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Customer Service - Your Point of Differentiation?

Classical package goods training teaches that there are four elements to be considered in developing your positioning in the marketplace:

  1. Target customers
  2. Need(s) states
  3. Frame of reference
  4. Point(s) of differentiation

The first is fairly straight forward - who are the people you want to attract to your c-store. Need(s) states refer to what needs can you going to fulfill. For example, they may be hungry. Do you offer sandwiches, etc.? Frame of reference is, when customers think of you, who else do they also think of?

The final element is point(s) of differentiation. In the simplest terms – what is it in the consumer’s mind that sets your store apart from your competitors? Looked at another way – why do consumers select on c-store over another?

Research conducted by NPD reveals that "friendly employees", i.e., customer service ranks just very slightly below the price of gasoline as a reason why people select a c-store. Several of the items that ranked higher such as convenient location, in and out quickly, and the availability of gasoline are all difficult to change once the location has been built. The only other item that ranked higher (hours of operation) could also be included under the customer service umbrella.

When b2b Solutions works with its clients to help them create a corporate culture that provides a foundation for good customer service, we start with top management. Why? Because it is impossible to provide a customers with great service if the company’s culture does not value both the customer and the employee and that starts at the top.

Stated another way – how do you create that culture where employees are seen as an asset and not an expense? Let's be honest, if you don’t value people, then your people will not either.

As with many things, it's not what we say, but what we do that lets people know how we really feel. While its true that you may not be able to interact with all your employees directly, the way that you do serves as a tangible example of how you treat people and how you expect people to be treated. As a leader in your company that sends a powerful message to your organization.

If a client tells us that they have an emphasis on customer service we quickly find out is this is true or not when we tour their stores. What we do is ask questions about the store we are going to see next. If the answers we get back are about gasoline and/or store volume rather than the people, then that is a good indication that its people are not the focus of the company.

How about you? How much do you know about your people? Naturally that may depend on the size of your organization, but for those people you work with – Do you know anything about their personal lives? I am not suggesting you become best friends, but that you demonstrate how important they are to you by learning about them.

Do you recognize them for the good things they do or simply catch them and criticize them for the things that they do wrong? Do you provide them with the initial training that they need to be successful? Providing the needed training is a sure way to cut your turnover and improve your level of customer service. Yes it costs money, but companies with great customer service think of training as an investment and not an expense. I realize that we are in a business that can not afford all the benefits other employers may offer but most employees leave because they feel that they are not appreciated, and not because they are underpaid.

Bottom line – if you want your people to demonstrate good customer service, than you must treat your people well.

Real Life Example of Leading By Example
We were working with a retailer recently who is trying to build a customer service culture when an elderly lady came and stated that her tire needed air and she didn’t know what to do. The owner very quickly asked her to bring her car to where the air pump was. He took $.75 out of his pocket, paid for the air and filled the lady’s tire. I know she never knew that he paid for the air. His actions spoke volumes to that store’s staff about what he was trying to achieve with customer service.

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