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Building customer relationships starts with excellent customer service, which is the number one priority of every Hy-Vee employee. “A helpful smile in every aisle” is our brand, most especially in the floral shop. As florists, we touch every life-event that our customers experience, from the beginning of life to the end and everything in between. Flowers can say it all, so it is extremely important that we get it right every time for our customers.

Customer service is more than just a helpful smile, it’s also the experience. The experience will build the relationship with your customers. It is doing everything right from the basics to the unexpected.

We all know the basics: a clean, well-organized space with colorful, eye-catching and easy-to-shop displays; that warm, sincere greeting when a customer calls or comes in your shop; making the arrangement look exactly like the picture on the website; including care and handling instructions on every fresh product and also explaining how to take care of that plant or arrangement.

With the basics covered, it is the unexpected that will endear your customers to you. For example, doing anything for a customer even on the busiest day of the year, Valentine’s Day. Our Omaha 6 store received an online order with a request from a soldier deployed overseas to make his wife’s Valentine’s Day special. Our manager suggested he make a video telling her Happy Valentine’s Day, which he sent to the store.

Our manager delivered an arrangement, the video (which she played on her personal iPad) and his wife’s favorite Starbucks drink. This is an experience they will always remember; this store now has two customers forever. How else can you create a great experience? How about:  

• Knowing your customers so well that you call them by name when they are in shopping.

• Emailing the customer a picture of the arrangement they ordered over the phone.

• Sending the bride and groom a card or replica bouquet on their first anniversary (you know the date, you did the flowers).

• Sending a happy first-birthday balloon to the child of a customer (you sent the congratulations arrangement, you know the date).

• Offering classes where a customer can design a fresh arrangement, make a holiday wreath, or make a terrarium. The possibilities are endless here.

• Calling the husband, reminding him of the anniversary and asking for this year’s order.

We can all give great customer service. But it’s the experience that a customer will always remember, because it evoked emotion. It’s the great experience that builds the relationship that keeps customers coming back.

Cindy Sulzman is assistant vice president for floral operations at Hy-Vee Inc. in West Des Moines, IA. Hy-Vee operates 235 stores in eight states. She can be reached at