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Sell the sizzle, AND the steak!

I read a Wall Street Journal article this week by Timothy W. Martin titled, Choice Advice From Meat Cutters. The article highlighted the benefits of training butchers at leading supermarket chains to engage customers as a chef rather than as simply a meat cutter. The difference separates a memorable, customer-focused experience from an ordinary, process-focused transaction at the meat counter.

As the scale of operations have grown at most supermarkets, many meat cutters disappeared from the meat cases to backrooms where interactions with shoppers were limited to announcements over the intercom. Their roles shifted from a familiar butcher who formed close bonds with shoppers, remembering names and preferences (people-focused), to an anonymous meat cutter whose priority was churning out enough hamburger patties and chuck steaks to fill meat cases (process-focused).

In the article, Frank Thurlow, director of meat and seafood merchandising at Winn-Dixie Stores, observed, “Meat cutters have a reputation for not being the most personable, outgoing types of individuals. I mean, we sit in the back room all day and cut up animals.”

So, how do you address this perception and change it in order to increase sales at the meat counter while boosting employee morale and job satisfaction?

There are many factors including vital processes such as the selection and onboarding of employees. The quality of customer service provided by an employee will never exceed the quality of customer service he or she is ready, willing, and able to deliver. The scope of this blog post cannot take into account every variable, so I’ll just focus on the obvious one: sharing unique knowledge.

Unique knowledge is not the same as job knowledge. Job knowledge is necessary for an employee to be proficient in his or her job role. It is expected by the customer and, generally speaking, is transactional—not memorable. Unique knowledge, when provided by the employee, is unexpected, refreshing, valued, and memorable. It’s the sizzle!

To illustrate the difference, read this testimonial from Aram Dakarian, meat manager at Jewel supermarket in Chicago: “Before, I’d tell customers just to squeeze out the blood and add some salt and pepper (job knowledge).” Now he eagerly offers cooking tips (unique knowledge). For example, for baked chicken, he recommends olive oil with a dash of lemon pepper. For steaks, a garlic or peppercorn seasoning rub, or two hours soaking in a wine sauce marinade.

Instead of simply sharing job knowledge: A flat-iron steak is cut from the shoulder of a steer, he can add more value by sharing unique knowledge: How to properly grill a flat-iron steak and the difference between dry (grilled or broiled) and wet (simmering or braising) cooking.

Grocers are banking on shoppers’ willingness to pay higher shelf prices in return for general dinner advice. And there is also a benefit to employees as described by Mr. Dakarian: “Now, I’m getting more in-depth with the meat, looking at it more like a chef. It makes me feel good.”

While customers appreciate nice employees, they value knowledgeable employees. And the more unique knowledge employees possess, the more value they bring to the customer experience.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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