Kwik Trip Turns Golden Rule Into Gold

Wisconsin chain recaptures top overall ranking in CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

John McHugh

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. & LA CROSSE, Wis. -- For the fourth time in five years, Kwik Trip has turned the Golden Rule into operational gold, taking the No. 1 overall spot in this year's CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop study for chains with 150 or more stores. The chain also took the top spot in three subcategories: exterior cleanliness, customer service and employee appearance.

The survey--this year expanded to include seven chains of less than 150 stores (with those results to come this fall)--reviewed eight large regional and national chains, analyzing exterior and interior cleanliness, customer service, merchandising and employee appearance. For more detailed results, watch CSP Daily News in the coming days and look for the August issue of CSP magazine.

This year, the Fort Mill, S.C.-based Service Intelligence sent shoppers to the following chains: Casey's General Stores, Ankeny, Iowa; Circle K Great Lakes, Akron, Ohio; E-Z Mart Stores, Texarkana, Texas; Kwik Trip Inc., La Crosse, Wis.; MAPCO, Brentwood, Tenn.; QuikTrip, Tulsa, Okla.; RaceTrac Petroleum, Atlanta; and Sheetz, Altoona, Pa. Shoppers completed 80 to 110 visits per chain during eight weeks this past spring.

CSP Daily News spoke with John McHugh, manager of corporate communications and leadership development for Kwik Trip, to get insight into how the chain manages to excel in the study's overall ranking year after year:

Q: Kwik Trip ranked No. 1 overall last year and kept hold of the spot this year. Was there anything you did differently to stay on top?

A: I wish I could say there was, but all I can think of is that we've done more to communicate to our employees the stories we feel demonstrate our internal culture. We've noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of unsolicited compliments and letters we've received. We're not sure why, but what we've done is publish more of them every week in the newsletter that goes to our stores.

I think our people have noticed. We've seen a greater increase in those types of behaviors. Goodness begets goodness. They hear a store got complimented on that, or helped out a guest in this regard. It snowballs.

Q: So you think it's just a communications effort?

A: Well, there's a second piece. For every specific co-worker mentioned, we send then a gift card as recognition from the company. They get to go on a website and pick a gift. It's about rewarding excellence in guest services. Behavior that's given incentive is behavior that's repeated.

Q: Can you read us one of those letters?

A: Here's a recent one. "I just wanted to thank your coworkers for helping a friend of mine who collapsed at a store. Though he passed away, he lived long enough so his sister could come down from Alaska to see him."

Here's another one. "I stopped in a parking lot and we were getting hit with rain. I had my belongings on the roof of my car and your employee brought out plastic, rope and black netting. Please thank that woman."

Q: How do you train for that level of customer service?

A: We believe it's about hiring the right people--people who instinctively give great customer service. These are people who enjoy helping others. It starts with the interview process. The first three questions we ask are, "What was your last random act of kindness?" "How have you made a difference in someone else's life?" and "How have you treated others as you'd like to be treated?"

Q: Operating on the Golden Rule is one thing, but what happens when a store has a problem?

A: If we find an issue with a store consistently not providing good customer service, first, we'll look at the leadership at the store. Could it be a matter of the store leader not motivating well? Is that person a decent human being or his he or she a creep?

We also have lengthy training programs, teaching store leaders how to confront poor performance and how to motivate teams.

Q: When did you start focusing on culture?

A: I believe it goes back to 2004 when we started examining that part of our business. In 2005 we developed a mission statement that we made sure everyone knew. Today, it's something that gets reinforced at every single meeting. It sounds corny, but we reinforce it at every possible level: Treat others like you'd like to be treated and make a difference in someone's life.

Q: Then of course, there's your generous profit sharing.

A: Yes, employees get 40% of pretax profits at the end of the year. But it's more than that. We have an internal program called, "Families Helping Families." It's a fund that helps our own coworkers and their families. We have 10,800 coworkers and last year we helped 220 families. Our coworkers think it's great that we take care of each other. I know it's a cliché when people come to work and say it feels like family. But we have a culture of taking care of each other. That's what makes it a great place to work.

[Editor's Note: CSP Daily News will reveal more insights from the study, with more extensive coverage in the August issue of CSP magazine. And don't forget the second part of the study, which reviews seven chains with less than 150 stores. CSP Daily News will count down the top chains and CSP magazine will delve into the results in September. Click here to read the first part of this series, "RaceTrac Cleans Up." And click here to read the second part, "Quik Trip Takes Stock in Stocking Up."]

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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