For many years I taught business communication at Western Nevada College, and in each class I would ask students to recall their best and worst customer service experiences. As you might imagine, no one had a loss for words. Recently, the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce announced their Locals First campaign. I think this is a great effort to remind Valley residents to shop local, but if local businesses really want to be successful, they need to remember that customer service is a key component. So here are some ways that local retail businesses can compete with the big box stores and the internet.
First, service should always come with a friendly greeting. A smile and a genuine offer to provide assistance will go a long way. This doesn't mean you have to hover over the customer, but let them know you're there if needed. You should even smile when talking to customers on the phone. Even though they can't see it, the friendly tone of your voice will reflect it.
Second, the customers in the store take precedence over the phone. Just recently, I went into a small store in Carson Valley, and the woman behind the counter was on her cell phone the whole time I was in the store. Not once, did she ever even make eye contact with me, so I left.
Third, refrain from using the word "no" unless it is followed by the word "problem." If something is out of stock, offer to order it, and call or text the customer as soon as you receive it. If there is going to be a delay in the shipment, also let the customer know. You can reward the customer's patience with a discount.
Finally, make the customer feel special. Customers really appreciate an unexpected gift. For instance, years ago I brought a coat to the cleaners, but forgot that it was torn in the back. When I picked it up, the torn had been mended for no charge. Now, I will never go to any other cleaners. As a merchant, make customers feel like a VIP by providing free samples, in-store and email coupons for locals, and promotion parties to announce new merchandise. Your vendors and suppliers often offer these promotions. All you have to do is ask.
Just remember with new apps like "yelp," customers can review your business before they even leave your parking lot. Hopefully, they will be writing about how your store provided them with one of the best customer experiences they've ever had.