Customer Service on a new scale: What we can learn at the fish market


It’s one of the oldest messages in retail staff management, but it remains one of the most important for anybody who plans to stay in business: Treat your employees with respect and your customers with benefit. And in the past 12 or 14 months, I have heard a lot of lip service given to this old chestnut. However, how many of us have really explored its meaning; or implemented creative company policies and practices to MAKE IT HAPPEN in our workplace?
I came across an old notebook during a semi-annual filing cabinet clean-up last week and was reminded of one of the most graphic examples of this policy at work; a practical application way above the rank and file. And although it is not fresh news, I believe it’s worth sharing because it still has several lessons to teach us.
Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle made its way into the news, and carved itself a place in the minds of business consultants across the country, because of the company’s unique approach to employee motivation and customer service.
Pike’s sells fish, no surprises there! The work is hard, less than glamorous, and the hours are long. But Pike’s sells a lot of fish and regular customers travel across town, by-passing other fish stores, to buy at Pike’s. Tourists to the Seattle area, make special trips to visit Pike’s for pete’s sake. Why?

Shopping at Pike Place Fish Market is an experience. The folks who work there don’t just fill orders, they add something extra that customers love. The extra is fun, a friendly smile, an attentive nature, and most important of all, enthusiasm. Pike’s employees choose to bring a special commitment to work every day. They stay connected to their work, to their co-workers and of course to the customers. And it pays off.

Four Pillars for Pike’s Success

The management philosophy at Pike’s, and the secret sauce that management consultants use as an example for their clients, comprises of four elements and these are:
  • Play
  • Make Their Day
  • Be There
  • Choose Your Attitude
In a nutshell these translate into: Enjoy the work. Make if fun and make it playful. One of the standouts at Pike’s is the way employees go about their business. The classic example is the way whole fish, big fish are thrown from one end of the counter to the other. It is like a circus show. It adds an element of surprise and makes the sale of a piece of fish a real event. Even customers are invited to get in on the ‘game.’
Make Their Day is specific to the customer. When someone comes into the market, employees work at making them feel special and making them welcome, listening to their questions, being courteous, and being helpful. The aim is for a customer to leave with a smile on their face. The aim is for the customer to be delighted. Now that’s not a bad goal for any retailer. You may not be able to sell them something THIS time, but make sure they feel comfortable coming back another time.
Be There is about, well, being available and being present. When employees give off the feeling that they are at work and ready to work, the feeling is catching. Have you ever walked into a store and felt as though you had to interrupt an employee day-dreaming or texting a friend to get served? Most of us have and it did not make any of us feel good; did it? DO you encourage your staff to Be There?
Choose Your Attitude really sums everything up. None of us feels up for the challenge EVERY day. We all have bad days and some days we’d rather be anywhere but in the store. But guess what, there really is no alternative so we may as well make the effort and BE POSITIVE. We have a personal choice how big a piece of personal responsibility we take on to help maintain our company’s vision of service, passion and fun. It can be a little or a lot. But it is worth remembering that all your staff have a vested interest in your company’s success.
Obviously, the nuts and bolts of selling fish and selling the adventure of diving are not 100 percent compatible. But what works, works.
Invite your employees to Commit to your company’s philosophy and share your vision for the future so that they have a choice to buy in.
Be the person you want your employees to be. Live the rules, and be an example.
Help your employees “get it.” Give them feedback and encouragement, listen to their ideas and suggestions, and open yourself up to the creativity of others.
The chances are that you will not see dramatic changes overnight regardless of how smart you are and how open your staff is, but think about all the ways that your business and your customers can benefit from a fresh approach based on four simple elements: Play, Make Their Day, Be There, and Choose Your Attitude.



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