Training in the USA: Boston, Zingerman’s

Updated: 13.10.2015

We visited Boston and took a customer service training course at Zingerman’s – a company with the best customer service in the USA.


Last year we visited Silicon Valley (trip report). This time we went to Boston – the second IT company center. In Silicon Valley there are two great universities: Stanford and Berkeley. In Boston – there are Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University. They are surrounded by numerous accelerators and incubators, as well as other innovation centers.

We visited The Venture Café event. Once a week experts meet there at tables with free drinks in a spacious room. For example you can meet there a startup lawyer, who specializes in patent registration and copyright. You can also see investment experts, business angels here. People who come to the meeting ask questions according to their competence.

The idea of the event is to communicate with colleagues and to make new business contacts, as well as to have any of your questions answered by the best experts in Boston.

Sometimes the experts make presentations for 5-6 people. To get to some “stars” you need to book your place for the event on the internet in advance, sometimes you will have to wait.


 “Here” and “there”

We could feel great difference between the situations in the USA and in Russia. In the USA, if a man has an idea, he won’t hide it, won’t keep it to himself. On the contrary, he obsessively visits all such events and tells about his idea. This way he gets feedback and advice about the idea development. As a result, the idea is polished and becomes more viable.

Here in Russia we see that many people try to do it themselves secretly. As a result they get a product that nobody needs.

Thanks to such meetings, conferences and sessions American IT business grows faster than in other countries. They say that in Silicon Valley you can meet and discuss your issues with the man you need in 2-3 handshakes, even with a big company CEO.

Students and their parents – clients of the universities

We visited Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well. From the business point of view these are enterprises, and students and their parents are clients. In MIT we were surprised to know that the whole territory was open for visitors. You can look everywhere, visit all the institute buildings and campuses. You can also eat in canteens with professors. The buildings are open even in the evenings. We saw neither turnstiles nor closed doors. The light is on in laboratories which have glass walls. You can say that MIT is showing itself to good effect as though trying to say that if you send your children to study here, they will work in these laboratories, study in these rooms, do research using this equipment.

That’s a pleasure to walk there. When you watch students playing football or baseball, you start getting envious in a positive way. You don’t need to invent any advertisement, just show everything as it is, that’s all.


This is the image of Boston that we’ve got. And in three days, on August 17 we came to Zingerman’s for a two days training. 



The “Great Service” training

Zingerman's is the most popular fast-food restaurant chain in the USA. Due to modern customer service technologies it competes with McDonald's. They also won Best in Biz Awards (North American). Their case can be an illustration of transformation from the hackneyed phrase “the client is always right” to the corporate customer service standards.

Many NETI employees read and were inspired by the book Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service by Ari Weinzweig.

The trend for businesses today is to be customer-oriented and to have great customer service. Companies have chosen the strategy of customer service improvement. Price reduction is painful; salary reduction is not the right way out. But it’s easy to stand out against a background of your competitors if you have a great customer service.

It was the topic of the summer seminar for our employees. But in the Russian-speaking environment there are almost no customer service trainings, and there isn’t enough information about this topic. That is why we went to the USA and visited the best training company, specializing in customer service.

Zingerman's executives share secrets of great service building. People from different parts of the USA and different countries, from different industries, such as car dealers, restaurant owners, IT professionals, come together to get inspiration and exact technologies of the great customer service corporate culture creating. The purpose is to make all the employees, from the security guards to CEO, customer-oriented and service-oriented.

 “The best training I’ve visited for the last 15 years”

-         Talking about organization of the process, quality of the material presentation, it was the best training I’ve visited for the last 15 years – admits Oleg Khalilov, NETI chief executive.

Things I liked most:

-          The timing of the training is very accurately set to the minute;

-          The material is presented orally, in written form and as a video;

-          It includes live communication with Zingerman's employees.

-          Role playing games with difficult situations debriefing.

It is said that customer service manual in McDonald's contain 500 pages and every activity is regulated. Zingerman’s philosophy is opposite: to create a corporate culture where people come. Not to create a tough standardized system, but to give much freedom and the main principles, which can be used in everyday work.

One of such principles is to be an example. From the first person in the company and to every manager, everyone should smile and provide excellent client service. This way the founder of the company, Ari Weinzweig, helps in the kitchen serving plates. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA often packs clients’ purchases at the cash desk. The conclusion is simple: everything starts from the head. The way chief executives treat their clients and employees influences the way employees will treat customers, even without any standards.

At the beginning of the training participants got the paper with contacts of other participants. Communication during the seminar improves the quality of the training process. American mentality is open and if you forget something after the seminar you are free to call the colleagues and discuss something or share your achievements.


Lost in translation

Neti delegation speaks English fluently, but not perfectly, that is the fact we warned the organizers about. They replied: ”OK, we will have this in mind, don’t worry.” As a result, we felt at ease and understood 80% of what was told or discussed. At a break we could come and ask any question. The coaches were pleased to respond: “I am happy to help”.

Zingerman’s mission is to make the world a better place and to share information. Money is not an end in itself, it will come in due time.

Maximum openness

We were impressed by the system of green and red cards. Code red means a problem or criticism. For example, three red cards concerning one incident are a sign that there is a breakdown in workflow. This kind of control is an instrument of constant improvement for business processes. This is also a bank of ideas – what can be improved, how to give a better service, what processes can be made cheaper, what product can become more delicious.

The more cards the better. An incident must not be repeated. If the problem occurs twice, it means it is not being solved.

Code green records all positive moments. A customer complimented an employee – we record this using green cards. One employee did a good thing, another employee noticed this – it is recorded. Green code is a positive appraisal, means any appreciation. Outstanding employees are rewarded at the end of the month.

We saw a web system which records all the incidents and compliments. They showed us everything quite openly. We could even see income figures of some companies.

We had an excursion around the whole business process cycle: starting from the initial order to the fulfillment. Zingerman’s created a system of precise control where mistakes are reduced to zero.

We got the readymade templates of code red and code green and other inside documents, for example a new employee’s passport. A new employee may have trainings if he wants – how to keep the working place clean and hygienic or how to determine main food quality mistakes, how to escape injury risk at work, or training on polite and respectful communication, dress-code lessons, knife certification test and others.  All these are recorded in the passport.

Culture and mission

But the idea of the training was not only technologies, but also the way to embed service into the corporate culture. The goal is to influence the corporate culture in general and the most of the training was devoted to this idea.

The culture starts with the company mission and its image. During the training we did drafts and notes and were formulating the first ideas. We were given a methodology how to convey the company vision and mission statement. The example of Zingerman’s vision and mission was displayed.

We were surprised to see that teachers from American universities (!) participated in the training. They came to learn how to give the best service to their students. All America is being built around the idea of customer orientation. In a café, in a plane, in a museum people are friendly and try to please you. Having come to Russia you start noticing these things.

“Now we are well informed. We have ready-made instruments, instructions, templates – everything. If half of them are implemented, our service will give customers more than they expected”, - Ruslan Khafiatullin, deputy director, adds.



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