Many a small business has fallen prey to the commoditized nature of businesses like Walmart and Amazon. As difficult as it may be to coexist with such behemoths, it is perfectly doable. The trick to succeeding is to shift your focus from trying to excel on all levels to excelling primarily on one important point: customer service. After all, there is no way that you can hope to offer lower prices than these types of businesses; you’re not going to be able to offer your customers the dizzying array of options that these retailers can, either. To set yourself apart and run a truly profitable and successful business, you have to be a shining star in the world of customer service.
Filling your shelves with merchandise and setting up a cash register aren’t nearly enough to cement your odds of success. If someone is giving your store a chance instead of sticking with the big guys, he must be open to giving you his business. In most cases, those who wander into independent, small 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. There are many great strategies that you can use to stand out in this department, and a few of them are outlined below.
Emphasize Your Store’s Unique Offerings
Major corporate retailers excel at offering rock-bottom prices and enormous selections of goods. Beyond that, though, the playing field is remarkably level. In fact, you hold many distinct advantages that you should emphasize in order to earn repeat business. For one thing, the process of requesting a special-order item at a major store is cumbersome and frustrating; make it easy and hassle-free at your store. For another, huge 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
At most, the employees of a huge store like Walmart are able to help customers to locate specific items within their stores. If you were to ask such an employee for specific information about any given product, however, most would have little to offer beyond blank stares. As enormous as such stores are they simply can’t educate their employees about each and every item. You can score many points here, then, by becoming an expert on everything that you sell. Walk each customer through the process of finding just the right thing, and be at the ready to offer your advice and assistance whenever it is needed. People remember that kind of service and will reward it by returning again and again.
Build Relationships with Your Customers
If you’re the type of person who has a knack for remembering 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 that. If that skill doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to keep a small notebook handy; jot notes about various 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 is nonexistent 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 heeded. If you keep hearing the same comments and suggestions over and over again, though, you should try to act on them. If someone gives you constructive criticism and returns to see that you’ve done something about it, they will be impressed. Their esteem for 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 With 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 nil isn’t going to make things better. Most people understand that they are going to pay a little more to enjoy the superior service of a small business. Play up that angle 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 staying power.