Employee Attitude or Management Attitude? Or Both?

by Michael Haberman on May 28, 2009 · 8 comments

Kris Dunn’s great riff on customer service attitude at Enterprise Rent-a-Car reminded me of a topic I was going to post on a couple of weeks ago. Cathy Martin, writer of Profitability Through Human Capital, and I were talking about grocery shopping. We both shop at Kroger and Publix. Both are fine companies and I have shopped at both. Currently I spend most of my grocery shopping time at Publix with occassional trips to Kroger for special items. It used to be the reverse. I tell you this so you can tell that I have had a lot of time to compare the two stores.

To me there is a palpable difference in “attitude” of the workers, primarily the cashiers and baggers. At Publix everyone I have encountered is friendly, sometimes chatty, always nice. The baggers almost always offer to carry your bags out to the car (lest you think this is for money they do NOT receive tips for this.) They are efficient as well, and in a few cases run to exchange items for you if you did not get the right item. I have never heard them complain about their work schedules or even talk about when they are getting off.

At the Kroger I did my primary shopping at the case was not the same. They were friendly enough when I spoke to them, as I am want to do, but most the times they did not speak first. And in some instances I got nothing but “bad news” when I asked how they were that day. I have heard numerous conversations about when shifts ended and how ready people were to get off work. And I have never heard anyone offer to carry groceries out to a car. Now I am not saying these people were bad employees or the store was a bad store. I have had similar experiences in multiple stores.

The difference seems to be the “ATTITUDE”. What can I attribute this to? I feel that the difference is tied to the following: Publix is employee owned and non-union. Kroger is heavily unionized, though not all locations I believe, and employees are just employees. Publix managers treat workers like fellow owners and realize that mistreatment may make them susceptible to unions, something Publix ardently tries to avoid. Kroger managers treat employees like employees and much of that interaction and training is tied up in the fact that the union-management relationship is an adversarial one. If you are trained to see your employee as an adversary that will certainly have an effect on the relationship and thus the attitude of the employee. On the converse holds too. Publix employees have a personal stake in the company’s success. For many Kroger employees it just comes across as “a job.”

I realize I am “broad brushing” here and we can probably all find examples that run contrary to my statements here, but as a general statement others agree with this assessment.

So what do you think it is? The attitudes of the employees, or the managers or a combination?
Do you feel the same thing? Do your customers feel this when they walk into your establishment?
Tell me your experiences or similar stories of other establishments.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Missildine-Martin, SPHR May 28, 2009 at 2:50 pm


Love this post, since I got a plug! But I had to weigh in because I am seeing many differences in customer service like the one you described between Publix and Kroger. I believe it is attitude plus managers. I believe you an employee has to have the will to serve and a manager has to provide the tools to serve. Can you please let Comcast know this information? Great topic


Michael D. Haberman, SPHR May 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Cathy: Comcast gets hit all the time by Clark Howard. They are a monopoly, so customer service is not so important. With grocery chains, drug stores, convience stores you can always go to another corner. Speaking of convience stores, Quiktrip is an other establishment that has a noticeable difference in attitude from others. I will always stop at a Quiktrip over other stores.


Cathy Missildine-Martin, SPHR May 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm

I am realizing that about Comcast I sent there Senior VP of Customer Service, Rick Germano an email. You should see the nice form letter I received. After that I get a call from the call center in Atlanta to discuss my issues and htey dont even have my account history. AMAZING! Bad Attitudes and Bad Management


Greg May 28, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Great post! This continues to expand the notion that if you fail to see your employees as an integral part of your business they not only see it but “feel” it and it reflects in their attitude. This in turn leads to the downward spiral of an employee and one who once was a good employee gets the question, “What happened to you?” Management bears the unlimate responsibility to monitor and effect change where necessary. Remember, unions will strike at any issue to get the employees to sign up.


Jamie May 29, 2009 at 1:53 pm

MikeMy Publix/Kroger history and experience is identical to yours. Thanks for sharing your insight as to the “why” – I couldn’t agree more.  Please keep up the good work.


Jodi Copenhaver, SPHR June 2, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Both of my daughters work for Publix so I may be a little biased, but have similar experiences. Back when Publix first came to my neck of the woods (Cobb County) I had my 1 year old daughter sitting in the basket. As a good shopper, my husband and I were comparing prices to Cub Foods (I hated shopping at Kroger even back then) and because we weren’t watching, she tried to climb out of the seat. She fell into the basket and hit her head on some canned goods. I couldn’t have been more impressed by the Publix response. Someone from the deli saw this happen and came to me, asked if I could use some ice and called a manager over. The manager asked if we wanted to take her to the hospital to have her checked out and offered to pay for the visit. We declined because it was nothing more than a bump on the head, but it was amazing to be offered such an option. If we changed our mind after we got home, we could still go to the hospital and were given the business card of the manager so he could approve the charges. AMAZING! They had me as a customer from that day forward. Now, they have that same child as a loyal employee because they have always been willing to work with her church, school and cheer schedule. No wonder they are always in the Top 100 companies to work for!


Anonymous June 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm

It's both, but it starts from the top. If the management team subscribes to serving the Customer vs. just customer service, they will seek out employees who also wish to serve the Customer. The training, development and discipline will revolve around serving the Customer. Our company strives to serve our Customer better than anyone in the industry, outstanding Customer Service is recognized and rewarded this includes both internal and external Customers.


Paulina December 9, 2016 at 11:39 pm

Why does this have to be the ONLY relilbae source? Oh well, gj!


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