- Northgate Gonzalez Markets offers its workers digital training programs that deliver information and short tests on everything from safety training to increasing customer satisfaction, according to Progressive Grocer. Employees earn points for taking the tests, which they can redeem for gift cards and other prizes.
- After an initial adoption rate of 20%, Northgate saw adoption increase to 60 to 65% over the course of a year. The program modules, according to Gary Orona, Northgate’s director of training, encourage frequent updates and refreshers on core store practices.
- The programs, which were developed by training-software company Axonify, have helped Northgate increase health and safety compliance while also boosting customer service.
As grocers look to cut costs in a competitive industry, they have to make sure they don’t shortchange their employee training programs. In addition to reducing safety violations and keeping stores clean and running efficiently, well-trained employees can offer superior customer service.
Grocers like Publix and Wegmans can draw a direct line from their customer service efforts to their bottom lines, proving that even in this increasingly digital-focused industry, there’s no substitute for friendly, helpful employees.
For Northgate Market, which has quickly expanded to 40 locations across Southern California, good service is essential to reaching its many Hispanic and non-Hispanic customers. The grocer’s interactive training program teaches associates to smile and make eye contact with customers, and to ask them about their day. The program encourages associates to appreciate shoppers, as well.
“Without that customer, you don’t have a job, we don’t have a business. We launched training on why the customer is important to our business,” Gary Orona, Northgate’s director of training, told Progressive Grocer.
Good service is especially important for Hispanic grocers. In a recent interview with Food Dive, Edward Rincon, president of Dallas-based research firm Rincon and Associates, said that Hispanic customers value warm, knowledgeable employees very highly, and will switch retailers if they feel they aren’t getting good service.
Northgate hopes its service efforts can boost its appeal as it competes with other Hispanic grocers as well as traditional grocers. With more than 54 million Hispanic shoppers in the U.S., many of whom crave the authentic flavors and experiences of Mexico and Central America — and who spend more than the average U.S consumer on high-margin fresh foods — Hispanic grocers are poised for rapid growth. Private equity firms have begun investing, while large chains like Kroger and Walmart have remade their stores in key regions to include tortillerias as well as authentic products.
Still, Hispanic grocers have to carefully balance the demands of a broad spectrum of first- and second-generation customers, as well non-Hispanics. This requires careful planning and lots of market research, with assortments varying from location to location. One thing that doesn’t vary, though, is the need for good service.