Your #1 Advantage

As seasons come and go throughout the year, many local shoppers in small communities find themselves gearing up for a big trip to "somewhere else" to spend lots of shopping dollars. Why? Well, saving money is likely near the top of their list. Sure, the prices at a big box store might be lower, but people don't always buy on price alone. We've all heard some unhappy customer say "I wouldn't go back there if they were giving the stuff away!" You can be sure that kind of comment was based on a customer service experience.

You're Closer To The Customers...Aren't You?

For some customers, a big box store can be located a fair distance away and customers will have to spend time and money to simply get there to “get a deal.” That will add to the real cost of their purchases. Many customers justify that by "saving up" their needs and then going on a large shopping binge. That way, they can tell themselves that the cost of the trip is spread over many purchases, so the increased cost per item is reasonable. Fair enough, as far as basic arithmetic goes.

As a small business operator, you have to ask yourself "Why are they doing all this in the first place?" Why aren't they supporting my locally-owned, independent business? Don't they realize that I support THEIR community in a variety of ways?

Sometimes it helps to stop, take a breath, and look inward for the answers. For example, what could YOU do to change their thinking? One place to start looking is CUSTOMER SERVICE. Or, as the current "buzz term" states, the "Total Customer Experience."

The level of personalized customer service that the small business can offer is far above that of a big chain store. As a small business, you are not necessarily bound by corporate policies on most of these things, so you have the freedom to exercise good business judgement in any situation.

What is "Customer Service?"

The concept of customer service goes well beyond simply greeting a customer with “How can I help you?” when they enter your store. It should include the entire buying process from start to finish. That would include items such as a fair policy on returns and refunds, a decent selection of merchandise that is presented well, priced clearly, clean shelves and merchandise displays (no dust), prompt handling of any post-sale problems, and above all, staff that are trained to identify customer needs and address them by recommending products that will do the job. All of these things can combine to create a total, positive customer experience. (There's that term again!)

In some cases, follow-up after the sale can be a competitive advantage for you as well. For example, if a customer makes a major purchase such as a major appliance do you follow up with a phone call a few days later to make sure the customer is happy with the purchase? Taking the time to do that one simple thing can set you apart from the crowd. And it will ensure that the next time that customer is getting ready to buy a similar item, yours will be the first business that comes to mind.

Why Bother?

If you really dig into the subject and figure out how you can create the best possible customer service experience for everyone that walks through your door, then you are removing the reasons why a customer would be considering other places to shop. In other words, why go anywhere else?

And there is a bonus... when a satisfied customer talks to their friends and neighbours about their purchase, they'll give them a glowing report about how they were treated. That's called word of mouth advertising, and there is nothing better than that.

The Golden Rule of Customer Service

Treat your customers as you would like to be treated. It's not that difficult, really.