My neighborhood hardware store kicks Home Depot’s butt, when it comes to customer service.
Everyone that works in the store acts like they own it. In fact, some of them do, and even those who don’t are related to those who do!
It’s the family business, so everyone from the owner and his wife, to their son and daughters, to the in-laws that work there, all have a stake in the success of the business. And it shows, by the way the treat the customers.
Or if that's too long, you can call it the “Proximity to the Shareholders” factor.
The closer an employee is to the actual shareholder, the more likely he or she understands the importance of delivering a great customer experience, and how that affects the health of the business.
In a recent blog post “Does Size Really Matter?” Bob Champagne explained how research indicates that 90% of the really poor exchanges occurred in larger, more established companies, while 60% of the really positive customer experiences occurred in smaller “Mom and Pops” or specialty stores.
In other words, smaller companies tend to deliver better customer experiences.
So, what is it about smaller companies, that causes them to deliver better customer service than larger companies?
Let’s go back to my local hardware store for the answer...
The person that helps me find the right size carriage bolts for my project is usually the son or daughter of the owner – or the owner himself. The woman working the cash register is usually the owner’s wife – the other owner. The point is this: The front-line employees that deliver the service are so close to the financial beneficiary of customer loyalty; they are emotionally and financially connected to the success of the business.
And because of this proximity to the shareholder, they’re more vested in, or have a greater understanding of the connection between customer satisfaction, and the financial success of the business.
So the question for the large business that wants to match the customer experience delivered by their smaller competitors, is this:
How can they reduce, or improve the proximity to the shareholder?
The obvious answer is to offer stock options, or some other incentive compensation tied to the company’s profitability. But let’s face it - that lone employee is no fool – he knows that his actions are a mere grain of salt on the sandy beach of 2,242 Home Depot stores. So as long as he does the bare minimum, he keeps his job, and his benefits.
If financial incentives aren’t feasible, or incentive enough to do whatever it takes to deliver that small-store-like-service, what is?
Practice the “Customer Experience Golden Rule for Employers.”
Treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers. Acknowledge their efforts, and cultivate an environment to encourage others to make life great for your customers. Give your front-line employees lattitude to make what they feel are the right decisions to delight a customer on the spot, without getting a supervisor or manager involved.
Increase transparency throughout the organization.
Share “results” with your employees. Make employees aware of the impact of their actions, on the overall health of the business. Transparency promotes accountability.
Emphasize the right soft skills in hiring.
People with a sense of caring and empathy have a great sense of customer-focus. They recognize when an individual needs help, and they have an innate way of bonding with that person, and establishing a sense of trust and caring. And that’s the foundation for a great service experience.
The statistics show that has a business grows larger, the quality of service, and customer experience suffers. But by taking steps to either improve the proximity to the shareholders, or create an environment that mimics that of a smaller organization, a growing company can compete with the smaller, more collegial businesses.