Opportunity: Higher Levels of Service

This is number sixteen in our series based on Challenges of the
Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America
, a 64 page white paper by Jack Stanyon, underwritten by the George H. Baum
Community Charitable Trust, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the
National Retail Federation Foundation.  Today we take a look at Stanyon’s fourth Challenge (opportunity), "the need for delivery of higher levels of service."

I hate to sound like a broken record, but superior customer service is the single most important thing that a retailer can do to stand out from the crowd.  "Good service" isn’t enough anymore.  While bad service will drive customers away, good service won’t necessarily keep them coming back.  Satisfaction doesn’t equal loyalty.  For example, I just changed cell phone carriers.  My former company wasn’t terrible.  There were some things that I didn’t care for, but generally they were alright. On a scale of one to ten, they were probably a solid five.  I’m sure that if I had updated my plan and got a new phone, I would have been satisfied for another two years.

But, with the barrage of cell phone ads I decided to look around.  My new carrier offered the plan that I wanted with a phone that meets my needs.  My son in Alabama uses the same company so we can call him and he can call us at no charge.  That was the tie breaker. 

Had my original carrier ever done anything to distinguish themselves, to create a loyal customer, rather than a satisfied customers, I might not have made the switch.  Most of our conversations with our son are in the evening or on the weekends when the calls are free anyway. 

Am I unusual?  I don’t think so.  That’s just the reality of twenty-first century retailing.  You either stand out or you lose out.  It’s that simple.

This isn’t rocket science.  Why does it seem to be so difficult?  Why doesn’t everyone do it?  According to Stanyon it comes down to people and leadership.  We all know how difficult it is to find and keep good people.  In a survey we did here at Mine Your Own Business, hiring, training, and keeping good people ranked very high.  Face it, if you don’t have good employees your chances of having delighted customers aren’t very good.

One of Stanyon’s suggestions is that you don’t overlook any age group.  An AARP survey of workers age 50 to 70 found that more than 2/3 of them don’t plan to retire.  They’re smart.  They’re experienced.  They have a work ethic that’s hard to find among younger workers. 

At the other end of the spectrum, very young workers (high school through college age) can be excellent employees too.  What they lack in experience, they may make up for with energy, enthusiasm, and a lack of bad work habits.

Of course, the standard for the level of customer service in your business is set by the leader.  You must make it clear that delighted customers are your number one priority.  You have to walk the talk.  If they see you carrying a heavy item out to the customer’s car, they’ll do the same.  If they see you talking on the phone while a customer is waiting to be helped, guess what they’ll do when you’re not there?

Delighting your customers isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely vital if you want to compete.  You may have to do some things that you don’t want to do.  In the era of twenty-four hour "superstores", you can’t afford to be closed when your customers want to shop.  If you promise your customer after-the-sale service then aren’t there to answer the phone when she has a question, she will not be delighted.  She may not complain.  You might not even realize that she’s unhappy.  But one day you’ll wonder why you don’t see her anymore.

I’m guessing that you have no desire to be open around the clock and I don’t blame you.  But if your store hours are the same today as they were in 1970, you may want to rethink them.  If your customers are primarily working mothers, it doesn’t make much sense to close every evening at 5:00.  If your product is used on the weekend, then your customers are going to have questions and need accessories on the weekend.  You don’t have to be open at 3:00 in the morning.  No one expects that.  But it wouldn’t hurt to have a web site with a good faq section and some self-directed service areas for the night owls.

Think about your own service needs.  When have you gotten exceptional service?  What can you learn from it?  Ask the experts, your customers themselves.  Ask them what you could do that would make your store their favorite place to shop.  You may be surprised at how little it will take to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary. 

Remember that a pot of water at 211 degrees is just hot water.  Add one degree and it becomes steam.  Steam moves giant locomotives and ships.  Steam provides heat for huge office buildings.  But water at 211 degrees doesn’t move anything.  It’s waiting for that one last degree.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: