Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

A cashier hands you your bag and says, “If you take a survey noted at the bottom of the receipt, you could win a $50 gift certificate.”

Or not. How many times have you rushed home and taken the survey? Oh sure, any business, especially retailers, want to know how they’re doing and want to know what is swimming around inside the minds of their customers. Surveys are but one way to collect and dissect pertinent information.

I’m all for using sound research in order to better operate a produce operation. Sometimes, though, I liken it to a quote from David Ogilvy in “Anatomies of Desire,” where he wrote, “Some people use research like a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”

The truth is, not many fill out those surveys unless we’re especially riled up about a rough shopping experience. Statistically speaking, a business survey mechanism provides just a small sample that doesn’t necessarily represent overall performance. It does, however, help a chain to reach out to a disgruntled customer and try to resolve a problem.

An extended truth? In retail we’re constantly being evaluated.

Being on the sales floor stocking produce we hear comments that customers don’t think we hear, right?

“I want some roast beef from the deli, but the clerk with the beehive hairdo is always so rude.”

“I like this jam, but it’s only offered in a dinky 4-ounce jar and this, this 55-gallon drum. Can’t they stock a medium size?”

Sometimes we can jump in and resolve issues on the spot.

“I couldn’t help but overhear, ma’am (politeness counts). You can certainly buy fewer grapes than what is offered in the zip-close bag.”

“The frost on those blueberries? That’s natural and called ‘bloom’ — not pesticide residue.”

How do most customers evaluate your store or produce department? Quietly. Few will say much if unsatisfied but may eventually “vote with their feet,” as one mantra goes, and shop elsewhere.

When this happens, you don’t really notice. At least not right away. After all, there’s usually no timely survey that explained why. No written card in the complaint box.

The best gauge of customer satisfaction is when they come back, time and again. You’ll know when most people are happy with your produce department’s service and execution if you can measure not only increased sales but increased volume.

When you overhear a customer say to another, “I only shop here now. The produce is so much fresher than anywhere else.”

Well, that’s the best kind of advertising, and a topic for another day.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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