Relationships and Trust in the Offline World

paneraI’m sitting here at Panera Bread, my usual work-shifting spot, doing some Saturday afternoon work. My experience here is always a pleasant one – relaxing environment and nice employees (free Wi-Fi doesn’t hurt either.) But my time here today was a little different, as I sat next to a new-employee class that Panera was hosting for a handful of newbies.

They’ve been talking about the company’s history, the bread, and the passion that has gone into this business for over 20 years. What stuck out to me, as I overheard/eavesdropped/call-it-what-you-want on their training, was what the class ‘leader’ said:

We build trust through our relationships with our customers and our community.

I found it inspiring to hear a brick & mortar business, let alone a restaurant/bakery, put such precedence on this statement. Why did I find such surprise in it? One – we unfortunately don’t see such a passionate offline business with equally as passionate employees, as we do with Panera. Two – we seemingly correlate trust, relationships and community specifically with the online space.

Is the offline space that much more different than online when building trust and a passionate community? Trusting relationships are around us in our everyday lives with our family and friends, but why does it seem that when it comes to business, it’s more easily conceived online than when face-to-face with your customers?

In my opinion, business cultures have gone off base to a point where connecting with their customers as more than just a $ sign is out of the realm of possibility – and that’s where it has to start, culture. Panera has been in business since 1987 and from what I’ve seen in my dozens of visits and now with this new-employee class, they’ve instilled such a culture and passion within the business itself that it’s what every employee seemingly lives & breathes.

Kudos to Panera, but what can other brick & mortar businesses do to instill this sort of culture and to gain their customers’ trust? Do you have an experience like mine that you’d like to add?

Sound off – the floor is yours.

3 comments On Relationships and Trust in the Offline World

  • No wonder Panera is successful with a company culture that values relationships with customers. Other businesses — oflline and online — should pay attention. Thanks for sharing this story.

  • Yup, Connie – online co’s could definitely take note of Panera, regardless that they’re brick & mortar. The ideas and goals really are the same for both worlds.

  • Nice to hear a company that practices what it preaches. I worry when people view online and brick and mortar as separate. Businesses cant focus on one and ignore the other anymore, they must have a plan for both. (Many cases they compliment each other!)

    I have seen great customer service both in the store and online from Bloom Grocery. (I got tweets from Bloom after I mentioned them! It was pretty cool…) So now they solidified their customer base!

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