Famed slugger Pete Rose always maintained that while he wasn’t the most naturally gifted player in the big leagues, he achieved greatness by out-hustling other players — earning the nickname “Charlie Hustle.”
Independent convenience store operators can follow Rose’s formula for success to better compete with the big chains. And the easiest, most cost-effective place to do that is with employee training.
Customer service is an often-underrated part of the c-store business. Independent operators can stand out by offering consumers something competitors may not. Here are some suggestions:
Make customers feel welcome: Not with a perfunctory cashier greeting while waiting on other customers, but a genuine welcome — people can tell the difference — followed by an offer of assistance in finding what they’re looking for.
“Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans,” said management guru Ken Blanchard.
Remember repeat customers by name: Anyone who watched “Cheers” on TV knows the value of having a place where everybody knows your name. Creating brief customer bios with product preferences is a wise investment of time.
Tend to restrooms: Few things can turn customers off as quickly or as permanently as a poorly maintained restroom. Clean, attractive bathrooms make a strong statement about an establishment’s personality and commitment to quality customer service.
“A restroom needs three things,” said Jennifer Kirscher, Ecolab’s manager of global communications. “A pleasant smell, or no smell at all; a lack of debris/stains on the floor; and a well-stocked supply of toilet paper, hand towels and hand soap.”
Handle out-of-stocks better: When a customer asks for something the store is out of, make sure employees can recommend an alternative — a first cousin to suggestive selling.
Escort customers: Instead of simply telling a shopper where they can find a product, have an employee escort them to the proper shelf and hand it to them. Customers will appreciate — and remember — the personal service.
Encourage product knowledge: Even on basic items, being able to tell a customer something they didn’t know when considering a purchase — and make a recommendation — can build sales, confidence and loyalty.
Apologize: People are willing to forgive a lot, but not indifference. If something disappoints a shopper, an apology is a quick and easy way to salvage a relationship.