The quality of your customer service is a critical point of differentiation and strategic advantage between you and your larger competitors.
Last spring, I went shopping for a something to re-stain our deck with. When I built the deck, my wife and I had chosen mahogany as the decking material. It's a little more expensive, but we really liked the look of mahogany and the fact that it's resistant to splitting and splintering. But the first product I had stained it with, a nationally branded product, failed to penetrate the wood and had worn away in a matter of months.
I went to our local big box home center looking for both another stain, and a little advice. As it turned out, I ended up with neither. After speaking to several salespeople who tried to steer me back to the stain that I had originally used, I finally found another who told me, "Mahogany is tough. We really don't have anything for mahogany."
My story has a happy ending, however. I decided to visit a local paint and wallpaper store. When I told the owner my story, he agreed that mahogany was tough, but then showed me a product made just for exotic hardwoods like mahogany. It was more expensive, but he explained in great detail how it was made to penetrate the tight fibers of mahogany, showed me a variety of samples, and gave me detailed instructions on how to apply it for the best results.
I was sold, and the bottom line is that today our deck looks fabulous. And it's a vivid example of how small local retailers can compete against the largest national retailers: specialized niche products, in depth product knowledge and a fanatical commitment to customer service.
So, how's your customer service?
Like me, your customers don't come to you so much for a specific product as much as to solve a problem. That's an important distinction between large retailers and many small specialty retailers. Customers go to large retailers to buy things, but they go to small retailers to gather information, solve problems, and only then to buy things.
Here's a quick checklist to use as a starting point for thinking about your customer service:
Jeffrey Gitomer entitled his bestseller on customer service Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty Is Priceless. He's not subtle in driving his point home. As a small retailer, the quality of your customer service is a critical point of differentiation and strategic advantage between you and your larger competitors. A commitment to fanatical customer service insures not just customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty, the commitment on their part to return to your store again and again.