How Panera Bread taught me the value of customer success

Image by Jacqueline Macou from Pixabay

Customer Success is the act of effectively connecting with a customer.

It could be through communicating with possible clients in email or even changing the sheets for a disgruntled guest in a hotel. You’re providing a service for another human being, and that in and of itself is noble, but it’s not for everyone.

I’ve had many life-changing experiences with customer success. Let me tell you about them.

In January of 2015, I got my first “real job.” I was an entry-level Associate working at a newly built Panera Bread. Early on, I was incredibly introverted. It was the first time I stepped out of my comfort zone long enough to know that I even had a comfort zone!

In the middle of the interview, the hiring manager said to me, “Alright, David, I’m going to throw you a scenario, and I want you to react to it however you want to.” “Okay, shoot,” I replied. “A guest flags you down for you to come over to their table in the middle of them eating their meal. She explains that she is having an allergic reaction to something she has eaten. What do you do?” Without missing a beat, I replied, “Oh my goodness, how can I help?”

Long story short, I was offered a job.

Later on in my training, it seemed like every question to every answer led to, “go get your manager!” I wasn’t a fan of that. I felt as if I had wrongly answered the interview question, and it didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to know if I reacted correctly!

About a month later, I bumped into the hiring manager at a celebration for the new store. I asked her what she liked about me, what she didn’t, and if the answer I provided in the interview was the best answer for her. I felt like I didn’t give the answer she might’ve been looking for. She smiled and said, “Out of all of the applicants that I have interviewed for this location, you were the only one who wanted to help the guest instead of run for someone else.”

That moment stuck with me. I didn’t even realize that my first instinct was to help.

Of course, now that I’m in management, I understand why the first thing we want our Associates to do is to involve us. Legalities can get confusing! However, that desire to help is still just as present as it was during that day. Through that experience, I learned a little bit about who I am.

But what does a desire to help have to do with customer success? Everything.

It’s incredibly easy to spot someone working in that role who doesn’t want to be in that role. I believe you owe it to yourself (and those around you) to put yourself in the position that best suits you.

Customer Success is both rewarding and incredibly challenging at the same time. You’re the direct link between customer and company. Sometimes, everything leans on whether or not you create a positive image for your company.

In many cases, I think people forget the hat they’re wearing. It’s easy to lose your patience. But are you willing to live with those consequences?

I learned the value of taking care of “those who are paying your check” when I’d have customers come back specifically on the days I would work, knowing they’re going to be taken care of and leave satisfied.

When I took a leave of absence, I had a guest come into the location on my last day. Usually, he’d come through our drive-through, but this time he brought his wife and ate inside. When they started wrapping up their meal, and I was clearing their table, he handed me a $20 bill. “Here, kid, you’ve been good to us, and I want you to have this,” he exclaimed. His wife looked up and smiled, holding another $20 bill, “and I want you to have this too!”

I was beside myself. “You do not have to do that!” I proclaimed. “You’re right, but you’ve made our time here something to look forward to!” He replied. I remember walking away from that moment with a deep sense of satisfaction and pride. I knew that I had an impact that represented not only the company but also myself.

How I learned the value of customer success

The value of something is often determined by either the capital you earn or save. However, I propose a different line of thinking. For me, I’ve usually found the tasks that are the most challenging to be the most rewarding. Though, I wouldn’t suggest throwing caution to the wind. Not everything that is challenging is equally satisfying.

I’ve been in a similar role for the past five years. In some way, shape, or form, I’m in a customer success position. Each new experience teaches me new lessons. I learn and relearn that value every single day. Being the voice and image of a company comes with its challenges but also its rewards.

I learn the value from the feeling I get walking away from an interaction. If I walk away feeling satisfied, I do my best to recreate that. If I walk away feeling dissatisfied, I regroup and figure out what I possibly overlooked. I treat every situation unique. I believe every person until I have an adequate reason not to. And I always ask for feedback. In my opinion, knowing the impact of your position is a sure-fire way to improve the quality of you and your work.

As I look back, I recognize that most of the changes that have taken place have been with my inward self. I get excited to jump into the role. I seek out opportunities to raise my bar higher. I want every interaction that I have with a guest that I’m aiding to be positive. I want to improve the quality of experience with my customers.

For me, that’s what customer success is — the synergy between you, your company, and your client.

It’s also important to keep in mind that that is just the viewpoint from someone in the service industry helping customers on a day to day basis. There are so many ways that customer success can be implemented. I think that there are hundreds of ways to learn new and different skills.

For me, I go by the feeling. I analyze the ambiance of the situation and move from there. Being able to recognize positives and negatives plays a vital role in this.

I encourage everyone to walk with childish curiosity. Be vulnerable and open. Don’t allow yourself to fall off-kilter. Take responsibility for the instance you’re in. And LEARN from your mistakes. It’s going to be challenging and, at times, annoying, but boy is it rewarding!

Look around you. I’m sure that in whatever environment you’re in, there’s someone who was in your shoes at some point. Make friends, and ask questions. The worst thing you can be is not wrong, but rather unwilling.




I look for the best in every situation, and thus I’m able to get the best out of every situation. Currently working as an Assistant General manager with Panera.

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David A Groves

David A Groves

I look for the best in every situation, and thus I’m able to get the best out of every situation. Currently working as an Assistant General manager with Panera.

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