Yes, I’ll Take That Cranberry-Walnut Bagel!

By on February 26, 2013

I had a really great experience just a couple of days ago in one of my favorite deli bakeries. I walked up to the order counter, was greeted by a smiling employee who said, “Good to see you again. What would you like today?” I gave her my order and she asked for my customer loyalty card. After swiping my card through the card reader, she said, “You’ve got a free bagel coming. I bet our cranberry-walnut bagel would go good with your coffee.” She didn’t need to make that bet with me. I knew it would and said, “Great idea. I’ll take it.”

I thought to myself, what a great demonstration of what it’s like to be really focused on serving the customer and, when it happens, how great it feels! No doubt about it, this is a place that I feel good about spending my money in.

But, as you and I know, this kind of experience is very rare. The opposite is the norm. No eye contact. No thank you. No demonstration of any interest in serving you and me beyond the bare necessities. As I thought about the key quality that is present in great retail encounters and absent in bad ones, it occurred to me that it could be described in one word: engagement. Really being engaged in the here and now. Really being focused on serving the customer. And really enjoying serving the customer.

The challenge is clear: How can retail store employees be selected, trained, and, most importantly, coached so they are fully engaged in the process of serving customers in a way that drives sales and customer loyalty?

About a year ago, I read a book written by Herbert Dreyfus of the University of California-Berkeley and Sean Kelly of Harvard University entitled “All Things Shining.” In this book, Kelly and Dreyfus describe a phenomenon they label as “whooshing.” Whooshing occurs when an individual performs in a way that is, based on their own previous experiences, really extraordinary. It’s when we do something that we previously thought to be impossible; like, for example, the first time we were able to stay upright on a bicycle. At a certain point in our attempt to ride the bicycle, abilities we were previously unaware of converged and, much to our surprise, we could now ride the bike with no help. We were able to transcend previous limitations.

Kelly and Dreyfus tell us that some of the most powerful forms of whooshing, are directly related to group membership, rather than individual autonomy. Because of this they are related to a focus on others – the sports team, the work team, the customer, for example – rather than the individual. As a result of this focus on others, they free the individual to perform at levels that transcend previous limitations. As Kelly and Dreyfus describe this phenomenon in their book, “whooshing up” is what happens most commonly in the great moments of contemporary sports. When something whooshes up it focuses and organizes everything around it … “what whooshes up is what really shines and matters most.”

A key characteristic of these types of experiences is that they cause the performer to see the world differently than it had been seen prior to this experience. In sports, for example, people say that a running back has “great vision,” or that a point guard has extraordinary “court sense.” In each case, what’s being described is the ability to see distinctions and opportunities that others cannot see. As spectators we saw this when observing Michael Jordan hanging in the air prior to making a pass to one of his teammates in a way that suggests he was not only defying gravity but also had the ability to see behind his back.

Let’s bring this discussion back to the floor of a retail store. Here’s the point. Whooshing up experiences can be had by retail store employees and they can grow out of direct experiences these employees have in serving customers. And these experiences can be nurtured and supported by managers and supervisors who practice the Lean discipline called genchi gembutsu, being where the action is, and providing focused, positive coaching. When these kind of transformations occur, you’ll have employees who are highly engaged in the work they do. They’ll be engaged because they’re proud of their work. They’re proud of their ability to contribute to the team. And the work they do, will, in fact, be a major contributor to meaning in their life.

What’s the payback to your company when this happens? A study conducted by Towers Perrin found that highly engaged employees believe they can and do contribute more directly to business results than less engaged employees. 84% of highly engaged employees believe they can impact the quality of their company’s work product, compared with 31% of the disengaged. Further, 72% of the highly engaged believe they can impact customer service, versus only 27% of the disengaged.

And what impact does disengagement have on financial performance? As described in a monograph written by Dr. Gary Rhoads, Professor of Marketing at Brigham Young University, Best Buy was able to demonstrate that an increase in engagement among store employees of 0.01 on a five-point scale results in an annual profit increase of $100,000 for the store. At JCPenney, it has been shown that stores with high levels of engagement deliver 36% greater operating income than stores of similar size with low levels of engagement. And employee engagement drives customer engagement. What impact does customer engagement have on the bottom line? Independent research has demonstrated that highly engaged customers deliver a 23% increase in share of wallet, profitability, and revenue as compared to average customers.

There are very specific tools of Lean thinking and Lean management that can drive “whooshing” experiences on your sales floor. When this happens, you’ll have much higher levels of employee engagement and customer engagement. As the studies cited indicate, when this happens your store will generate higher profits.

You know, I’m convinced that the deli bakery employee who suggested that the free cranberry and walnut bagel I had earned in their customer loyalty program would go just fine with my cup of coffee was experiencing a whooshing moment. I’m convinced that the smile I saw on her face was a result of her thinking, “What I’m providing right now is just great customer service. I said just the right thing. Doing something this close to perfect feels very good. And it’s really helping my team.” I have to confess that it also felt very good to me, the customer. I’ll be back and I’ll spend more money in this store. Whooshes capture customers. One of them captured me.

We can partner with you in making whooshes happen on your retail sales floor. Your company can benefit right now from the power of Lean thinking and Lean work processes. We can provide training and consulting services that will make this happen. Let’s talk soon. Call me, George Friesen, at 314-303-0612. Anytime. Let’s talk. Have a good day and I hope you enjoy some whooshes this week.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.


  1. Kathie Chambers

    February 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    A very good post, George. Engaged employees provide better service, drive customer engagement similar to your example here, and foster better results in terms of the bottom line. How do you recommend retail operations evaluate their own level of employee and customer engagement?

  2. shayna

    March 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    George, love this post. First, because it just happened yesterday, I have to get my most recent personal “non-whooshing” moment out of the way. Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I were in one of the stores, you mention in your post-one that goes by three capital letters… in our neighborhood, a half an hour before it closed to look for a specific item on their clearance racks. When we came in, I saw the two girls at the counter, look at each other and roll their eyes (non-verbal sometimes speak lounder than words..), then my husband said I will go see if they have it, I said I am going to look at the women’s clearnance racks while you do that. As I walked away, a somewhat pleasant with frustrated undertone voice came over the intercom and said “_ _ _ will be closing in 30 minutes please bring your selected purchases to the nearest check out counter now.” then this message was repeated every ten minutes until we left. It was annoying and I felt like it was ‘just for me.’ After I heard the ‘last warning’ I decided to put the items I had found to buy back, and not give the ‘voice’ any of my business even thought they were ‘really good deals.’ Hubby did find what he was looking for, to take to his weekend fishing trip that was marked down to $10 so he bought it. (I wouldn’t not have) This I contrasted to my favorite consignment boutique, that I frequent on a regular basis, unpaid volunteers will show me items they thought looked like me or have stayed past closing time for me to finish in the dressing room. Yes unpaid volunteers. Yes, I support this non-profit organization greatly by shopping in their boutique on a very regular basis. Back to your blog, do you beleive that true ‘whooshing’ starts from the top down? That is, if managers, owners do not create ‘whooshing’ moments themselves, or believe in the power of ‘whooshing’ it will never happen on the frontline where workers interact with customers.

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