Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Marketing Production
Customer service: ‘How can we help you today?’


February 19, 2016
By Cathy Bartolic

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Traditionally, on the farm, the spring season is known as the new start of each year. The snow melts away, leaving a clean, brown soil begging to be seeded so it can nourish a plant to maturity.

This feeling of a new start or new beginning is transferred to the on-farm market as well. Spring is generally the time for a big clean up. It is a time full of optimism for the new year. It is the time staff is hired and hopefully trained before the gates are opened to the public.

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All this preparation and planning is for naught if we don’t appreciate the importance customer service has in any market. A market’s most vital asset is its customers. Without them, the market would cease to exist. With them, it continues to grow and be profitable. How can you make sure that the customer service at your market is as important to your staff as it is to you?

  1. Treat employees as you want them to treat your customers. The culture of a business is set by the management. Do you greet them cheerfully each morning? Do you respect and listen to their opinions and suggestions? Poor customer service is often a reflection of the management of the business.
  2. The quality of customer service offered will never exceed the quality of the staff that provides it. Don’t expect customer service excellence if you pay minimum wage, offer few benefits and provide no training for your employees.
  3. Empower your staff to deal with customer complaints. Give them guidelines on how to respond to complaints for various situations. Show them how to use these situations as a positive learning experience for the market.

How can you communicate your customer service aspirations to your staff? Especially if they are young and perhaps just starting their first job working part-time positions.

Cliff Laidlaw, formerly from the Apple Factory in Brampton, Ont., had the right idea many years ago when he handed each of his young employees a $10 bill and sent them out to spend it. Most people learn best by doing and young people generally have not done a lot of grocery shopping. So they were sent out to spend their money and were expected to report back on how they were treated and what they observed during this exercise.

Dana Thatcher, co-owner at Thatcher’s Farms in Rockwood, Ont., is committed to continuing education. Trained as an elementary school teacher, it is not surprising that she spends time watching webinars with her staff and encouraging them to participate in workshops that will develop their skills. After viewing the webinar as a group, there is a discussion about what can be implemented from their learnings to their job at Thatcher’s Farm.

“They are so motivated and full of ideas when we do this kind of an exercise as a group,” Thatcher observes. “It is worth the investment to have employees who are invested and committed to their jobs.”

Amy Strom from Strom’s Farm, near Guelph, Ont., has the ‘caught ya’ basket handy, especially during the two weeks immediately following staff training. The basket is filled with treats that her staff would enjoy; a free coffee coupon, chocolates or other edible treats.

“It’s not the monetary value of the treat, it is more important to find ones that are relevant to my employees,” she says. “During training, I try to get to know everyone well enough that I can guess the kind of treat they would appreciate.”

Well-trained, respected staff will make your job a lot easier in the long run. Invest the time upfront to reap the benefits during the busy selling season.

As an organization, Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association feels customer service is so important that we will be launching a customer service training guide along with a webinar for our membership.


Cathy Bartolic is the executive director of the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association. She also owns and operates her own farm-based business near Aurora, Ont., growing fresh-cut flowers and garlic.