In my last post I wrote about businesses becoming commodities and how to prevent this by creating a Unique Value Proposition (UVP) for your store. Many small stores have suffered trying to compete with larger chains. Even though it’s difficult, a smaller store can coexist with, or even outperform a chain. The trick is to shift your focus from trying to excel at everything to excelling primarily on one important point: customer service. There is no way that you can hope to offer lower prices than these businesses; you simply can’t buy at the same cost or in the same quantities. To set yourself apart and run a truly profitable and successful business, you have to set your store apart by excelling in customer service.
Put Customer Service First:
Simply stocking your shelves and setting up a cash register aren’t enough to earn success in retail. If someone is giving your store a chance, he must be open to giving you his business. In many cases, customers who enter small, independent businesses do so because they’re looking for a more personalized level of service; many times, they’re also eager to support the local economy. Show them that they have made the right choice by providing consistently superior service. Here are some strategies that you can use to stand out in this department.
- Emphasize Your Store’s Unique Offerings
Large corporate retailers excel at offering rock-bottom prices and a vast selection of products. Beyond that, though, the playing field is remarkably level. In fact, you have many distinct advantages that you should emphasize to earn repeat business. For one thing, the process of requesting a special-order item at a major store is difficult and frustrating; make it easy and hassle-free at your store. For another, corporate retailers rarely offer free samples and hardly ever provide a lot of interactivity. Make those services the cornerstones of your business, and you are sure to attract plenty of positive attention.
- Become a Trusted Advisor
Usually, the employees of larger chains are able to help customers to locate certain items within their stores, but if you were to ask that employee for specific information about any given product, they probably wouldn’t be able to offer much help. Those stores simply can’t educate their employees about each and every item. You will score points by becoming an expert on everything that you sell. Be a trusted advisor, and guide each customer through the process of finding just the right item, and be at the ready to offer your advice and assistance whenever it is needed. People remember that kind of service and reward it by returning again and again.
- Build Relationships with Your Customers
If you have the ability to remember names and faces, you’re way ahead of the game when it comes to building relationships with your customers. People love being remembered, so make an effort to do it. If this skill doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to keep a small notebook handy; jot notes about different customers into the notebook to increase the odds of remembering who they are. People will be flattered that you remember them and will look forward to returning to your store in the future – and that kind of service does not exist at major retailers.
- Act on Comments and Suggestions
Some major retailers have comment cards that can be filled out to provide comments and suggestions. Few people bother to use them, though, because they know that their advice won’t be taken. If you keep hearing the same comments and suggestions over and over again, though, try to act on them. If someone gives you constructive criticism and then returns to see that you’ve done something about it, they will be impressed. Their opinion of your store will skyrocket, and you can expect to see them a lot more in the future.
- Encourage Social Media Interaction
It never hurts to take your top-notch service out of the store and onto the Internet. In fact, it’s a great way to bring your service to a whole new level. Set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Maintain profiles on Yelp and Google Places. Let your customers know that they can find you online. You could even encourage them to do so by offering incentives. Knowing that there’s one extra way to get in touch with you will enhance your image to your customers considerably.
Stand Above the Rest by Providing Exceptional Service
The road to retail success isn’t easy, and the unfortunate truth is a lot of small businesses don’t make it. All too often, it is because their focus was in the wrong place. Cutting your profit margin to practically nothing won’t make things better. Most people understand that they are going to pay a little more to enjoy the superior service of a small business. Work from your strengths and do your best to differentiate yourself from the big guys in a positive way. With superior customer service, you’re a lot more likely to enjoy real long-term retail success.