A key for small local businesses

Even in this internet era, most customers will buy local if there’s good service and product knowledge

Recently, after putting a large purchase off for as long as possible, I identified a need, or perhaps more correctly, my wife identified a need for me. As with most large purchases, I used The Google to find information and manufacturers who build them and who their local suppliers are. After bracing myself with a large one and two, we ventured forth to visit three possible local retailers. The results of the journey were quite interesting.

The first supplier had a large colourful display of similar, but not exact products. The store employee was prompt to attend and while he listened, but didn’t seem to quite understand why we wanted what we did in a specific configuration. He was very sure that no, we probably didn’t want that, perhaps we wanted this one over here. No, we said, we need what we asked for. He deferred to a manager to obtain more information and ventured the information that yes, such a thing existed, but it was very expensive. Quoting a price at least a thousand dollars higher than the supplier’s website that I had on my phone, he again offered the products he had in stock. We politely declined and headed off to stop number two.

The next vendor was less flashy, but offered similar experience: none in stock, but we have a sale on this model here. We waited quite some time while he went off to search online. When finally returning he replied, yes, one exists, but they were very expensive, maybe we should buy one of these on the floor instead. Again declining, we left feeling that perhaps he hadn’t quite understood what we wanted and was doing some guesswork rather than clarifying our need.

We approached the third supplier with some trepidation. Perhaps costly renovations were the only way to make our purchase work? None the less, we asked our question again. This time, the salesperson not only knew immediately what we wanted, she knew all you needed to know and more about the product line. She offered up comparisons, colour choices and alternatives. Not only that, she actually offered to order us one. The price quoted was fair and the technical questions answered properly. Needless to say, we felt that we were validated in our original request and quickly placed our order.

In a previous column, I made reference to doing business in the internet age. Today’s consumer can arrive well informed about the product or service they are purchasing. If your staff either can’t answer a question or worse yet, answers it incorrectly, you stand a chance of alienating them, losing a sale or most likely, both. Good customer service, backed up with product knowledge always wins the day.

In my first two visits, sales reps not only didn’t offer to order a product for me, they used artificially high price points to dissuade me from doing so. I wasn’t in a hurry and they missed an opportunity for a sale by not listening to what our needs actually were. In a recent consumer survey, a whopping half of all customers reported that over 60 per cent of the time, they felt that their customers weren’t answered after a sales interaction and a staggering nine out of 10 said that they would pay more money for the same thing as long as they received a superior service experience.

In retail, the old adage that the “customer is always right” is usually modified to “the customer may not always be right, but they are always the customer.” Trying to keep a small business afloat in a fragile and hyper competitive economy isn’t easy, but time and time again, it’s been proven that having well-trained, knowledgeable and thoughtful employees who listen and have the authority to resolve customer service issues will keep customers coming back time and time again.

Steve Smyth is a local business manager and director at the Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce