Visiting the Nope Store: Why Small Isn’t (Always) Beautiful

by Barry Moltz on June 3, 2011

Today’s guest post is from Richard Gallagher, one of the nation’s leading experts on workplace communications skills.

“Early one morning this week, on a business trip to a major city, I was desperately looking for a power cable for my dying cell phone.  So I rushed in to a small retailer who happened to be open at that hour, and made a beeline for the front counter.  For a very long time, the person sitting there typed away at his computer without looking up.  Finally he turned to me with a wordless deep sigh.  I politely asked if they had an iPhone cable.  With a scowl that could curdle milk, he said, “Nope” and turned back to his computer.

Places like The Nope Store aren’t just hurting their own business.  They are hurting yours too.  Because we all carry around a running narrative of our own customer experiences.  And sadly, my own narrative includes too many small businesses who have Mr. Nope’s social skills.  Or act way too desperate for me to buy something.  Or look at me like I have three heads when I want a problem made right.  Which is why far too often, I look at businesses like yours and say, “Nope.”

Small businesses are frankly at a disadvantage in the service game.  So how can yours fight back in a way that gets (and keeps) customers like me?  Here’s how:

First, train like the big guys.

I can guess how you feel about big box stores.  That’s OK.  But please understand that their average employee likely knows more (and probably a lot more) about service than you do.  The first thing most chains know is that service is a skill, not just an attitude. Most of us simply aren’t born with the right words to say in critical customer situations.

Employees of big companies aren’t always perfect.  But they have often been trained, and sometimes trained a great deal.  (I know, because I’ve trained some of them.)  You and your team need to do the same.  Even if you can’t afford formal training, you can still buy books, read articles, and put it on the agenda of your team meetings.  Either way it is honestly one of the least expensive things you can do for your bottom line.

Second, have a plan to out-service your big competitors.  Every day.

Have you ever been to Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Connecticut?  They stock dramatically fewer items than most stores, and they aren’t in the most convenient location.  So why are they so successful?  Simple.  Their milk is incredibly creamy and delicious, and their people are always incredibly friendly.  Oh, and being serenaded by mechanical cows in the aisles doesn’t hurt either.  So what sets your customer experience apart?

Third, don’t just serve people – totally blow them away.

In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, there is a spot near the beach where you are overwhelmed with the aroma of freshly cooking fudge, and then you are handed a sample of it as soon as you walk in the door.  How could you not walk away with, say, $20 worth of fudge after an experience like this?  Let’s put it this way, I would never imagine myself getting fudge at Wal-Mart next time I’m in Rehoboth Beach.

Do you think you can succeed in today’s economy without learning to manage your own service moments?  Here is my opinion: Nope.

Rich Gallagher is a former customer service executive and trained therapist, his eight books include the national #1 customer service bestseller What to Say to a Porcupine and his latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work.

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