Improving Customer Service in the New Year

As the calendar turns to 2013, convenience store retailers should embrace the challenge of exceeding their customers’ expectations.

By Jim Callahan.

Let’s face it, the great majority of us struggle miserably to drive sales during the very first week of each New Year. Here’s a resolution that every retailer can wrap his arms around—one that is really needed and one we can succeed at all year long. Nothing is more critical to the success of a convenience store than taking our customer service from good to great. Unfortunately, nothing is more lacking in retail as a whole than great customer service.  

As the economy has struggled, employee hours have been cut or workers have been laid off, and the remaining staff are being asked to take on additional responsibilities. I think we all recognize that this presents a difficult challenge.

Go the Extra Mile
Sometimes all you need to connect with your customers is some compassion and a little smarts. Here are two stories that show great service doesn’t require a great amount of effort.

On a Sunday night in November we had 11 over-the-road drivers in our small driver’s lounge at a store outside Atlanta. They were watching Sunday night football and were generally in a good mood chatting, clapping and debating the intricacies of the game. To show my support for what they do everyday, I surprised them each with a bag of fresh-popped popcorn, which cost me a total of $4.

You cannot believe the sheer joy that those 11 drivers verbally and facially expressed.  They felt appreciated and respected, and you can bet that they will share that experience with other drivers in the future. My generosity paid off as most of them got up to purchase a bottle of water or juice.

Respect All Around
Less than 30 minutes later, as I was leaving the store, I noticed that both the Little Debbie rack and the Krispy Kreme doughnut display needed to be straightened out. I enjoy doing things like this because they are quick and simple and because you get to observe the success of your efforts immediately.  

When I was done, a young female customer carrying her items to the front counter walked by me and apparently didn’t realize I was associated with the store. Without breaking stride she cupped her hand to her mouth and said, “I’d try QuikTrip. They are less than 1,000 feet away and they have the greatest pastries ever.”

I followed her to the door and said, “You mean you don’t like our fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts?”  She was a little embarrassed, but instead of making her feel bad, I said “I agree with you, QT is a fine company with wonderful pastries. I like them too.”  

I thanked her for her business and told her how much we appreciated it as we walked to the door. I noticed that her Toyota Camry was quite dirty so I said, “I have a gift for you.”  I handed her an Ultimate Touch Free Car Wash coupon with an $8 value (but an actual cost of around $1.70. ) She was absolutely ecstatic and said, “My car is so dirty. I needed something nice to happen to me today. You’ve made my day.”

The point is you will never get anywhere by knocking the competition, no matter how much of a thorn in your side they are. In fact, you shouldn’t even debate the competition with your customers, especially if they have a firm opinion about another store. Instead, stay real and stay believable.  

John Wanamaker famously said, “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.” In this case, we can be assured that the $1.70 investment was well worth it.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan502@msn.com.

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