This summer we took a family trip to northern Michigan. Based on many urging and suggestions from family members, we stopped off in Ann Arbor Michigan on our way back home to eat at the famous and world renowned Zingerman’s deli.

For those of you who are not familiar with Zingerman’s, it is a collection of 9 companies with over 500 employees that originated by two owners with a start of a deli. Now they deliver food globally but are located only in the area of Ann Arbor. What makes Zingerman’s famous is not their food (although the chicken sandwich I had was one of the best of my life) but their commitment to their core value to provide amazing service.

When we arrived at Zingerman’s we had driven 4 hours from a small town called Leland. My kids and I had to use the rest room so we were not all that excited when we pulled up to the deli to see that the line was outside the door curling around the corner. While my husband positioned himself at the end of the line, I went up to the employee at the front of the line. I told him we were hopeful we could use the restroom. He used his phone to call a colleague who immediately came out to greet me and then escorted us to the gender neutral restrooms. My first experience with customer service was good so far!

Once we were back in line, we learned all about the menu and popular selections from the host at the front door. He handed us menus to peruse and answered questions for us as we waited. The line moved quickly and before we knew it we were inside. We entered into a small deli shop where another employee asked us if we would like to sample the fresh baked cinnamon graham crackers, which of course, were simply amazing. Around another corner in the line we found ourselves in the store of the deli where another employee offered samples of their sauces. I asked him to share with me his favorite chicken sandwich on the menu. He said he was a vegetarian, but he would ask some other team members. Within minutes, he came back with a report of a very specific sandwich and recommendation of Italian bread and pickle accompaniment. We arrived shortly thereafter to a team member holding a digital device – not behind a counter- who stood eager to assist and smiling. Once we ordered we picked our spot outside the deli on a porch and waited for our food. Employees circled in and out one at a time, calling out names of customers to deliver their orders. Ours came and we all dug in and had one of the best meals we’ve ever had. We spent about 20 minutes in line about 5 minutes waiting for our food and another hour and a half enjoying the atmosphere, each other’s company and the incredible sandwiches. Needless to say, I left impressed.

Let’s take a look more specifically at what occurred during my Zingerman’s experience that really distinguishes this deli from the thousands of delis all over America.

  1. Point to point contact   I was met throughout the customer experience by a multitude of friendly team members ready to answer questions, provide me with products and guide my decision making while I was at Zingerman’s. What are the touch points for your customers in your organization? How would your customers describe their experience at each touch point?
  2. Willing and able team members    Team members at Zingerman’s demonstrated both a willingness and ability to serve our family and meet our needs regardless of the request. Are your team members both willing and able to perform the functions associated with their role?
  3. Positive atmosphere    The atmosphere in the deli was so positive and upbeat that you couldn’t resist smiling yourself. Everyone there seemed to be floating from one position to another on a cloud, eager and carefree. It was contagious, we didn’t want to leave! How would your customers describe the atmosphere you and your team members create during their experience engaging with you?
  4. Quality product    A sandwich is just a sandwich until you taste something that blows your mind and then you think, “I’ll never be able to eat a grocery store sandwich again”. Some products change the way we think about what we should expect from our provider. How would your customers describe the quality of your product(s)?

There are many companies that offer quality products, hire great talent or provide great service but rarely do they string these together seamlessly. This is an art, I will admit, but it can be replicated. Although the Zingerman’s experience is magical it is in fact tangible. Any group of people committed to success can and do achieve these types of outcomes. Zingerman’s decided in the beginning what they wanted to be to their customers and have consistently delivered on it. This is what has made them so unique that a family of four would drive 4 hours to have a sandwich at a deli in the middle of Michigan.

No company can be all things to all people. The question is, do you know what you want your organization to be? If so, do your people know this and do they know how to make it so?

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