A Lesson in Customer Loyalty: Johnny the Grocery Bagger

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People learn sales and business tactics/strategies from a variety of sources. Oftentimes, these lessons come from books written by sales leaders, podcasts hosted by academic geniuses, and lectures given by industry titans. Less often, lessons come from everyday sources, such as popular movies and inspirational moments of triumph. Even less often does a lesson in sales, marketing, and business come from a grocery bagger. The story of Johnny the bagger is one of those reminders that profound and important lessons can be found in the most unlikely of places.

The story, first published by Ken Blanchard and Barbara Glance, reads as follows:

A few years ago I was hired by a large Supermarket chain to lead a customer service program – to build customer loyalty. During my speech I said, “Every one of you can make a difference and create memories for your customers that will motivate them to come back.” How? Put your personal signature on the job. Think about something you can do for your customer to make them feel special – a memory that will make them come back.

About a month after I had spoken I received a phone call from a 19 year old bagger names Johnny. He proudly informed me he was a down syndrome individual and told me his story.

“I liked what you talked about,” he said, “but at first I didn’t think I could do anything special for our customers.”

“After all I’m just a bagger. Then I had an Idea,” Johnny said.“Every night after work, I’d come home and find a thought for the day. If I can’t find a saying I like,” he added, “I’d just think one up.”

When Johnny had a good thought for the day, his dad helped him set it up on the computer and print multiple copies. Johnny cut out each quote and signed the back. Then he’d bring them to work the next day.

“When I finish bagging someone’s groceries, I put my thought for the day in their bag and say, thanks for shopping with us!”

It touched me to think that this young man – with a job most people would say is not important – had made it important by creating precious memories for all of his customers. A month later the store manager called me.

“You won’t believe what happened. When I was making my rounds today, I found Johnny’s checkout line was three times longer than anyone else’s.”

“It went all the way down the frozen food aisle. So I quickly announced, ‘we need more cashiers; get more lanes open.’ As I tried to get people to change lanes. But no one would move.

They said, “No that’s OK – we want to be in Johnny’s lane. We want his thought for the day.”

The store manager continued, “It was a joy to watch Johnny delight the customers.”

“I got a lump in my throat when one woman said, ‘I used to shop at your store once a week, but now I come by every time I go by, because I want to get Johnny’s thought for the day.’

A few months later the manager called me again.

“Johnny has transformed our store. Now when the floral department has a broken flower or unused corsage, they find an elderly women or a little girl and pin it on them. Everyone has had a lot of fun creating memories. Our customers are talking about us… they’re coming back and bringing their friends.”

A wonderful spirit of service spread throughout the entire store…all because Johnny’s chose to make a difference.

Johnny’s idea wasn’t nearly as innovative as it was loving. It came from his heart – it was real. That’s what touched the customers, his peers … and those who read this story.

Since the story was published in 2010, there have been dozens of articles and books written about Johnny the grocery bagger. Some people hail Johnny as a forward-thinking customer service guru, while others view the whole thing as a hoax. I tend to be more optimistic and believe that the story of Johnny is not only real, but serves as a major inspiration for those who work in both sales and customer service.

As we all know, sales and customer service are often intertwined. When customers experience outstanding customer service, they want to buy more. It’s really as simple as that. A happy customer is one who has an overall positive customer experience. In this case, Johnny did not have any impact on the food prices, the location of the items, or the brands that were offered, yet he was able to alter the entire experience of the customer with his Thought for the Day, which had a direct impact on customers coming back.

As salespeople, there is really little that we can change when it comes to our product, service, or our company. Oftentimes, the prices are already set by management. The networks of distribution are already mapped out. The product/service has already been invented and tweaked. On the surface, there might not seem like a whole lot that sales and marketing people can do to make a difference.

The main lesson here is that you can absolutely make a difference in the mind of a prospect/customer. Anything you can do to go above-and-beyond to give the customer the best possible service and experience possible will only serve to help you gain loyal customers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the ultimate goal of sales is to have long-term sustained business success. This is how you can accomplish that.

Perhaps it’s something as simple as calling all of your customers once a month and asking about their satisfaction. It might be something like occasional birthday/Christmas cards to prospects. I challenge you to figure out what you can do to make an impact. Whatever it is that you do, make sure that it’s you. If it’s from the heart and if it’s genuine, you’ve made a much bigger impact than you might have realized.

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Author: Jason Karaman

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