Thursday, October 8, 2009

Customer Service Week - Local Retailer vs. Large National Retailer

Customer service is built into my dna, I think. I was raised in a family that owns and operates a retail business. The business is over 70 years old, and has a solid reputation with the community. During my teenage and college years, I spent quite a bit of time working the floor handling all parts of the customer service channel.

Customer service was a big emphasis for my father as he had differentiate his business from the large national competitors that were encroaching on his space. While the customer service focus may not be always apparent to the customers, here are some key ways they beat their competitors in service:

  • Greeting every customer - How many times have you been to a large national retailer and not been able to find anyone to help you? It is rare that they even talk to you when you are looking around with that puzzled look on your face. This doesn't happen at my family's business, all customers are greeted and asked if they need help. And if the first employee can't ask the question, then the question goes up the chain to someone who can answer the question. My father has 40 years experience in the business, he legitimately has a solution for every question.
  • Product knowledge - Similar question as above, do the employees of the large national retailers have much product knowledge? Generally speaking, they don't and have no one that can answer the tough questions. At my families business, they live and breath their business and have an immense knowledge of most their products.
  • Inventory - They don't use any fancy inventory management system, it's all in their head and on the retail floor. The homegrown/manual inventory system keeps the inventory as a major component to running their business. They don't have the computerized inventory system to rely on, so they have to focus energy on making sure they have what their customers want. If they don't have it, they know all the suppliers that may have it, know who can get it to them by when, and can always find a solution. Special orders are an integral part of their business, you don't usually get that at a large national retailer.
The custom nature of my families business allows them to create a great customer service strategy which really caters to their customer having a great shopping experience. When compared to a national retailer, there really isn't a comparison when you look at the details of the customer service strategy.  Customer service strategy really is a differentiator for local, nimble, businesses and I don't think enough of the local businesses make this a focus.  Most customers would rather shop with a locally owned business and a little bit of an emphasis on customer service is an easy way to beat the large national retailer.

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