c-store, convenience store, Convenience, Convenient Store, c-store consultancy,c-store consulting, c-store consultant,c-store consultants, Convenient Store Consultants, gas stations, marketing strategy, marketing plans

Does Your Service Put A Smile On The Customers Face?

There have been numerous memorable quotes on customer service which I believe is much broader and should really be called the "total customers shopping experience". I believe that in 1912 Leon Leonwood Bean recognized this when he said "Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more". But even today saying it is always much, much easier that providing it. Yet there are companies like L.L. Bean, Saturn and Nordstom’s that customers recognize as being best in class in terms of providing superior customer service year after year after year.

After looking at several of these best in class companies I have come to the conclusion that providing outstanding customer service is the all encompassing mission of their whole organization. Every department within a c-store company impacts the customer’s total shopping experience. These companies recognize this and start by defining what "customer expectations" are today and then re-define or create what the customers should expect them to be. They replace the negatives with positives. Keep in mind that customer expectations are all encompassing and include price, quality, the buyer seller interaction at point of sale and the companies' willingness to stand behind and in some cases dispose of what they sell. In all cases customers and the customer experience is unique to the industry in that the industry in total has trained customers as to what to expect.

For instance, prior to Car Max and Saturn many customers expected that they would need to "haggle" over the price of a car they wished to purchase. The buyer seller relationship had already been established by the industry and the expectations set based on past experience. The buying of the car is the first act or interaction the customer has with the company and for many customers it was an unpleasant experience to say the least. It may even set the customers expectations for all future interactions with the company. If their initial contact was negative some may expect that the next contact may be negative as well.

Every time the customer comes in contact with anyone in the company they continue to form impressions which will eventually define their attitudes toward the company in total. If the first contact was positive they are predisposed and may anticipate more positive interactions will occur in the future. Once attitudes are formed changing them or causing attitudinal change is difficult.

The above examples of Car Max and Saturn are examples of companies that changed the rules in their respective industry and set new customer expectations by eliminating a negative.

I believe that every industry has the opportunity to eliminate negatives relative to the customer’s total shopping experience and develop brand advocates. Who knows in today’s high tech world these brand advocates may go as far as to set up positive blogs that put their favorite stores up for the world to see. They are already out there. Check out I Love WaWa on MySpace.com or We love Wawa on Livejournal.com.

Up till now I have intentionally not addressed the convenience store industry specifically. However, the industry has already trained current and to some degree future customers as to what to expect relative to their total shopping experience. I believe that the total shopping experience varies significantly based on where the stores are located, the products sold, the prices charged and the level of service received.

Are people just friendlier in the South or just plain busier in the Northeast. What constitutes making a reasonable profit and what is a reasonable price. It’s hard to make a customer feel good about their total experience in a store if they believe they paid too much for the value they received. What expectations do customers have in terms of customer service in Dallas versus New Jersey? Is speed as important everywhere or is it more important to establish a bond or a personal relationship with the customer? I do believe that there are attributes that are more important and expected based on the cultural and sub-cultural influences across the country. I also believe that customer service is just a part of the total shopping experience and if everything else in the store is not in order, the mere fact that the sales associate was fast and friendly will never be recognized by the consumer and the store will not receive credit for the investment that was made in training its people.

The first point of contact in the c-store industry is similar to most other retail based businesses the sales associate. I believe that no company can spend too much when it comes to screening and hiring the right individuals. First and foremost the company must determine what its looking for in a sales associate. I also believe that everything else must be in order in terms of price selection and quality of product before you try to measure your customer’s opinion or better yet their perception of how well you serve them. Serve is just a part of service. It's more than being fast and friendly. I think that Leon Leonwood Bean just may have had it right back in 1912.

Return to Reference Materials Page»