Case Study: Pick n Pay

Pick n Pay

Inspiring Stories

The Power of Storytelling to Stimulate Action

The Challenge

Pick n Pay grew from a small, family-owned supermarket chain in South Africa to become one of southern Africa’s largest retailers, largely on the strength of its founder’s guiding principle: “Treat the customer like a queen.”

But the sovereign’s crown may have become a little tarnished over the years. When it came time to revitalize the company, Pick n Pay did some soul-searching about how it handled personal relationships. Executives believed providing their shoppers with excellent service was still the best route to customer loyalty—and recovering a larger market share. But before they could recreate that lost excellence, first they needed clear communication throughout the company.

Workers on the floor are customers’ first point of contact, and it’s crucial that every Pick n Pay employee personifies the brand’s dedication to excellence. But how do you make customer service more than a catchphrase?

The Solution

A simple story can have a powerful effect. When it came time for managers to talk about customer service, they weren’t sure what to say. Many fell back on “approved” messages or hackneyed phrases. They couldn’t find messages that inspired.

My communication and rebranding workshops prodded them to think about their own experience, even to use their sense of taste, of smell: What does customer service really mean?

One manager told a story. It was about Mrs. Naude. Every week without fail, she came to pick up a gooseberry tart. Until one week when she didn’t appear. Concerned, the manager made inquiries and found out that she was sick at home. The manager had her gooseberry pie delivered to her home weekly until she was well enough to shop again.

That’s the kind of story that shows the real human face of customer service. More than a slogan or a badge, it spoke of a deep-seated belief, an active looking out for another’s needs, going out of the way to meet them. And it’s a story that anyone can relate to. I elicited stories like this, for the benefit of the trainees, and for them to use as presenters, in the course of day-to-day management.

My Approach

I am gratified have been asked back to South Africa to run multiple workshops for Pick n Pay executives at all levels of the enterprise. Many workshops focus on helping managers working with teams, but I also help executives communicate well with outside vendors and make critical presentations to senior executives and board members.

My workshops help managers to find the nugget of essential information they need to convey. I encourage them to zero in on the specific, to find stories that bring information to life. I help them prioritize their goals, and to clearly define expectations they have of those they supervise. I teach them to create an action (“sweep the store hourly”) from a vague goal (“a cleaner store”). By setting achievable objectives, the whole team can enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

That means that a manager can calmly approach his weekly meetings with a clear-cut agenda. He or she can whittle big plans down into achievable segments, setting weekly and monthly targets. He’s got some brilliant ideas about a new display near the registers—but that can wait. He needs to put some produce on sale before it spoils.

Through role-play and videotaping, I help managers assume a comfortable yet authoritative style, allowing them to approach their staff with confidence and compassion, as clear communicators and sometimes, as storytellers.

Meetings before the store opens occur in a refrigerated room, and staff may have just traveled to work on four different buses. If customer service is built on respect and understanding, it’s important that management embody these values. When managers are polite and concise, sharing clearly defined expectations and consequences, employees develop trust and loyalty. Then they pass it on to customers, truly revitalizing the brand from the inside out.

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Pick n Pay

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“I am glad I had an opportunity to be in this programme. It was excellent!!! We were all indeed smitten by Patricia’s passionate training.”

“This training programme was the best 2 days I’ve had out of the office – ever!”

“PA presented to us at the Board last week and I could hear the skills you had taught him being applied with excellent effect. Your structure assisted him to think through his proposition in a far more logical manner, his presentation was to the point and convincing and we were able to give him the go-ahead.”

“Change is tangible and immediate – you arrive with a story and leave 2 days later not only with a well crafted presentation but the skills needed to delivery it effectively.”

“I now have a tool that assists me with the structure, thereby eliminating many hours of wasted time figuring out where and how to start.”

“Observing the transformation that the other delegates went through in the two days was truly inspiring and it is amazing to consider how the two days improved the presentation skills of the other delegates.”


Specific Tools used:

  • Individual coaching
  • Small group workshops
  • Videotaping and feedback
  • Interview Training
  • Q&A role-play and practice sessions
  • Team brainstorming sessions to elicit key messages

Photo Credit: vibrant_art via Compfight cc