Chief Johnny Jennings. (Photo: QCity Metro)

A new type of customer-service training began this week for the 2,500 employees of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department — including its 1,800 sworn officers.

The goal, says Chief Johnny Jennings, is to “change the narrative” about law enforcement by creating more positive interactions with the public.

Jennings, who witnessed weeks of protests over racial injustice last summer, said the idea came to him one day after getting a meal at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

It was then that he thought: What if CMPD could provide a level of service as positive and consistent as the service he routinely gets at Chick-fil-A?

Now roughly a year later, the department is working with John DiJulius, an author and customer service guru, to launch what he describes as a first-of-its-kind program to train police officers in the ways of customer relations. In addition to working with Chick-fil-A, DiJulius says he has worked with consumer brands including Marriott, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Lexus.

On Wednesday, Jennings and DiJulius sat (virtually) for an interview with QCity Metro to talk about the training and its desired effects. The police chief said this training, designed for CMPD officers and its civilian employees, will strengthen police-community relationships and begin a “cultural change.”

Q. The customer is always right, or so the saying goes, but in law enforcement the customer isn’t always right. How will this strategy apply in hostile situations?

Johnny Jennings: It’s not a matter of the customer’s always right; it’s a matter of how we need to interact — it could be as simple as not what you say but how you say it. It’s taking that few extra steps to make sure we get a positive interaction with the people that we serve. We’re not trying to sell anything; we’re not in retail or the fast food business. The concept is more of positive experiences and how we interact with individuals on a regular basis. We average about 600,000 interactions with our citizens every year within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. We need to make sure that we have positive outcomes and leave a lasting impression. 

Q. What does the training look like for officers and how many officers will be trained?

Jennings: This training was created by us [CMPD] in consultation with the DiJulius Group, so this was something that was thought of and developed here. We will be doing a kickoff tomorrow [Thursday, June 24] to get our officers and our employees informed on what this is all about. After the kickoff, there will be an online training that employees are required to take, so it’s not just the police officers; it’s all 2,500 employees within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and that includes about 1,800 sworn officers.

After they do the online training, there’s going to be in-person training they’ll be required to do as well, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s important that this is not something we just throw out there — train our employees and then say go do it. We need to look at it from the perspective of a cultural change, not just a training that we’re doing in the agency.

Q. What are the three main components of this new customer experience training?

Jennings: One, I think is positive interactions and a positive impression with us [CMPD]. That’s what we need to make sure we’re intentional about along with positive interactions with each other internally. This isn’t just about us having good contact with the people that we serve everyday; it’s about how we treat each other as employees and peers as well. Third, (what) I think people tend to overlook in all of this is the effect it will have on personal morale. If you are able to go throughout your day and you leave a positive impression with the people you come in contact with, then your morale has nowhere to go but up. 

Q. What is the timeline on this training?

Jennings: It doesn’t end. This will be a continuous thing.

Q. How will you measure the success of this initiative? 

Jennings: We’re putting things in place now to be able to get the feedback from our community and those we have interactions with. We’re also looking at acknowledgments for officers who are recognized for providing good customer service and positive interactions. Also, making sure that we are marketing this to the public, that there are ways to give feedback on your experience when you have an interaction with an officer. I look forward to seeing that. 

Q. DiJulius, have you ever worked with a police department before, and what is it about your method that makes it successful?

John DiJulius: We have never, and that’s what makes it exciting and scary. It certainly is a different world. I have so much respect for what officers do and, embarrassingly, I wouldn’t do it. It’s tough.

As far as methodology, we’ve studied and worked with world-class customer service companies from all industries over the last 20-plus years, and they all go about the same type of things the same way. That’s what we’re able to bring in to align with Chief Jennings’ vision.

We ask, what do I need to understand and appreciate that [person X] might be going through? She might have aging parents; she might have a young daughter. …It’s trying to make us more present, compassionate and empathetic and not just treat her as a transaction. And how do we create some nonnegotiable standards that, whoever I deal with at CMPD, it will be consistent?

That’s the beauty of Chick-fil-A — you can go to Cleveland, Atlanta, Charlotte and have a consistent experience with a completely different 19-year-old person, and that’s what were looking to bring. It’s something that CMPD is very good at, but we’re just taking it to a world-class level.

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Sarafina covers Historic West End under a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. She earned a journalism degree from Howard University. Email news tips to

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