Princeton Merchants Association

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Discussion Notes from PMA Get in the Loop Customer Service Round Table

held at Princeton Public Library, 5/23/12

Question 1:

Zingerman’s says that new employees learn customer service culture from current employees and management. How do your new employees learn your customer service culture? How do you and your employees model customer service?


  • Customer service culture is created when standards are shared with new employees, and they witness good service being modeled by co-workers and management.

  • Good service happens when staff understand the shared standard of service and are empowered to do what they need to do to provide great service

  • Customer service is situational. Empathize and tailor our interactions to the needs of the individual customer in any specific situation.

  • Service culture is reinforced when good service is recognized and rewarded


  • Give credit and recognition to good employees to reinforce good customer service: La Jolie gave example of their Winners Circle

  • We explain expectations and offer customer service guidelines for new employees

  • Model good service by how we treat our employees: “Trickle Down Kindness”.

  • We empower employees to handle situations on their own. They can do this because they know the shared standard of good service

  • Situational awareness modeled by management

  • Hire the right person with the right personality for the right role.

  • Model a culture of respect

  • The importance of engaging and speaking with all clients. Calling them by name and developing a relationship that goes beyond one-time transactions.

  • Stress the importance of sincerity

  • Provide service that is not scripted or formulaic. Encourage and model situational awareness to deliver great service to the customer in any specific situation.

  • Be mannerly: use the basic good manners that we were taught in elementary school.

  • Make eye contact. Make client feel relaxed and welcome

  • Pair new employees with current employees who deliver great service to act as a good example.

  • Converse with customers and be happy

  • Let new employees know your goals and mission. Collect and tell stories that illustrate great customer service that has been given. Positive stories will go far, (and so will the negative ones.)

  • The “Customer is always right” interpreted as needing to be flexible and trying to achieve a win-win with the customer.

  • Have a common vocabulary of service. Build “customer” and “guest” into our  vocabulary so staff think in those terms.

  • Be clear with staff regarding standards and expectations around customer service.

  • When bad service happens, management addresses the behavior directly with the employee and discusses what behavior would have been more aligned with the organization’s customer service culture.

  • Good service is modeled from the top down. Managers are out on the floor.

  • Teach and model empathy: we modulate our behavior to the needs and of the customer

  • Ask customers what they want

  • Extra mile moments happen when staff feel empowered to make them happen.

  • Give staff the knowledge and resources they need to make good “extra mile”

  • offers to customers. (i.e. being familiar with the offerings of other local merchants.)

Question 2:

The Zingerman’s model lists three steps to great service: (1) Figure out what the guest wants, (2) Get it for them (3) Go the extra mile—defined as anything that the customer doesn’t ask for that is nice and outside of their expectations. What do you do to enable/encourage your employees to go the extra mile for customers? What are some examples from your workplace of “going the extra mile” for the customers?


  • End customer transactions with a follow up question like, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

  • The extra mile doesn’t have to be an expensive mile: Little things mean a lot. (i.e. having quarters available for parking, balloons for kids, biscuits/water for dogs.)

  • Personal touch matters. A follow up phone call or note, calling people by name, etc., go a long way.


  • Alan pointed out that “Extra mile isn’t really an extra mile, it’s an extra foot.”

  • Employees are empowered to do what they feel is right and to recommend solutions

  • Create a positive experience, pay attention to details

  • Ambience matters

  • Make smooth transactions

  • Be attentive to customer needs

  • Encourage employees to walk through town to know the businesses so that we can recommend each other

  • Make it easy for employees to go the extra mile by having the necessary equipment and resources available

  • Give the customer the level of attention and information that they want (which for some people is more than others)

  • End with “What else can we do?”

  • Make it personal

Specific examples of Going the Extra Mile:

  • Give regulars and celebrants free desserts or drinks

  • Crying baby given balloon

  • Quarters available for parking

  • Meet customer at car to help load or take items to car

  • Calling next day to follow up: try to get e-mail or phone number to follow up

  • Don’t just put on a customer hold, ask them if you can put them on hold

  • ADA-friendly chairs available

  • Send handwritten notes for large purchases

  • Employee volunteer helps to change a tire and declines tip

Question 3:
A key to the Zingerman’s model of handling problems is empowering every employee to make things right, and to offer options to the customer. What success has your business had in handling customer complaints and problems?


  • Employees are empowered to solve problems.

  • Rules/Policies are guidelines—they can be waived

  • Listen, Listen, Listen. Let the customer tell you what they need to be happy.


  • Twice a year Jon from PREX asks on Facebook “what are we doing wrong?” “What can be done better?”

  • Managers want to know if a problem has occurred even if the employee took care of it

  • It can diffuse the situation just to have a manager come over

  • Zingerman’s “Code Red” and “Code Green” Cards have been helpful (Note: samples of these forms are available at:

  • If there is a pattern of problems look at correcting the systems

  • Policy is the benchmark but rules were made to be broken

  • Empower employees to interpret policy to solve problems

  • We win when the customer leaves happy

  • Be an agent, not a gatekeeper (An agent is someone who is on their side)

  • No black or white

  • Listen and communicate

  • Use the “LAST” Model: Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank

  • Employees should feel comfortable stepping aside and asking for intervention

  • You need to develop a thick skin, short memory and no ego

  • Redirect to the solution that the customer wants

  • Ask the customer “what would solve this for you?”

  • Have a medium for getting feedback such as Yelp, e-mail, social media


There was some energy behind further discussion/brainstorming of how to mitigate the parking challenges for customers. Travis suggested that the PMA should create a small fund to cover parking tickets.

Suggestion that PMA leadership schedule time for a more in depth creative problem- solving session to address parking issues. 

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