One Customer at a Time

By Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s Co-Founding Partner
originally written for Specialty Food Magazine, June 2003

At  Zingerman’s we’ve done a lot of work over the past few years to introduce effective measurements to assess the quality of our service work. We do things like mystery shopping, customer callbacks, and track complaints, order accuracy and late deliveries. All have helped us compile data that we use to guage the effectiveness of the service we give. As we’ve grown from a staff of two 21 years ago to more than 300 today, this data gathering and statistical sampling has allowed us to spot trends and service issues, thus allowing us to better allocate resources. It has provided quantifiable information that has brought good balance to the intuitive feel we’ve always had for customers. It only makes sense—this is the information age and technology allows us quick access to more data than we ever had when we opened in 1982. Although this effective quantification is important, I’ve been very adamant of late to emphasize the other end of the service spectrum. While statistics are a superb way to help us improve performance, service success is still attained one customer at a time.

Go the Extra Mile
When your business gets bigger than ten or 12 employees, it is tempting to think about customers as statistical segments, to see them as merely one more contribution to “average sale. I live the fear of falling into that mindset. I hope I never do because businesses that lose sight of the reality that service is still given one customer at a time will soon start losing customers. At first they lose them one at a time. But before long the losses start to expand geometrically as word spreads in the community about the poor service being provided. Soon, they’re out of business. Let me again restate the obvious. No matter what sort of organization you’re in—big or small, shaky or successful, start-up or established institution—great service is still ultimately given by each of us just one customer at a time. Quite simply, the seemingly small things like going the extra mile, remembering customers’ names, noticing a nice order and saying thanks, taking time to show a new customer around . . . those single individual acts are still what makes great service happen. And these acts of great service occur because staff members make individual decisions to do great things for customers that solidify bonds that can last a lifetime.

A Great Service Provider
When I think of a great service provider, Kathi Dvorin from our mail order business comes to mind. She’s been with Zingerman’s for 11 years and has become one of the best service providers I’ve ever worked with. About a year ago, one of our mail order customers in Texas placed a particularly nice order. Noting that he was a big Zingerman’s fan, Kathi asked me if I would drop him a note to thank him. I did. He was excited to hear from the owner personally, as a result of which the relationship Kathi had already established was now a bit stronger. His orders continued to come in and Kathi continued to go the extra mile, special ordering products, getting other key folks in our organization to participate in fulfilling his food needs. Last winter he and his wife wrote Kathi to say that they were coming to Michigan to visit relatives. They drove an hour (in each direction) out of their way to visit Zingerman’s. Kathi arranged special tours of all our businesses, a personalized tasting of traditional Balsamic vinegars, and a chance to sit in for an hour to get a first-hand taste of a ZingTrain seminar. I tell you this not to illustrate that Kathi is great but to illustrate how much difference she’s been able to make by doing small but meaningful things for this single customer. Dealing with customers on a one-to-one basis does not create immediate overnight statistical success. But it’s the approach that will build the long-term statistical success in sales and service upon which our future will be built.