Customer Service rules

I’m constantly astonished by the lack of customer service in today’s retail world. Forget for a moment the fact that brand’s live digitally and more effort needs to be poured into online management. I’m talking about in store, B2C – F2F customer service, its not hard. Really…Its not. I’ve worked retail and I can honestly tell you that to build loyalty requires a bare minimum of effort and a short list traits that will define a customer experience. Let me give you an example.

Recently, in search of some supplies to fix a plumbing issue at home, I went to my local Home Depot. Until recently they were my ‘go to’ on anything as it is the closest hardware store and generally they have what I want.  I walked in on a Saturday morning looking for some immediate help given that water was pouring across my garage floor after a pipe had burst in the garage.  As a pretty savvy and independent minded consumer, I found my way to the plumbing aisle and without hesitation picked up some of the supplies required to finish the job.  My long list however, fell short of 3 necessary items that I was certain they would carry.  So I asked an ‘associate’ where I might find them – my first interaction was a burly “I don’t know anything, I work in that section, I can’t help you“.

The store wasn’t busy, surprisingly for a Saturday so I found another associate lurking about and in spite of trying to avoid me, I tracked him down and asked him. “Do you work in plumbing?” His answer, “yeah, why?” Undeterred, I went through my list of items – to which, he started at me and said, “I don’t know what that is”. Again, to the best of my knowledge these weren’t obscure items, I just couldn’t find them in their inventory.  So persisting, I asked if he could help me find them.  He reluctantly agreed and even took the initiative to enlist the support of another associate.

They milled about, talked about sports and what they had done the night before (and yes, I was standing right there) and with barely a word of my needs, they just said – “no, you’ll have to go to a ‘specialty’ store, we don’t carry whatever you’re looking for“. I protested and mentioned that they hadn’t even moved out of the same aisle. No thought to call someone more senior for their input. Keeping in mind that I was standing with a cart full of about $250 worth of ‘stuff’ (not all of it was plumbing mind you).  So I left it with them and went home to check on the water situation.

While home, I decided that instead of wandering over and wasting another hour, I would call the next closest hardware store – Rona. I was a bit suspicious they would have what I needed as they are only about 1/3 the size of the Home Depot near me. They answered the phone (which was remarkable) and the gentleman I spoke with said he wasn’t able to help me at that moment as he has 5 customers lined up (disappointing, but I appreciate his prioritization) but if I left my name and number, he would be happy to call me back (I wasn’t holding my breath), but I did. I took the time to research ‘specialty plumbing stores within a 30 minute drive and plotted out what I could do in the short term.  To my shock, five minutes later, the same guy called me back from Rona. He said he had what we needed, had put it aside at the cash and would be happy to show me how to use the items.

I picked them up about 20 minutes later and he happened to be at the cash helping another customer. He introduced himself and thanked me for the business. I collected the gear he had stowed away for me (which in total was only about $50 worth of stuff) and proceeded to buy another $250 worth of stuff.  I happened to find the department manager in my travels and mentioned the great service I got from his staff and his response really stunned me. He said ‘we really value our customers’.  It was clear from how they prioritize and engage consumers that the little things matter, and they understand that.

Positive experience = return visits.  My house is no different from the average house.  Typically the average household spends 1% of value on repairs and maintenance each year, which is how the Home Depots, Rona’s and others make a good business.   Creating relationships with your customers however is a great way of getting the all important return visit.  Engage customers, ask how you can help – train your staff with these same values. Sales go up.

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