Pinkberry vs. Subway: Customer-Centricity vs. Efficiency

Ayad Mirjan

Pinkberry vs. Subway.

Customer centricity vs. efficiency.

Relationship vs. transaction.

Customer experience vs. assembly line.

That is what I see when comparing the two retailers. They are both successful in their own way, but when it comes to customer management, one of them gets it and the other doesn’t.


Have you ever engaged in banter with the staff at Subway? Have you had the urge to try? The answers to these questions for the most part are ‘no’ and ‘no,’ which is understandable because it is neither what Subway does nor what for what it is known (it is, instead, known for its chipotle sauce, $5 Footlongs and Jared).

One of the main reasons customers do not engage in a ‘conversation’ with the service staff at Subway is because the process of building a sandwich is treated exactly like an assembly line. Customers, on average, are likely to interact with 3 staff members (one to help with the bread, meat and cheese selection, another to add the toppings and wrap the sandwich, and a third to help swipe the credit card). No smiles, no conversation, no nonsense…’we have a sandwich to build, and you need to keep moving’.

Stereotyping alleges that Subway workers often lack a resounding grasp of the English language. True or not, the linguistic expertise of the staff members does not matter because Subway does not expect customers to say anything outside the list of phrases already listed on the menu.

By design, few Subway restaurants are built around the idea of developing relationships with customers.


Pinkberry, on the other hand, excels in its interactions with customers because for the 2 to 5 minute customer journey (i.e. the process of picking a flavor, the toppings, and swiping the credit card) the service staff attempts to build a relationship with the customer to create a sense of familiarity. This commitment to the customer is reflected in every step of the process.

The person that greets the customer when he/she walks through the door is the same person that takes him/her through the entire process from start to finish (i.e. no service staff switching). The servers are also very personable and extremely well-trained in customer service interactions (two weeks of customer service training before they start, according to an employee).

In today’s buyers’ market, in which customers are in short supply due to market saturation and high levels of competition, relationship-building or relationship marketing becomes extremely important. Relationship marketing refers to "building mutually satisfying relationships with customers in order to earn and retain their business (Philip Kotler)."

Pinkberry understands that both relationship building and the feeling of familiarity drive customers’ repurchase decisions, and they try to do a good job of ensuring that those bonds are created before the customer exits the store.

Subway has its own customer experience, but it can learn a thing or two from Pinkberry’s customer relationship building.

You can go to Subway every day and no one will care to notice you as a loyal customer. At Pinkberry, they actually try to remember what flavors you prefer and guess your selections the next time you go.

Next time you patronize either one of these retailers, think about your interaction with the service staff and then think about how you feel about it!

Contributor Ayad Mirjan is a customer experience consultant based in Washington, DC. He regularly blogs at