Sunday, November 6, 2016

Is the good ship Trader Joe's changing course?

That was a question I asked at the conclusion of my 2012 book, "Build a Brand Like Trader Joe's".

Just around the time I was leaving the company, TJ's head office announced changes to the management 'track' that caused quite a few full-time employees to quit. And they changed the way Crew Members were evaluated, in subtle ways that I thought reduced the rewards for truly exceptional employees.

At the time, I noted that it was a big company and it would take a long time before customers might see the effects of such changes.
One thing that's interesting about this story is that in New York, especially, customers are almost as likely to hate Trader Joe's famously chatty approach to customer service as they are to appreciate it. Half the comments readers posted amounted to, "I wish they'd shut up, anyway."
I was reminded of that when the company got some notably bad press in the New York Times the other day, in a story about an employee who claims to have been fired for not smiling enough (or just being allergic to Kool-Aid.)

I'm inclined to believe the employee, Thomas Nagle (seen above). In TJ's limited defense however, the entire brand's been built around a certain kind of employee-customer interaction. Employees who aren't cut out for that kind of interaction should probably not have been hired in the first place.

Are you a regular TJ's shopper? What do you think? Has customer service suffered at the chain over the last five years or so?