Make Your Staff the Difference

April 21, 2017

Chris Peterson published an article last year titled 7 Reasons Why Traditional Retailers Are Struggling, which covers some of the mistakes retailers are making in the face of online competition.  Number seven on that list, “Associates are treated as an expense … not as a strategic differentiator” is something we’ll expound upon here.

As Chris notes, “Even with all of the widgets and rich content on websites, consumers still report that they go to their favorite stores because the people make the difference.”  In other words, there’s a lot to be said for human interaction.  Animated graphics and other “eye-candy” on websites do not provide any genuine customer service, and that is the single greatest defense against shop-on-price consumerism.

After all, without the overhead of a physical retail presence, many of these digital storefronts can win just about any battle in a price war.  Amazon will always be able to beat your local bookseller in a race to the lowest price.  This can be especially problematic for a business that sells a commodity, something it doesn’t create itself.  If Campbell’s soup is half the price when ordered online or purchased from a big box retailer, how’s a small grocer to compete?

And yet many small businesses do compete, and even thrive in this environment.  There are many good differentiators out there, from having products that customers can demo in-store (unlike on a webpage) to selling a specialty item or valued-added service that a larger company or website wouldn’t engage in.  But as Chris’s seventh point illustrates, your employees are a profoundly important hallmark that will allow you business to stand apart from sellers who not only sell commodified goods and services, but who also peddle in commodified customer service.

If labor costs aren’t a business’s largest expense, it’s probably its second largest, especially when you factor in training.  And this is for good reason because having a great staff will empower your business to be able to offer great customer service, to offer a personal touch that seems so rare these days.  In an age when so many products and services are one-size-fits-all, there’s never been a better opportunity to tailor the customer experience into something unique.  Something special.

Every person who buys a book from Amazon will have nearly the exact experience: type the title or author in the search bar; see the book in the results list; select it and click add-to-cart; and check-out.  A couple days later or so, that product will probably show up in a brown box.

But the experience of going into a local bookseller, one where the customer has an opportunity to engage with an employee to discuss how good this one book is with you, or what are some similar books you might enjoy because you like that author, and so on.  Opportunities for upselling something as quaint as a bookmarker or a clever refrigerator magnet with a literary quote become possible.

Standout customer service — that is to say, personalized service — is why many small businesses still succeed in today’s economy.  Even the Campbell’s soup purchaser will buy from the small grocer if the guy in produce is ready to help pick out the best bunches of spinach and offer a creative suggestion on how to cook it.

In short, invest in your staff.  Hire good people and train them well.  At the start, the expense will seem high.  But in the long run, the customer loyalty and business growth this buys will make it a worthy investment.

To find out more on how to train your staff and measure their performance to ensure you’re offering a great, personalized experience to every customer, contact us at The Brandt Group and we’ll help you tailor a program that fits your needs.

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