Lexington deli takes customer service award

April 2, 2010 

Ever had your hair cut while the stylist talked on her cell phone? Or been glowered at by a dead-eyed cashier who took longer to bag your groceries than it took you to pick them out?

Some might say customer service is gone.

But it lives at Lexington's Schlotzsky's Deli.

"People can go eat anywhere. A lot of these places have a great product," 25-year-old franchisee John Bailey said. "It's not good enough if our customer service doesn't match."

Bailey's restaurant recently won the top award in the nationwide chain's customer service survey, garnering a 95 percent approval rating from customers in 2009. The chain has more than 350 restaurants.

"I try to get the employees to treat each guest like they're serving their mom or their grandmother," Bailey said. "Have a great attitude no matter what."

Bailey - who got his start in food service 10 years ago - said he tries to instill in all employees a willingness to help and a sense that they are there to serve the customer, not the other way around. "They make up your paycheck," he tells employees.

He starts with their first day of training and then reinforces the values every day by praising employees for doing the right thing - and reprimanding them privately.

"It's not like cracking a whip, saying, 'Hey, you better smile,'" Bailey said.

"I can't stand to go somewhere and not get good service," said Bailey, who has worked in nearly every facet of the business, from dishwasher to general manager. When a business's employees treat him like he is a problem rather than a valued customer, he doesn't go back.

When you go through Bailey's drive-through, you won't hear: "What can we get for you?" You will hear: "Thank you for choosing Schlotzsky's." It's a subtle difference, he said, but it makes a customer feel valued when they are told "thank you" at the beginning.

But how does he make sure the employees are living up to his standards even when he is not there?

For one thing, about half of his employees are friends and family members, including his mother-in-law. The other half he hired on the basis of the values he saw in them.

He looks for friendliness, honesty and an overall good attitude.

"You can train anybody to do a mindless task, but it's hard to train someone to have a good attitude. It comes naturally," he said.

In the year and a half the restaurant has been there, he has had to fire only one employee because of performance.

"A bad attitude and bad customer service is cancerous to your business," he said. "It's a domino effect. It trickles down to your entire staff."

Bailey also chooses to have "secret shoppers" come in on a weekly basis. It is not required by the corporate office.

"Employees don't know who they are," he said. "It could be at 10:30 a.m., or it could be at 9 o'clock at night."

But the bottom line to Bailey's success is simple. He expects his employees to follow the old Golden Rule.

"Just treat people like you would want to be treated."

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