Everything I know about Service, I learned from Publix.

23 Mar


My very first long term, life changing, character shaping job was with Publix Supermarkets, a grocery chain relegated to the southern states.

My first encounter with their customer service was during my application process. I was 16 years old, applying at my first ever in store kiosk. I was lost.

I had no clue what I was doing, and would have much rather been reading at home, behind the safety of a closed door, than applying for jobs– but the future was upon me.

I had to start working, so said my mother.

I wanted to appear professional and put together in my first job attempt, so I had on my pressed dress pants, most professional blouse and a manilla folder with notes on my personal data (i.e. my social; I hadn’t memorized that thing yet!) in tow.  I strode purposefully to the kiosk, tucked my folder under the keyboard and tried to look prepared, astute and approachable.

I probably looked ill.

My mother always told me, “you never know who’s watching, so be prepared, be courteous and be professional.” I thought I played it pretty cool during the process, up until I received an on screen notice saying something like,“This social security number has already been assigned to an applicant. Please check the number or log in to continue.”

What?! Panic time.

SOSwoman21My mother was in the car and this was pre-cell phones. I stared at my personal data, double checked my numbers and panicked. How the hell was I supposed to look put together if I had to walk outside and get my mom to help me? My plan was falling apart, my 16 year old nerves were not ready for this kind of pressure!

Lucky for me the Store Manger saw my look of horror and came to help. We never did figure out how to enter my information into the system, but he hired me via phone conversation later that afternoon. I like to think calm, courteous and professional landed me the job. (Thanks, mom!)

I worked with Publix for 7 years. IMG_0001_NEW

They taught me most everything I know about service, timeliness, professionalism, courtesy and bending over backwards to save a sale.  Back then, they also taught things about the value of teamwork, organizational commitment, and the importance of positive relationships with management. publix_buttons-thumb

Now that I’ve progressed beyond retail and transitioned into  (semi)Corporate America, I still use the values and skills from my years behind the Customer Service  counter every day.

What I am not used to are the looks of surprise every time I complete a task or find requested information for one of my employees. The looks of happiness and words of thanks are appreciated– they really are, but the extent to which I’ve been getting thanks has me curious…

Are employees not used to service with a smile from their Human Resources departments?

I view every day through the lens of my customer service experiences.  It’s what I know, and it’s what makes sense.customer-service

  • If you are nice to people, they want to help you.
  • If you provide them with the tools and resources they need to do their job well, they are (usually) grateful and have your back.
  • If management and leadership takes the time to have an active interest in your life, you work harder for them, and are more receptive to what they have to say regarding policy.

These are things I learned as a teenager. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure these things out, but I’ve been surprised by the number of people who don’t seem to view Customer Service in HR as an important characteristic. Is it any wonder people hate HR?

catbert vacation policy

  • Some HR professionals find customer service to be a hindrance to the true function of HR—to support the business.  Aren’t the employees part of the business? Aren’t they on the front lines getting the sales that fund our paychecks?
  • Many view Service as a responsibility of only entry level HR assistants and coordinators.  Don’t employees have interactions and questions that can only be handled by Directors or Managers?

 Customer Service is everyone’s responsibility.

Service is vital in any agency, and while it shouldn’t take scientific studies to make this clear, there’s a plethora of science to back it up.images

The conversations about HR and the role we play abound, but the data all supports the same thing: Customer Service in the HR department matters. Here are a few findings:

  • According to a study from a Dutch University, there is a distinct positive relationship between HR practices, employee satisfaction, and client retention.  (Yousaf; 2011)

HR practices that provide for the employee’s basic needs in a professional, timely and courteous manner have a distinct end benefit for the bottom line.

Sometimes employees just need to know how many vacation days they have left. It should be no big deal to get them that answer with a smile. Universities have even set up Employee Service Departments for things like this. If you’re a larger organization, keeping a separate HR department for things like that may make sense.

If your swamped with daily legal issues and really don’t have time to speak with your employees, create an entity specifically for the needs of your employees. If you have a smaller staff of 125, you should make the time to help them, no questions asked.  These payroll, benefits, parking permit questions are little things in the grand scheme, but they mean a bunch to our employees.

How you handle their inquiries affects their perception of the business and their performance.

  • If employees feel like they have a connection with managers and leader within the organization, they are more likely to stick around and get the job done.



According to a study from The International Journal for Human Resources Management, there is a positive correlation between the relationships of organizational leaders and their employees, and their overall satisfaction with HR practices. There is also a correlation between strength of those leader/employee relationships and organizational commitment. (Yousaf; 2011)

Another study (Frenkel, Bednall; 2011) found that if HR can provide a feeling of value and worth to an employee (i.e. continue to their work satisfaction, and help them get their jobs done effectively) the employee is more likely to view the policies and procedures from the top line as fair and favorable.

So you can check with the scientists, or your local grocery clerks. They’ll tell you the same thing:


The level of courteous service provided to employees affects how likely they are to feel satisfied with their employer. We all know satisfied employees usually produce better quality work.





Yousaf A. Having two bosses: considering the relationships between LMX, satisfaction with HR practices, and organizational commitment.International Journal Of Human Resource Management [serial online]. September 15, 2011;22(15):3109. Available from: Advanced Placement Source, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 23, 2013.

Frenkel S, Restubog S, Bednall T. How employee perceptions of HR policy and practice influence discretionary work effort and co-worker assistance: evidence from two organizations. International Journal Of Human Resource Management [serial online]. November 15, 2012;23(20):4193-4210. Available from: Sociological Collection, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 23, 2013.


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