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Small Business Q & A: Writing The Book On Great Customer Service

Q: One of the big chain ... recently opened up near my small book store. Already I can see my business starting to decline. Is there anything I can do to compete with the bigger store or should

Q: One of the big chain bookstores recently opened up near my small
book store. Already I can see my business starting to decline.
Is there anything I can do to compete with the bigger store or
should I just accept the inevitable?
-- Peter Q.

A: A wise man once said, "The inevitable is never a sure thing."

Don't be so quick to close the book on your business, Peter. You
probably can't compete with the superstore on volume of inventory
or on price, but there are other things you can do to help keep
the customers coming in your door. One of the best ways to ensure
customer loyalty is to offer superior customer service.

It's funny that you're a bookseller. Let me tell you about my last
visit to one of the big chain bookstores just a few weeks ago.

I took my teenage daughter in to find the classic book, The Once
and Future King, for a school project that has to be done over the
summer. It was a Sunday afternoon and the store was crawling with
customers. We spent fifteen minutes scouring this great warehouse
of a bookstore, but couldn't find the book anywhere. We also
couldn't find anyone who worked there to ask for help.

Finally, I went up to the front counter and asked the apathetic
looking teenager who was manning the register if they had the book
in stock. She looked at me as if I'd asked her to do advanced calculus
in her head and said, "I dunno."

I asked if she might check her computer for me. She looked at me
again, this time as if I'd just asked her to rotate the tires on my
car without a jack. After a minute of tapping the keys with her
long fingernails (which were painted black, by the way) she said,
"Yeah, we have it."

"Great," I said. "Where can I find it?"

She glanced at the screen again and said, "It says that it's in the
classics section."

"Great," I said again. I use the word "great" a lot when I'm trying
to restrain myself from strangling incompetent sales people. "Where
might the classics section be?"

She didn't bother to look at me or the computer this time. She just
shrugged and said, "Beats me, man. I've only worked her a week. "

I wanted to ask if there was anyone who had worked there long enough
to know where the ^%$# classics section was, but by that time there
were a dozen or so people lining up behind me to pay for books they
had somehow managed to find on their own.

I went home and ordered the book online. So much for supporting my
local bookseller.

It's a shame your store isn't located near me, Peter. I'll bet if
I walked in and asked for a copy of The Once and Future King you
would be able to tell me almost to the square inch where the book
is on the shelf in your store. I'll also bet that if you didn't
have a copy in stock you would go out of your way to order it for me.

That is what superior customer service is all about: going the extra
mile to satisfy your customer. That is what will keep customers
coming back to your store time and time again.

Superior customer service leads to greater customer satisfaction,
which leads to repeat business, which leads to the holy grail of
the retail business: customer loyalty.

Here are a few tips on how to deliver superior customer service
and build customer loyalty:

1.Anyone on your staff who deals directly with the customers
should be well groomed and dressed appropriately for the job.
Customers over 25 years old will not get a warm and fuzzy feeling
if the guy processing their credit card is wearing an Ozzy Osborne
tee-shirt and matching nose ring.

2.Sales people should be knowledgeable about the product they are
selling. I can't tell you how many times I have asked a sales person
a simple question and only got a blank stare in return. A lack of
product knowledge does nothing to instill confidence in the customer.

3.Your staff should know where every product is without having to
ask a manager or consult a computer. At the very least they should
be able to point out the ^%$# classics section without blinking an

4.Make it a point to know your customer's name. Nothing makes a
customer feel special like the sound of his or her own name. You
can't remember everyone's name, of course, but you should strive to
remember the names of those customers who come in regularly. I f
requent one particular restaurant and the owner not only knows my
name, but the names of my wife and kids. And every time I set foot
in his restaurant he calls me by name and shakes my hand and personally
leads me to a table. I don't feel like a customer. I feel like
a friend.

5.Offer personal services that the big boys do not. Anything you
can do to make your customer's life easier will be appreciated and
remembered. If a customer comes in and asks for a book you do not
have, offer to order the book and deliver it to their home so they
don't have to make another trip to pick it up. All this is going
to cost you is a few minutes of your time and you will not only
save a sale, but also make a lasting impression on that customer.
The next time they need a book they will head your way.

There are other things you can do to combat the bookstore Goliath,
Peter, but offering superior customer service is a great place to

Here's to your success!

Tim Knox
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Article Tags: Superior Customer Service, Customer Service, Superior Customer, Classics Section

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Tim Knox as the president and CEO of two successful technology
companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring management software
company; and Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company.
Tim is also the founder of, an ebusiness
dedicated to the success of online entrepreneurs.

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