Many of the businesses are not new or new and operate in a popular and contested market. Therefore, it is imperative for any clone business to stand out from the competition by offering an exceptional customer experience. I recently found an article written by former SCORE colleague Tuck Aikin several decades ago that addresses this very issue. The message remains as true today as it was when Tuck wrote it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Responding to the call from the home improvement store that our order had been placed, my wife found a parking space, entered the store, and dutifully stood at the sales counter. As he entered the store, he was aware that three clerks helping other customers noticed him, but no one interrupted what they were doing. They ignored him.
A few minutes after this, my wife was wandering around the store looking for someone else to help her. Not a soul in sight. After another 15 minutes, the meter ran out, so he left.
Has this ever happened to you? Undoubtedly. This level of service (if you can call it that) is common these days and most of us just put up with it until we can take our business elsewhere.
Does it have to be this way? Managers tell us that it is nearly impossible to provide a satisfactory level of customer service, and they cite a number of reasons.
- You can’t find good people
- It’s a simple job, so the pay is modest
- There is no employee loyalty, so the turnover of service staff is high
- Cannot risk interrupting a customer currently being served by interrupting to serve someone else
- Can’t afford to staff only occasionally during peak customer traffic
If this were universally true, why is it that every so often we meet with that rare experience of service that is excellent?
- Our presence is confirmed by a seller who helps someone else
- We’re sure help is on the way, and it really is
- We apologize for the delay and inconvenience
- We feel that the service staff really care
- That they don’t just parrot what they’re told
The answer, of course, is that these unusual businesses have realized that in order to succeed, they must differentiate their company from their competitors, whose products are fundamentally not that different.
When I thanked the owner of a standard breakfast restaurant on the west side for the quick and attentive service, he told me about the sage advice his parents had given him when he took over the operation:
“Gene, anyone can serve eggs, bacon and coffee for breakfast, so you have to attract customers with excellent service.“.
Obviously, he heeded her advice.
How do these high-performing businesses do it?
- They understand that serving customers is not easy, and they hire, train and compensate accordingly.
- They imbue their customer contact with the principle of responsive service.
- They teach techniques on how to handle more than one person at a time, how to temporarily stop working with one client to get to know another without ruffling any feathers, and how to be a servant without being submissive (employees need their dignity too). .
- Systems are also put in place to handle spillover, such as cross-training a repair department employee to handle initial customer sales or installing buzzers to signal other areas of the store that extra help is needed.
Perhaps most importantly, top service companies are very selective about who they hire and retain; remember that these jobs deserve serious consideration and good compensation attracts applicants. Key qualities sought in service personnel are genuine empathy for other people, the ability to do simple mental math, the ability to “multi-task” (manage several things at once), and a willingness to pay attention to detail. And perhaps most importantly, a good work ethic and the individual’s desire to perform at their highest level.
Too bad we don’t know how to test some of these before hiring an applicant.
So make your business stand out by focusing on outstanding service. Are your competitors gone or are they?
Hide Ike was my former SCORE partner for many years until his retirement. Tuck is a prolific writer and has written articles on small business topics for the Colorado Springs Gazette for many years. As a co-author, Tuck was my inspiration for starting this blog. The previous post is reproduced with the permission of the author.