Some of my out-of-town co-workers are in town for our HR Summit and yesterday afternoon, we planned a little impromptu barbecue at my house. I would never agree to something like that (let alone offer it) with only 2 hours notice were it not for my Roomba (here, you vacuum while I do other stuff), the fact that my house is generally clean and that they opened a new Whole Foods close-by. Oh, and also my friend Brian who has earned a reputation as the Burger Master.

Anyway, I dashed to Whole Foods, filled my cart to the rim and jumped into the check out line, possibly with a slightly crazed look on my face. Someone brought ice up for me, we filled up my two carts with the goods and a really nice gal helped me out to my car (she told me about sampling all the food as a new employee and the five pounds she has gained in the month the store has been open...cute!). I get home and unload the car and realize the box of wine...let me say that again, the bottles of wine loaded into a box, were still sitting on the counter of the check-out lane. D'Oh! I asked a friend to pick it up on the way over and then I got on the phone with Whole Foods. They were waiting for my call.

This is where it gets good. When I let them know a friend was on the way to get the box, they offered to deliver it. When I said no, they wanted to know if I was sure because they would be happy to because they were really sorry. My friend picked it up and Kelsey, the gal at the check out line (who looked wistfully at the wine anticipating the end of her pregnancy) told him how badly she felt (I was telling her how I had 2 hours to get my barbecue mojo together) and they gave us 5 bags of ice for free. And a bouquet of roses (beautiful!) AND a $25 gift card. Wow!

I didn't really think that them forgetting to put the wine in one of the carts was a big deal (and I could have realized that the wine was missing when loading the stuff into the car). What I will remember from that shopping trip is everything Whole Foods did to make it right...better then right. I don't think that they would ever want someone to have the experience of getting home and finding that something is missing. But I think that this type of event presents an opportunity. They can either allow the situation to stick in the customers mind as mildly unfortunate or they can use the opportunity to show how awesome they are and build some customer loyalty. In my situation, they excelled at the latter.

Here's where Whole Foods differentiates themselves in a major way. They empower their employees to make it right. They were willing to have an employee driving around greater Redmond to make me happy (it's not about one transaction, it's about lifetime customer loyalty). They got creative about how to make it better (the roses hit the spot...it's like they actually know me). Would another store do that? I doubt it.

Juxtapose that with a recent situation that I had at Safeway about 3 weeks ago (Safeway is another food chain here for those that don't know). The check-out person lost track of what she was scanning and when I asked her if my card had scanned properly, she barked at me" "God, stop asking questions!". I kid you not. You should have seen the look on the face of the nice man behind me (and incidentally, my friendly attitude changes at that point because nobody talks to me like that...it's just not necessary...nobody). Am I going to remember that situation? Oh yes, I will. And ever since, I have been driving out of my way to Whole Foods. 

Whole Foods, you had me at "I'm sorry". And my moderate obsession with the grocery shopping experience continues.

 

Edit: changed QFC to Safeway (it was the one on Woodinville-Duvall road and Avondale.....double checked)