A retailer needs three elements to deliver great service: a warm welcome, a magic moment and a fond farewell.
These elements are fundamental for companies like Ritz Carlton and Disney, as well as the growing chain of Waffle House restaurants. Disney, of course, has been a leader in customer service for decades, having more or less mastered the art of dazzling millions upon millions of park visitors, moviegoers and consumers each year. Waffle House, for its part, has made itself a national icon in less than half a century by focusing on customer service and the "Good Food Fast" concept.
So here’s a thought: If this unsurpassed excellence and commitment to customer satisfaction is the cornerstone of places like Disney and Waffle House, why can’t it be the basis for convenience stores as well?
I personally experienced this service-oriented approach at a recent golf outing at Sage Valley Country Club, 11 miles northeast of Augusta, Ga. Management at the club requires certain principles from every employee, what they refer to as striving to deliver a "WOW" Factor to every guest.
At Sage Valley, the "WOW" begins the moment a customer steps foot onto the property and continues until the time they leave. As a result, the customer walks away feeling good about their experience. More importantly, they’re eager to return.
This got me thinking about the convenience market and what our segment is doing to ensure a "WOW" experience for its customers. Competition has never been more intense; whether you’re competing with another c-store across the street, a drug store next door or a new QSR that’s conveniently offering an energy drink, you are trying to lure customers into your store every single day.
What "WOW" do you offer to ensure the customer makes your store their premiere convenience destination?
Aside from physical competition, we’re all too aware of exorbitant credit card fees, high fuel prices and stifling taxes and regulation on tobacco sales. Foodservice is one way to ensure your customers have you on their destination list. After all, if you have a foodservice offering you’re proud of, it puts you in the "hospitality" industry, therefore you must view yourself as such, or you run the risk of being pigeon-holed as a location (not a destination) offering no creativity or the usual "same old same old" products.
By focusing on hospitality, you’ll ensure your employees say "hello" and "thank you" every time a customer enters and leaves. That small act will inspire many to become lifetime customers. What’s the downside to making a customer feel good?
Some stores excel at offering this "WOW" factor but most, unfortunately, fall horribly short. The convenience market is targeting soccer moms, Hispanics, older consumers and other growing demographics, while at the same time retaining their core customers with strong national brands and new offerings. An energetic, polite and
friendly staff will go a long way to ensure your customers feel appreciated–and it’ll keep them coming back.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well: A notable absence of customer service and or factors that induce a "WOW" experience can detract from the overall visit, which will inevitably lead to fewer return visits and a disloyal consumer base. In some cases, trying to give a store my money is viewed as a burden to a poorly trained cashier. But I don’t blame the employee as much as I do management for not training them properly.
There’s nothing simple about running a successful foodservice operation. But shooting for a big "WOW "—or a small one—will go a long ways to ensuring you set yourself apart from the guy down the street. If it works for Ritz, Disney and Waffle House, it can work for you.