The holiday season often means big sales for in-store bakeries.
More than half of shoppers say their New Year’s or Christmas party dessert comes from a grocery store bakery; 69 percent pick up pies, rolls and other prepared foods for their Thanksgiving meal, according to research from retail sales and marketing agency Acosta.
This is a prime opportunity for supermarket bakeries to gain new customers who will return year-round. However, it comes with the challenge to offer exceptional service: Given the wide variety of items bakeries offer, associates can count on customers having questions, from how many servings a cake will yield to what kind of roll will best accompany a savory main dish. If staff can’t give shoppers the information they need, they won’t have much reason to return to the department after the holidays.
However, offering knowledge and personalized service will elevate consumers’ overall shopping experience—and help the department excel in a crowded market, according to Eric Richard, International Dairy Deli Bakery Association education coordinator.
“Brick-and-mortar stores are competing more and more with nontraditional channels, such as online,” Richard says. “Stores can stand out if they offer exceptional customer service. There’s more traffic during the holiday time; having a very educated, attentive staff is a great way to build a loyal base that keeps returning.”
In-store bakeries have found success using the following techniques.
1. Express a True Interest
Customer service involves more than just checking in with shoppers, and a little personal attention goes a long way.
Nancy Friedman, president of customer service training service Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, recommends employees refer to shoppers who are placing custom dessert orders by name. She also suggests staff engage customers in conversation about what they’re seeking so they can offer strong and effective recommendations.
“Eighty percent of the time, the reason people are having a party is something fun—a graduation, a birthday; you need to reflect that,” Friedman says. “Don’t just walk them over to the 3-inch-thick book of designs where they have to go it alone; make suggestions, point out what they might want.”
2. Make Bakery Employees Experts
To effectively engage with customers, associates need to understand more than just product names.
“Shoppers these days want … to know about flavors, taste, the history behind a product, whether you use local ingredients,” Richard says.
In addition to arming employees with this knowledge, include the information on labels, signage and marketing materials. This can reduce the time employees spend answering individual shoppers’ questions and ensure customers get what they need immediately.
3. Use Training Technology
Customer service training often takes many forms, and it’s never a one-time investment. California’s Northgate Gonzalez Marketsuse Axonify, a learning management system that lets businesses customize modules to provide personalized instruction and give managers detailed feedback.
“The experience is adapted to each individual; my training would be different from yours because we have different knowledge gaps,” says Gary Orona, Northgate’s director of training and development. “Managers could go to an individual in a store and say, ‘You only scored 25 percent on your last training. Please take it again.’”
While the software proved helpful, up until roughly two years ago, employees only accessed it on a computer located in the front of the store, and engagement was spotty. To better encourage Axonify’s use, Northgate began offering staff an app version. Once associates could use their phones, training module completion rates hit 75 percent, according to Orona. Customer service scores increased as well.
4. Measure Employees’ Impact
Northgate’s customers are asked to complete online shopping experience questionnaires through a link and code printed on their receipts, and the bakery department receives results once a month.
“There are two specific customer service questions: ‘Are associates available to help?’ and ‘Did they say hi and were [they] friendly [in] helping you?’,” Orona says. “We involve the recap we get every month in our game plan for upcoming training.”
Since enacting the new training method and shaping it to address issues the customer questionnaire revealed, the store’s overall monthly customer service scores have increased 20 points.
Your bakery’s staff contributes heavily to the reputation of the department. Ensuring that everyone has the tools and information to provide customers a memorable shopping experience encourages loyalty—during the holidays and beyond.