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Scott M. Paton

What I Like

These are a few of my favorite things.

 

 

At the end of last month's column I promised to write about some of the things that I like. Instead of my usual rants, I'll focus on a few companies that understand the whole quality and customer service equation. Believe it or not, I'm not always so grumpy, and I do take genuine delight with companies that deliver great products and service.

Here's my short list, in no particular order:

1. Starbucks. I know some people think of Starbucks primarily as a symbol of U.S. glo-bal dominance, and you may disagree with my opinion that they brew a damn fine cup of joe, but Starbucks gets it. They understand the need to make really good coffee and serve it in a clean, hip environment. Sure, the baristas sometimes have an attitude and you might see a pierced body part, tattoo or neon hair, but that's part of the Starbucks experience. These people have an attitude because they like what they do, not because they resent it. That makes a critical difference. As a customer, I'll take an air of superiority over defeated resentment any day.

In addition, Starbucks constantly experiments with new products and new ideas, without losing its focus or confusing its customers. Take its recent foray into music. The company has found a way to sell hip music that its core coffee-drinking customers really dig. Its recent Ray Charles tribute was a chart topper.

By the way, I'm well aware of the Starbucks vs. Dunkin' Donuts debate. In my humble opinion, Dunkin' Donuts just doesn't get it. I could be wrong. Maybe it's a boxers vs. briefs kinda thing.

2. Costco. I love this place. It's like digging through your grandfather's desk drawer. It's full of cool stuff. Yes, it's a big ugly warehouse full of loud, beeping forklifts, and help is practically nonexistent, but it doesn't matter. Costco manages to combine rock-bottom prices and quality inventory. The food is always good (even if the packaging is huge). The selection may be limited, but it almost seems as if someone has taken the time to do the work for me. I don't have to decide between 150 different TVs or garden hoses or batteries. I know that whatever I buy is good, and if not, I know I can return it with absolutely zero hassle.

3. Disney. I'm talking primarily about Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I'm 41 years old, and I still get a thrill out of going to Disneyland. Again, I'm sure there are those who think Disney is yet another sign of all that is wrong with globalization, but I think Mickey & Co. are pretty cool.

Disney is fanatical about hiring good people and training them well. I had an opportunity a few years ago to attend Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary celebration and go behind the scenes at the Disney casting center (its term for human resources). I also had an opportunity to interview Disney's vice president of quality and attend a Disney training class on quality and customer service. The company has done an enormous amount of research on who attends the park and why. It understands who its customers are and what they expect. To meet those needs, it makes sure it has the right people in the right place.

Ask a street sweeper on Main Street in Disneyland what time the three o'clock parade is and instead of getting an "are you an idiot" look, you'll hear, "That's a good question. Where will you be in the park at 3 p.m.?" The cast member knows that the parade will be in a different part of the park at different times.

Disney knows that it has to keep its parks spotless to maintain its reputation. So it knows that its street sweepers will get asked a lot of questions. So, rather than treat the street sweeper as a low-paid, disposable person, it treats that position as one of its most important customer contact points. In fact, most park employees start as street sweepers.

4. Trader Joe's. If the Costco experience is like digging through your grandfather's desk drawer, Trader Joe's is like sneaking through your best friend's mother's pantry. Remember when you were a kid and your friend's mom always had cool, exotic stuff in her refrigerator? Trader Joe's is a funky, fun grocery store that sells a limited variety of cool groceries. The stores are small and crowded, the very antithesis of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, but Trader Joe's keeps the prices reasonable because almost everything it sells has its own label on it. You won't find Heinz ketchup or Kellogg's Corn Flakes at a Trader Joe's. Instead you'll find cool stuff, smartly packaged.

Trader Joe's has such a loyal following that its customers will drive hours to the nearest store. My wife and I rarely drive the 90 minutes to Sacramento without including a stop at Trader Joe's. In fact, some loyal shoppers have actually started petitions to demonstrate to the store that their town really wants a Trader Joe's of its own. (If this column happens to land on some kindly Trader Joe's executive's desk, the good citizens of Chico, California, would greatly appreciate a store in our town!)

See, your humble columnist can gush over what I perceive as good quality. Next month, I'll get back to the griping.

About the author
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest's publisher.