Beat the competition on Customer Service not by discounts!

A personal Customer Journey experience: During the planning of my Asia-Pacific trip I decided to buy a real back pack. The last 10 years I have travelled with a trolley to all parts of the world from Seattle to Hong Kong and from all-in resorts to cozy hostels in the jungle of Indonesia. Last year we travelled to Koh Lipe, a real cast away but to get to this bounty island we had to face heavy storms of the Andaman Sea during the monsoon season. Long story short: my trolley drowned on deck and the salty water did the rest of the work afterwards. So time to shop online for a new travel buddy. And there is where my customer journey began.

I decided to go for a back pack because it is easier to travel with during train rides and the number of hikes I expect to face. Starting point: GOOGLE. The information I was looking for I found on several community sites about back packing and travelling. Critical was the fit of the back pack to your back, the size and price ranges. Due the fact I wanted a descent product I did not want to buy it online, so I searched for the so called ‘brick and mortar’. For me it was important that these stores were located near my apartment. I picked out 3 stores, 2 ‘franchises’ and 1 ‘family owned’ specialist in outdoor gear.

The first store was one of the larger retailers in The Netherlands focusing on sports and had a medium range of back packs available online. Entering the store I searched for the outdoor section which was easy to find. However the range of back packs was significantly smaller compared to the online environment. (now at this point no staff member approached me or welcomed me in the shop: did I missed it, not really because I like to shop off the radar but when I need help I will look up with an ‘ask for help look’ and I want to be offered help immediately without asking, I don’t like to ask questions I just want the retailer to answer the questions I have in my head and at this point I wasn’t sure if I was even noticed) I was there with my wife and she is a different kind of customer (approaching staff members for help, keen to ask all the questions with the expectation to receive a satisfying answer). To be honest this store already lost me after seeing the product range which showed me this is not a specialist however… I was with my wife and she started to ask questions (the same as I had popping up in my head). Now these questions were already answered by the Google search journey but naturally we as customers are looking for confirmation and will challenge you as a retailer to show your expertise. When you can’t advise me on the same level as the internet does you lost us. This happened with the first store. Telling us that we need a larger back pack when we are travelling longer… Thank you! I won’t buy a backpack from you nor will I come back for other sporting goods in the near future because this was just not good. OK, unless I save a lot of money for a product which don’t come with a certain level of expertise. Sorry you won’t be the store of which I think of for my next purchase.

The next store I visited was the family owned business which I did not visited before. The website showed a great range of outdoor gear including back packs. This retailer positioned itself as the outdoor expert. Entering the shop we were friendly welcomed by several staff members, despite the fact it was busy in the shop. First points were already in the pocket: I was noticed. Driven by curiosity I walked the complete shop looking at all the different products. Because you never know what will become handy during my travels. Finally we entered the back pack zone and it was better as expected. Naturally we lowered the expectations due the experience in the first store. And after a couple of minutes a friendly staff member approached us by the book: eye contact, smile and asked us what we were looking for. Almost without noticing the staff member builds up a rapport. We were asked why we needed a back pack, how long we will travel, which countries to visit and when we were leaving. With this information he shows interest, gains trust and received input for upselling. Now the sales man can transform to the advisor. We ended up spending a good hour in the store receiving all the information we needed and even shared travel experiences (turned out the advisor travelled 4 months across Australia). Within the hour there was no moment we talked about prices. We discussed designs, sizes and most important: we found the right back pack. The color I wanted was not available so unfortunately ‘mine’ must be ordered with a lead time of 6 weeks. Since we wanted to visit the 3rd store we did not closed the deal however the advisor noted the type and sizes so it was just one call to the store if we wanted to order. He was not disappointed and walked us to the exit. Just for your memory: this was on a Saturday afternoon and the shop was really busy. Receiving this service must have something to do with it.

With a big smile we entered the last store, and due the good service in the second store our expectations were raised. The last store was a national retailer focused on outdoor activities. First impression: no customers in the store, well organized and 4 staff members talking to each other at the back of the shop. No welcome by the team and we decided to go directly to the back pack zone. Same impressive wall with back packs and both back packs were available in the right color for the same price. At this point a sales person offered help and my wife decided to check if she received the right advice on the size of the back pack in the last store. The sales person just answered the question with: there is only 1 size. My wife explained that she tried 2 sizes before, which she did. However this sales person told her that this can’t be the case with a pedantic tone. A discussion started… which you should never do with your customers. Despite the fact both products were available we left the store without anything and not planning to shop from any of the stores in the country.

At this point we had two options: order the back packs online which were cheaper and in stock or purchase it from the family owned business. Due the perfect service and the experiences in the other store I called the second store to place the order. Despite the price difference and lead time. The goodwill created during the sales process made me happy to spend more and wait for my back pack. Due the expertise and the good conversation I trusted the company to deliver on time and if something was not right I trust a satisfying solution will be offered.

Few weeks later I visited the store again to collect my back pack however the product was not arrived yet and due to arrive a week later. The smaller size was available in the same color and since I did not want to go back to the store again I mentioned that I will purchase the smaller one, which was cheaper and sufficient to store all my clothing anyway. The same sales person helped me again and before he asked if we needed more products he apologized multiple times. He offered me a flight bag for free which I could use for extra storage as well. Which I found creative and a good gesture. This investment ended up in an upsell of 4 extra products which we did not intent to purchase or planned to buy on the road.

I left the store satisfied and would recommend my network to go to the family owned store but never go to the last store.

Learning lessons:

  1. Due the internet our customers are becoming experts! Nowadays all the information (i.e. specifications, prices and reviews) you used to give to your customers they already found online upon entering your store!
  2. Know your different customers and take care of them. First impression counts and all customers deserve the same level of attention.
  3. Do what you say. If you communicate a wide product range on your website you should have it on your shelves especially when it comes to ‘try-before-you-buy’ products.
  4. Competition will have effect on expectations. So do not forget to visit the competitors on and off line.
  5. Build a rapport first before you go for a sale. You will gain trust and at the end you have gathered data to upsell related products.
  6. Recruit staff members which have affinity with the products and can connect to your customers. In the example: customers buying a back pack are using this to travel, hire a traveler! The experience will add extra value to the sales process.
  7. Never ever start a negative discussion with your customer! You will be disliked immediately, not sell anything and you will receive negative reviews.
  8. Why distinguish your store on pricing? Use Customer Service to beat the competition!
  9. Customers will be loyal to you when you treat them right.
  10. A solution to a problem can have a positive effect on your brand image and sales when handled the right way.

Feel free to leave a comment and/or contact me! Let me know what you like to read or how I can support you!

Happy selling,

Frank Maail

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