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This time of year, I feel assailed with advertising as retailers try to get us to “Buy, buy, buy...” (Anyone else experience that?) Retailers use the spiel of the deal, the deep discount to entice people to spend money with them.

The Holiday Season is Competitive for Retailers

At first glance, a retail bakery cafe may appear to be in a different category. But the reality is, people have a certain number of dollars to spend among all the choices out there, and that includes whether they decide to make a special trip to their local bakery for the best baked goods. Bakeries are different from most retailers in the respect that they’re priced fairly to start with. Giving too many deals can be harmful to a business with slim margins. So how to compete with all the deals and distractions?

Ultimately, Customer Service and Product Quality Fuel Repeat Business

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I rely on our in-house marketing experts to figure out how to best get people in the door, and I focus my attention on what happens once they are there. So, how can we assure customers come back? My top two passions from my 26-year tenure with Great Harvest are product quality and customer service. Where I’ve seen those two things executed well, almost without exception, it results in a healthy business – an
outstanding product that people want (a no-brainer, right?) and outstanding customer service. Hmmm…outstanding customer service. What exactly does that mean, though? It can mean different things to different people and therein lies part of the challenge.

We all know what we like when we shop. Sometimes we want help and advice, and sometimes we just want to be left alone to browse. I don’t know anyone who likes high pressure to buy, especially if it’s insincere. The last thing we want to create in business is buyer’s remorse. But a short step away from that “high pressure” mode resides knowledge and enthusiasm about the product, and as long as that’s authentic, it can be highly effective in keeping sales strong, and helping the customers get what they want. Authenticity, and a focus on the customer not on the sale, is key. For most customers, genuine caring and friendliness has immeasurable value. It’s rare that I find a Great Harvest without “regulars,” the people who walk in the door and everyone greets them by name and knows their preferences. How can you measure that in dollars?

Mind the Line Between Helpful Enthusiasm and High Pressure Stalking

I dare to say customer service even trumps quality (although both are important)! But I say that from experience. I’ve seen stores with wonderful product quality and mediocre service struggle, and stores with OK product but outstanding service, thrive. Doing both well is dynamite. Too often, business owners view customer service people as a “dime a dozen” group. In truth, giving great customer service requires skill and the right personality – genuine friendliness (which is innate to the person), psychology, people skills, sensitivity to different needs, focus, and the ability to multi-task and switch gears quickly. And it can make or break your business. Your customer service is the face of your business.

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Customer service was my first gig with Great Harvest. I loved serving people in our little bakery. I was a customer first; I remember experiencing that first joy of working the other side of the counter and sharing delicious, healthy products with customers via our Breadboard. We didn’t spend much time training for service back in those days. Great service sprang organically out of the desire to share our wonderful products. Our philosophy and Mission Statement translated into being friendly, helpful, and passionate about the products we were making. Now, I have the opportunity to help Great Harvest bakery owners around the country. 26 years later, I still feel the same passion about the products we provide, and the people we serve.

Focus on the Customer, Not the Sale. Great Service is Golden.

There are many nuances to good customer service and countless books that have been written about it. The pictures included here represent Great Harvest owners and employees who understand its value, and execute great service in their own style, with class and integrity. They exemplify our Mission Statement lines of “Run Fast to Help Customers” and “Give Generously to Others.” More than simply directing customers to products they’ll enjoy, excellent service done authentically provides a feel good experience for people. It makes their day brighter, and adds an extra value to their life no money can buy.

Mike_Scheel_at_his_counter__WEBAnd isn’t that what life is all about? I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a company culture that values people, brings them together around delicious (and nutritious!) products, and provides the opportunity to make peoples’ lives better.

At this time of year, against a backdrop of over-commercialized marketing ploys, authentic customer service can stand out as much as ever. Have you experienced exceptional service recently? Let us know in the comments if you've had a share-worthy experience others could learn from. 

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If you’d like to read more about customer service, try these posts:

I'm Bonnie Harry and have had the pleasure of working for Great Harvest since 1988! I work with a remarkable group of people - both the people in the Dillon office and the bakery and cafe owners across the country. Working for a company that emphasizes freedom, quality, service and ability to roll with the changes keeps the work invigorating and dynamic. Since the beginning, the company has attracted caring and passionate people. This combined with the freedom aspect has created a great company culture. I was a loyal customer before joining the ranks and still believe our whole grain breads are the best out there.