Customer service, the other perspective

In surveys conducted by BIGresearch independent retailers have always rated higher than their big box competitors for delivering better customer service. This has been one of the distinctions that the independent could look to as a competitive advantage. This past weekend I had two experiences that kind of contradicted this belief. I decided to start my annual spring yard cleanup and spread mulch in the flower beds.

I went to a local garden center to purchase a black mulch that contained Preen. They decided not carry the product this year for some reason so I want to one the big box home centers. I calculated that I needed seventeen bags and  my goal was to make one trip. Fitting seventeen bags of mulch in a standard sedan was going to be challenge. The home center keeps all the mulch outside which makes it easy to load a vehicle, however there was no mulch with Preen outside when I got there. One the clerks noticed I needed help from that point wowed me. He jumped on fork lift and brought a pallet of Preen over to  my car. The next trick was to get seventeen bags in the car, a challenge he willing accepted. He worked with me for about fifteen minutes until we finally got them loaded. When I offered him a tip he refused saying ” it’s part of the service. I don’t if he was exception but he was exceptional.

The second incident is more of a study in human behavior. My wife and I went out to dinner before going to movie. We went to national chain located near the movie theater. The pace was packed but we managed to find two seats at the bar.  We ordered a drink and our food order. There was couple sitting next to us that seemed to be having a few issues. They called the bartender over a number of times to complain about one of their drinks. He obliged and  made another drink. When their got their food this set off another round of complaints. The women had misread the menu and order the wrong entre. Again the accommodated her and replaced her meal  which didn’t end the complaints. I think you get the picture. Once they left I remarked to the bartender that it seemed as though nothing was going to satisfy them but the made a valiant effort . He shrugged his shoulders and said ” my goal when this type of thing happens is to lessen the damage as much as possible”. I try to think like the owner of the business and not have a negative customer experience affect the other customers. I’m empowered to do what I have to do to resolve most complaints.

My takeaway is that the big guys understand the “new empowered consumerism” are making great strides to dispel the belief that they can’t deliver class “A” customer service. Social media has created a form for customers to get their opinions heard. The independent still has the edge but if their not careful they may cede ground and an important tactical advantage they have over the big boxes.  Have your employees think like an owner and consider the consumer’s perspective. Empower them to resolve problems on the spot.