Emphasizing Customer Service

customerTraining employees to focus on providing outstanding service and maximizing the time you spend in your own stores is an investment that always pays off.

By Jim Callahan

In the retail business there are always tasks—extremely important tasks at that—that are time consuming and we’d rather not do. It’s then that we are tempted to make excuses and move on to something else. While that may be a natural reaction, it is a recipe for disaster. Excuses are merely reasons to justify failure.

Despite great intentions and a ton of money being allocated and spent by management, many chains are missing their mark when it comes to representing their brand and providing great service.

I’m not saying that there aren’t great companies working quite hard to achieve outstanding service. QuikTrip in Oklahoma and Publix grocery stores in Florida quickly come to mind. And, I’m not saying that there are not companies whose service is not head and shoulders above what it was years ago. What I’m saying is there is still work to be done.

I’ve always believed my goal with this column is to write for small convenience store chains and independents. My goal is to provide guidance that will help them elevate their game to perform at a level that makes the industry proud. After all, great service can be a game changer even when you are going against the 800-pound gorilla whose stores are new and retail prices are clearly better. For customers, great service is a universal equalizer.
Let me give you some concrete examples of what I’m referring to and ask the question, “Will this be the year…”

That you figure out that customers don’t care how many squeegees are stolen or damaged or how much time it takes to put fresh, soapy water in the windshield buckets? They want the ability to clean their windshield when they’re filling up, not excuses.

 That c-stores realize neat, clean and well-equipped restrooms are not an option, but rather a mandate from their customers that must be met if you are to continue to earn their business?

That convenience store operators understand and feel the real frustration of motorists in a hurry (and aren’t they all?) who choose to pay at the pump and then have to go inside to obtain a receipt because the credit card reader is not working or, worse yet, is out of paper? Time-starved customers might allow one or even two occasions where they have to walk from the pumps into the store and wait in line behind the lottery customers to get their receipt. After that, they simply will not come back and you have lost them forever. Once a customer changes his loyalty to another store, for whatever reason, it’s difficult to get him back.

That smaller convenience store chains finally understand that it is simply a foolish practice not to throw out a pot of coffee every 30 minutes and brew a fresh one? Coffee must pass both the smell and taste test for any discriminating customers to keep them coming back. While we’re at it, old hot dogs on the roller grill or sandwiches past their expiration date do more damage than you will ever realize. That’s because customers take a look at them and keep walking. But keep in mind, they’re not telling you. They are, however, telling their friends. So you didn’t just lose one sale, you lost many.
It’s easy to think you are doing a great job. I urge all of you to take some time to really understand what message you are sending to your customers. Your competition is.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how good you think you are. There is always room for improvement.

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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