Thursday, May 28, 2009
Employee Attitude or Management Attitude? Or Both?
Kris Dunn's great riff on customer service attitude at Enterprise Rent-a-Car reminded me of a topic I was going to post on a couple of weeks ago. Cathy Martin, writer of Profitability Through Human Capital, and I were talking about grocery shopping. We both shop at Kroger and Publix. Both are fine companies and I have shopped at both. Currently I spend most of my grocery shopping time at Publix with occassional trips to Kroger for special items. It used to be the reverse. I tell you this so you can tell that I have had a lot of time to compare the two stores.
To me there is a palpable difference in "attitude" of the workers, primarily the cashiers and baggers. At Publix everyone I have encountered is friendly, sometimes chatty, always nice. The baggers almost always offer to carry your bags out to the car (lest you think this is for money they do NOT receive tips for this.) They are efficient as well, and in a few cases run to exchange items for you if you did not get the right item. I have never heard them complain about their work schedules or even talk about when they are getting off.
At the Kroger I did my primary shopping at the case was not the same. They were friendly enough when I spoke to them, as I am want to do, but most the times they did not speak first. And in some instances I got nothing but "bad news" when I asked how they were that day. I have heard numerous conversations about when shifts ended and how ready people were to get off work. And I have never heard anyone offer to carry groceries out to a car. Now I am not saying these people were bad employees or the store was a bad store. I have had similar experiences in multiple stores.
The difference seems to be the "ATTITUDE". What can I attribute this to? I feel that the difference is tied to the following: Publix is employee owned and non-union. Kroger is heavily unionized, though not all locations I believe, and employees are just employees. Publix managers treat workers like fellow owners and realize that mistreatment may make them susceptible to unions, something Publix ardently tries to avoid. Kroger managers treat employees like employees and much of that interaction and training is tied up in the fact that the union-management relationship is an adversarial one. If you are trained to see your employee as an adversary that will certainly have an effect on the relationship and thus the attitude of the employee. On the converse holds too. Publix employees have a personal stake in the company's success. For many Kroger employees it just comes across as "a job."
I realize I am "broad brushing" here and we can probably all find examples that run contrary to my statements here, but as a general statement others agree with this assessment.
So what do you think it is? The attitudes of the employees, or the managers or a combination?
Do you feel the same thing? Do your customers feel this when they walk into your establishment?
Tell me your experiences or similar stories of other establishments.