.

And remember how he didn't take the trouble to learn when he wasn't a baker? My wife went to buy yeast last week and our hero not only serves her, but as he does so, he turns to the puzzled looking Saturday girl standing next to him and says, Come and learn something: I will show you where we keep the yeast.

My point is this: somewhere along the line, that stroppy young boy became a cheery, helpful young man. He provides great service and looks out for his colleagues. And I think the key to that transformation was his becoming a baker. He will have had to learn new skills, put on a new uniform, become part of something. Of course, if you asked him he would deny it, but I think he is proud to be a baker. Now, he acts like he owns that bakery counter and he treats his customers accordingly.

You can try to teach customer service until you are blue in the face, and 9 times out of 10, it will not work. But when you give someone skills, ownership and pride in his work, then customer service flows automatically.

I am saving my links about retail employment practices for another day. For now, I think there is power in this kind of personal story, so share your best and worst Sainsbury's service experiences in the comments. Let's see if there are some common experiences which Sainsbury's could learn from.

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on March 30, 2005 at 11:40 AM in People, Stories | Permalink


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» Small interventions, big changes from Johnnie Moore's Weblog
Adrian Trenholm has really got his teeth into blogging at 173 Drury Lane. I particularly enjoyed his story, The Fabulous Baker Boy. It may start off like a standard customer service complaint but this one has a great ending -... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 1, 2005 9:43:33 AM

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You must check this out if you have not yet discovered it. 173 Drury Lane is a blog written by 4 customer evangelists about a company that has been slipping in market share: The authors have a long-standing emotional attachment [Read More]

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» Teach what you learn: a virtuous cycle from Adrian Trenholm
Rosa Say has very graciously linked to The Fabulous Baker Boy on 173 Drury Lane, a blog I guest author with Johnnie Moore, Freddie Daniels and Max Blumberg. I had drawn my own conclusions about the meaning of my story - that new skills, pride in one's ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 7, 2005 11:18:46 AM


Adrian, that's a great story on several levels. Not least that what may appear an irreversible character flaw is nothing of the kind. A simple intervention of the right kind can have remarkable effects... the hard part is figuring out the few simple interventions for Sainsburys as a whole...

Posted by: Johnnie Moore | Apr 1, 2005 8:17:57 AM

I worked for Sainsburys some time ago as a lowly shelf stacker on an evening shift, four nights a week. The initial training was full of hints and tips about how to help customers, a simple example being to always show a customer to a product that they asked for, i.e. if they asked for Cornflakes, take them physically to the relevant section. Easy enough? Well if you know the store it is but if you don't then its quite embarressing for you and the customer. 'Where's the blancmange mix?' take customer to home baking, then desserts and finally find a supervisor. Good experience - No!

On another occasion I had gone behind the scenes to ask a colleague where something was, when a manager (I knew it was a manager because I had never seen him before and he had a suit on) shouted in a very angry manner, 'Get back to work and stop messing around!' So I went off and told the customer that we didn't have any and handed my notice in the following week.

Only one incident but it convinced me that I didn't want to work there no matter what the convenience or need for money.

A quite negative take on intervention but I wanted to highlight the positive of the bakery story.

Posted by: Paul Goodison | Apr 1, 2005 3:24:45 PM

What stands out for me is how your manager was a scary unknown suit. I have noticed a certain tendency for the suits to talk only to one another at our local Sainsbury's. One in particular struts around the shop with a mobile phone, avoiding eye contact with both junior staff and shoppers (too busy; too important). Is this a Sainsbury's thing? Or a retail thing generally? Or does it vary store to store?

Like Johnnie, I wonder what is the simple intervention which will change all that?

Maybe something like Rosa Say's Daily 5 Minutes? This is a really simple idea - managers commit to giving 5 minutes of no agenda time to at least one employee each day, while keeping a checklist to ensure that they see everyone regularly.

One of the proven benefits of the daily five minutes is that trust gets built up between managers and workers, so there would have been no pre-judging you when you went back to the stock room:

Benefits from the Daily Five Minutes piled up: Managers ceased to judge employee situations prematurely, for they had built up a relationship that demanded all be allowed to speak first.

Thanks for your story, Paul. Keep 'em coming.

Posted by: Adrian Trenholm | Apr 1, 2005 4:38:32 PM

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