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Transform Your Customer Service with the Pickle Principle

Everyone who serves customers in any way wants to provide the best service possible, and most businesses are always on the lookout for the best way to do it. Good customer service is about more than just being nice; you need a multi-pronged approach to stellar service, and it all begins with the Pickle Principle.

Give 'em the Pickle image“Pickles” are those special or extra things you do to make people happy. Bob Farrell, founder of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant, tells the story that coined the “pickle” phrase and led to the bestselling customer service training video, “Give ‘Em the Pickle.” Years ago, Farrell received a letter from a loyal, but disappointed customer stating that he loved the restaurant, loved their hamburgers, their ice cream, and especially their pickles. He said he always asked for an extra pickle when he ordered, and he always received one. But when he’d visited the restaurant that day, he had asked for an extra pickle and had been told he would be charged $.75 for an extra side of pickles. He was very disappointed and said he wouldn’t be coming back, if that’s the way Mr. Farrell was going to run his store!

The experience was an eye-opener for Farrell, who didn’t know where the waitress had gotten the idea to charge for an extra pickle. Farrell bent over backwards to apologize to this customer. And, following this incident, he made the “war cry” for his business, “Give ‘em the pickle!!” In other words, take care of the customer – keep them satisfied by giving them that little extra something that keeps them coming back.

Is it really just about “pickles”?

Well, no… providing exceptional customer service is obviously more complex and nuanced than just giving “pickles.” It also involves helping your team understand that what they do is more than just a job.  You also need to make sure that all employees are working together to best serve the customer and are sending a consistent “message” about your brand.

In addition to the basic Pickle Principle, Farrell says there are 4 things that successful companies and employees have mastered when it comes to fostering customer loyalty:

Service. Make serving others your number one priority. After all, your business isn’t what you sell, it’s who you serve. So we’re really all in the same business: the people business. And stellar service occurs when you exceed customers’ expectations by adding your special touch, and by having the courage to make things right for the customer. Making things right comes down to the employee who’s in direct contact with the customer being empowered to make a decision to take care of that customer on a moment’s notice.

Attitude. Make it clear to team members that everyone chooses their attitude when they arrive for work every day. We all have bad days, but we have responsibility to our customers and our co-workers to “check” our poor attitudes at the door and make an effort to smile and give the best of ourselves at work. Remember that how you think about customers is how you will treat them. Also, keep in mind that attitudes and mood are contagious, especially from someone in leadership, so it’s especially important that managers set the tone by being positive and enthusiastic.

Consistency. Set high standards and stick to them. Customers return because they liked the service last time. This point is perfectly illustrated in the pickle story at the beginning. The customer expected a free, additional pickle with his meal because that’s what he received each time he requested it. When the service suddenly wasn’t consistent – when he was told he would be charged for the extra pickle – he left disappointed and prepared never to return. Luckily, he chose to write a letter to Mr. Farrell to explain his disappointment with the inconsistent service, but most customers won’t speak up. They’ll just leave and never return.

Teamwork. No employee works in a vacuum. We all rely on one another to provide a great experience for our customers from start to finish. Similar to a basketball player who shoots a personal-best number of points in a game, but whose team slacks off and loses the game…no matter how great the service one employee delivers, if another employee or department falls short, that great employee’s efforts will have been wasted when the customer leaves disappointed. Look for ways to support fellow team members and make them look good! In the end, it all ends up in front of the customer.

What’s YOUR pickle? 

In the video, Mr. Farrell asks viewers “What’s YOUR pickle? What’s that extra or special thing you do to make people happy?” How would you answer that? What would the Pickle Principle look like in your organization? Maybe it’s a handwritten note with every order shipped. Or, perhaps it’s a free cupcake for every patron’s birthday. Or, maybe every child gets a sticker in the check-out line, or every dog gets a treat. Better yet, maybe the “pickle” changes every day and with every customer interaction, because you’ve empowered your customer service team to make things right and go the extra mile for customers.

It’s motivating to a team to hear success stories, so during team meetings, ask for members to share their successes of how they’ve “given a pickle,” and then celebrate their efforts.

For a full transformational experience for your organization, use the Give ‘em the Pickle training video and accompanying workshop to create a common language and culture around delivering great customer service. Also available is What’s Your Pickle, a series of inspiring and fun-filled real-life customer service stories from Bob Farrell, and Leadership Pickles, which translates the pickle philosophy into leadership terms: just as customers need pickles, your employees need “pickles” from their leaders in order to respect and follow them.


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