Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Zingerman Experience (Condensed)

The workshop was called: The Zingerman’s Experience Seminar (Chef’s sampler version). And indeed, it was condensed from what is normally a 2 day workshop. It was taught by the co-founder of Zingerman’s, Ari Weinzweig, and the managing partner of Zingtrain, Maggie Bayless.

We began the day getting an overview of what is now referred to as ZcoB, a community of businesses which began with Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor Michigan in 1982. The community now consists of 10 related but separate businesses, all based in the Ann Arbor area.

The trainers then described how they had gone from 1 small deli to 10 very large and productive businesses. In a word, vision. Follow up that vision with a mission statement, systems that cater to that mission statement and point toward the vision, create a culture that values the principles espoused by the people leading the company (which need to be written down, by the way), and work incredibly hard. That’s all. Right. (I was confused about the difference between a mission statement and a vision, until it was clarified. A “vision” is what you want down the line at a specific point in time in the future, a picture of what success looks like. A “mission statement” is a statement of what your company aspires to do on a daily basis. As a working definition, those two are actually quite good, and utterly distinct.)

When your guiding principles are shared by the workforce, ( through judicious hiring and training,) you hope to end up with a group that is pulling in the same direction. For Zingerman’s, their guiding principles include great food, great service and a great place to shop and eat. After those three come solid profits, a great place to work and strong relationships. The final two are a place to learn and being an active part of their community.


By the end of the first orientation meeting for new employees, the Zingerman employee knows about the mission, guiding principles, the three bottom lines (Great Food, Great Service, Great Finance)and their impact and has agreed to the Zingerman training compact, which entailed several interesting innovations. While we already do the first part of the training, I found the compact and their ways of using that tool very interesting.

The compact itself is that the trainer agrees to

a)document clear performance expectations,

b)provide training resources,

c)recognize performance, and

d)reward performance.

The trainee agrees to take responsibility for the effectiveness of their training.

This is broken down into 4 training plan questions;

1. what is expected of the trainee-and by when,

2. how the information will be made available,

3. how will each party know if the expectations are being met, and

4. what the rewards/consequences for success/failure are.

While we are doing much of this, the one new component that I believe we should consider adopting is what the trainers referred to as a “Training Passport”—a booklet which is carried by the trainee and can be signed by other employees/supervisors when an action has been taken or an idea has been grasped.

It is the trainee who is responsible for maintaining and getting those signatures. I have a copy of the one used by Zingerman’s in the notebook, which would need to be modified for use by us, but might be an idea worth pursuing.


To begin the discussion on great service, the trainers asked us “why we should give great service” and conversely “why is it so hard to find?” Many of the answers provided were the standard, eg because it feels good, and happy customers come back for the first question, or because of lack of competition or poor feedback for the second one.

Zingerman’s has formulated their own three step guide to great service. First, figure out what the guest wants, second get it for them accurately, politely and enthusiastically, third go the extra mile.

In order to find out what the guest wants, you need to engage that customer in conversation. Pay attention to what they are asking about and listen actively. Ask questions to ensure that you are getting to the heart of the matter.

While getting them what they want, do so accurately (no fudging on amounts or sizes), politely (with a smile on your face) and enthusiastically (no mental eye rolling). And, when possible, go that extra mile, do something that will put a smile on the guest’s face. The expectation of the company is that the customer should leave believing that they were the best thing that happened to you (the server) that day.

Zingerman’s uses a couple of interesting forms, which might be useful in our line of work as well. They are called the code green and the code red. These are not incident forms. They are more casual, and are filled out by the employee who first makes contact with the person who is either complaining or complimenting the staff. While the staff at Zingerman’s was slow to adopt these forms, they are now a regular part of doing business in all of ZcoB.

Copies of the forms are in the notebook as well, along with the five steps they use to effectively handle customer complaints. While the steps are mostly common sense (an attribute which Ari doesn’t actually believe exists…he calls it rare and unusual sense)

they do cover all the bases. First acknowledge the complaint (do not excuse or explain…listen). They recommend either “oh” or “wow” (or both if called for) as replies when first notified of a complaint. Secondly, sincerely apologize for the mistake with a clear and unqualified “I’m sorry” or “I’m really sorry”. Third, take action to make things right for the guest (each employee at Zingerman’s is empowered to do exactly that---including refunding money, and replacing product if necessary). Fourth, thank the guest for giving you the opportunity to correct the problem, and finally document the complaint.

IN the question and answer session that followed, a question was asked about motivating existing employees, and getting them to accept changes. The Zingerman trainers also do an all day seminar on Bottom Line Change and they believe that commitment to each other =success in the workplace and that caring confrontation is necessary when there is serious resistance they outlined for us what their steps are to implement change in the workplace:

  1. Document reasons for the change (these must be honest and compelling)
  2. Get the leadership to “vision” what success will look like if the change is implemented.
  3. Get a microcosm of the company (all affected players) together to plan out
    1. who needs to know?
    2. how should we tell them to get them on board?
  4. Officially role out the vision and create and action plan to implement the change.
  5. Create a positive setting in order to make the change the “path of least resistance”.

If anyone would like to see their handouts, they are residing in the FYI basket in Ref - 4th floor.


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