A Palisadian Toast to Customer Service

By ALEKSANDAR PAVLOVIĆ | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Palisadian Rick Brissen’s hard work as a courtesy clerk for Ralphs grocery store hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In 2013, Brissen was both surprised and honored to learn that he was selected best associate in the nation by Ralphs parent company, The Kroger Company.

His title of “best customer service in the United States” was tracked by the steady wave of positive customer feedback he earns on the company’s online customer satisfaction survey.

Being crowned best in the nation was no small feat: Kroger is the country’s largest supermarket chain, owning grocery and department stores in 34 states with an estimated 443,000 associates.

“Getting the award was very humbling. I just want to continue living up to it,” Brissen said recently. “I love all my customers and I know so many of them personally.

Roque Sandoval, Manager of Operations at the Palisades Ralphs location agrees: “Rick is passionate and friendly with everyone. Most importantly, he’s genuine. He has always remained consistent with that since I’ve known him in the company.”

The Palisadian-Post covered Brissen’s accomplishment in 2013, and checked in with the 59-year-old Courtesy Clerk again this week for a deeper look at what drives his devotion to his company and community.

When Brissen was in his early 20s, he had high hopes of living in the spotlight and becoming an actor. He did stage plays and studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in West Hollywood. Brissen even made appearances as a singing contestant in a 1979 episode of The Gong Show and as an extra in the 1987 movie Number One with a Bullet.

His focus shifted from dreams to reality when his late mother, Ruth Cherniak, needed financial support. Brissen turned to more immediate jobs for steady income.

“I lived with my mother and sister, Liz. Working and helping out was the only thing I could think about for years,” Brissen explained. “We were all working and trying to support each other.”

In 2009, as the job market plunged further during the great recession, Brissen was laid off from his 20-year job as real estate receptionist. “It was a difficult time trying support myself and my mother,” Brissen said. “It was very stressful to lose your job in your early 50s, especially during the economic crisis. I kept trying, but it was hard looking for work.”

After more than a year of unemployment and in urgent need of income, Brissen reinvented himself with his mother’s support.

He took the time to exercise and prepared for less “sit down” oriented jobs with anticipation of expanding to manual labor. “I went from 375 pounds to 190 pounds in the process,” Brissen said of his physical transformation.
And when Ralphs finally gave him the chance he needed, Brissen was “extremely happy and grateful.”

Over his years at the store, he’s held that great appreciation for the company, which he’s sought to repay with his service. But where do his lauded work service traits originate?

It may be that with the years of experience and focus it took to care for his elderly mother, serving people became a part of his life instinctively. He found purpose when he realized he enjoyed helping and assisting others.

So today, Brissen can still be found moving from aisle-to-aisle with haste, helping someone in need, serving samples of food by the entrance or maybe even hosting a booth for raffles and giveaways.

In any role, “my customers are like family,” he told the Post. “If there’s anything I can do for them—anything at all—they know where I’m at.”