Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How two Faribault businesses made me smile with great customer service May 2, 2018

In the small town of Ellendale, kids bike to Lerberg’s Foods for groceries and the occasional slushie. Here two sisters and a friend slurp their slushies while sitting on bags of water softener pellets next to the pop machine. This is one of my favorite images of a small town local business. I took this photo in August 2011. Lerberg’s Foods is still in business.


I VALUE GREAT CUSTOMER service. It can be the deciding factor in whether I patronize a business. If I have a bad experience, I’ll think twice about returning. If I have a great experience, you bet I’ll give that business my business.

Now more than ever, customer service holds significant value along our main streets. It is one way local businesses can compete with online shopping. Not that that is a personal concern for me; I seldom shop online. But most people do. So our local shopkeepers need to go that extra mile to create a welcoming experience that meets customers’ needs.

What comprises great customer service? For me, it starts with a smile. The minute I walk in the door, I should be greeted, valued. I don’t need a clerk or store owner who hovers, but I appreciate someone who is subtly attentive. Help me if I appear overwhelmed, uncertain or can’t seem to find whatever. Listen. Offer choices. Answer questions. And then listen some more. Or leave me alone if I’m sending body language signals that I’d rather be left to browse.

I expect it’s not always easy to determine how to best serve a customer. But a shopkeeper can’t go wrong by simply being nice. And helpful.



I cite two recent examples from my community of Faribault where two grocery store employees showed exceptional customer service. Both on the same day. While at Hy-Vee, I was approached by an employee who apparently noticed me filtering for too long through clamshells of strawberries special-priced at $1.28/pound. I couldn’t find any berries that weren’t over-ripe and/or rotting. Even at a bargain, I won’t pay for bad produce and dislike when a grocer tries to sell food that should be tossed.

But this employee decided he wanted a satisfied customer. He offered to go to the back storeroom and find a pack of acceptable berries. Two if I wanted two, although I pointed out the “Limit one to a customer” sign. He would bring two, he said. I waited until he returned. With only one pack. But that was OK. He also promised to have those over-ripe berries cleared from the shelves.

At my next grocery store stop, I experienced exceptional customer service in the bakery department of Fareway Meat & Grocery. I was on a mission to find a smiley face cookie for my two-year-old granddaughter. Typically those cookies are sold at Hy-Vee. But on this Saturday they weren’t immediately available. I didn’t have time to wait an hour so headed to Fareway hoping for the coveted cookie.



I found smiley face cookies, six to a package. But I didn’t want six. I wanted one. Perhaps, I thought, I could buy a single cookie from the pick-your-own selections. Turns out the cookies aren’t sold individually. I explained my dilemma to the baker, how I had hoped to buy one cookie for Izzy for her second birthday because her mama loved smiley face cookies when she was a little girl. The baker smiled, then told me to pull a package from the shelves. I could have one, she said. At no charge.

You can bet my mouth curved as wide as the blue smile on that cookie. My joy in that simple gesture of kindness shone as bright as the yellow frosting. Granted, giving away that cookie didn’t cost Fareway much money. But it was priceless in terms of exceptional customer service.

That’s what I’m talking about as we celebrate Small Business Month in Minnesota during May and National Small Business Week from now until May 5. Hy-Vee and Fareway may not classify as small businesses. But two employees at their Faribault stores exemplified outstanding customer service to me. And that, my friends, is how Main Street can compete in today’s global online marketplace.

TELL ME: What’s your definition of great customer service? Give me an example. Do you shop local or mostly online?


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “How two Faribault businesses made me smile with great customer service”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    A few days after our foreign exchange student arrived from Germany, we took her shopping. She was shocked and delighted at how friendly and helpful the clerks were. She told us how in Germany, the clerks treat you with contempt.

    Years later when we went there for her wedding, we found that to be both true and at times, delightfully not true.

    By the way, she got married in a castle, it was like a fairy tale.

  2. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    We have our favorite hardware store just down the street from us and the owner is always ready to stand in the aisle and chat while he’s finding us what we need. He is never too busy to get to know his customers. And at Subtext Bookstore in St. Paul, the two women I’ve met who were tending he store when I bought books were both so knowledgeable and ready to discuss whatever book I brought to the counter that I thought how this would be the bookstore for me whenever I have a question about a book I need or want. They were amazing. For me, customer service includes taking the time to really listen and talk with your customers to show they matter. Love your cookie story!

    • I agree that hardware stores and independent bookstores often offer exceptional customer service. I’ve found that to be true from my experiences, too. Thank you for sharing your heartening stories of great customer service and why you consider it excellent.

      That reminded me of a staffer at Fareway Spirits, attached to Fareway Meat & Grocery. One of the clerks knows that I enjoy craft beer. So whenever I’m there, she’ll point out new brews in the pick-a-six-pack section. That shows she is listening and getting to know me. She always asks about my granddaughter, too. And several days ago she and my husband discussed going to a local power and gas show. You can bet that’s my go-to store for craft beer.

      That cookie story is pretty sweet, isn’t it? I’m still smiling about that.

  3. I find down here there is a situation of ratio – too many customers to one store that is properly staffed with employees, but hence too many customers in one store. I have learned to be a bit put myself out there, especially if I need help I simply have to ask for it and be nice and cool about it too. Sometimes it comes down to timing too – get up early and go – maybe there is a lull mid-day or go about 2 hours to closing time. The one area that really irks me is rudeness at restaurants – treat you like you are a bother, slam the menus as well as the food on the table, inattention and sloppiness, etc. We actually had wait staff stick their fingers in our drinks in order to carry them to our table – GROSS and NOT Acceptable. I am all for a smile and a little kindness when it comes to customer service and being treated in a way that will have me coming back again 🙂 Great Topic Today! Happy Day – Enjoy

    • Oooooh, fingers in drinks. That is awful. I agree with you on the importance of servers showing kindness. I expect some diners can be pretty demanding. But to start a meal off with slamming down menus is no way to treat anyone.

  4. Bernadette Says:

    I have a story for you that occurred this past weekend. My husband, daughter and I ate at a restaurant in Mill Valley, CA, that had catered our oldest daughter’s wedding 15 years ago. We’ve been back several times even though it is two hours away. My husband mentioned to the waitress about why we like the restaurant and keep coming back. When the waitress returned with the check, she said that our dessert was complimentary. She had told our story to the new owner of the family business (actually the next generation of the family had just purchased it) and she knew the value of repeat customers that her father had cultivated over the years. Needless to say, we’ll be back.

  5. Don Says:

    I detest on line shopping particularly the big one that starts with A. I do not believe they are good for the economy as a whole or small businesses in particular. I was interested in your cookie story and that is good customer service! Here in the north country we have a major chain store that my wife and I shop at quite often and they have great customer service even tho they are a chain store. Their department managers are fantastic and go out of their way to keep the customers happy. When shopping there with our grandsons they know that there will always be a free cookie sample for them or a free sample of cheese of fruits for grandpa/grandma to sample. When I had a blood pressure monitor malfunction they provided me a new one even tho the old one was more than a couple of years old (I told the manager that) but he told me a satisfied customer and their health is more important to him than the price of the monitor, now that’s customer service!!!

    • Don, I agree, those are great examples of customer service. Kudos to that chain store for providing those free samples and to that manager for his statement and actions regarding your health. We need more managers like him.

  6. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Great cookie! Our grocery store has terrible produce so we drive about 45 miles one way to buy groceries as well as cleaning supplies and toiletries. Most of our clothing and almost all of my craft supplies are purchased online. I don’t go back to businesses who give bad service either.

  7. We always try to support local businesses in the locations we visit and leave positive reviews when we have good experiences. Good customer service is my business being valued, and friendly smiling faces go a long way with me.

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