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Retailer Ups Customer Service to Achieve Competitive Advantage

Customer Service Beyond The Immediate Sale Opportunity

In a day on the golf course, for myself at least, it's the one good shot I have each round that keeps me coming back to the links another day.

Many customers feel the same way about great customer service. If they have a positive buying or service experience with their supplier or retailer, then they will be back, spending their money again. Research consistently shows they will also be sharing their experience with their friends - in both physical and virtual settings.

That's just what retailer Best Buy is aiming for with the company's upgraded customer service approach The electronics retailer is training staff to be 'human search engines' who can help customers find just about anything they may be looking for, even if it's not sold by Best Buy, and is sold by a competitor.

Such a customer service practice reminds me of the decades old rivalry between the former Gimbels and its then major department store competitor, Macy's, which was infamously portrayed in the film, 'Miracle on 34th Street.' If Gimbels didn't have the merchandise a shopper was looking for, the store staff looked for the merchandise elsewhere, and referred the customer to another store. The sales staff at Macy's did the same thing.

Now that was superior customer service.

Well, Best Buy stores are brining back that type of customer service, according to a recent story by The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.

"It Began over the summer, the sales effort by Best Buy, the Number 1 U.S. electronics retailer, seeks an edge against Wal-Mart and other giant discount retailers by expanding its notion of customer service beyond just showing shoppers what's on the shelves," the MarketWatch story explained.

"If a customer has a question, the store's blue shirted sales staff are empowered to help hunt down answers, including finding the product that its stores don't yet carry," the story detailed. "My vision is of the blue shirt as a human search engine," said Robert Stephens, Best Buy's CTO. "My vision is people will start to see a difference in the service interaction they have."

The customer experience concept is simple. With more online and brick and mortar stores where customers can shop, smart retailers need to give customers something that they can't get anywhere else, and that is consistent and superior customer service.

Oh sure, your company is likely already running a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system to help you improve marketing campaigns, better manage customer relationships, or maybe even better engage your customers, but the human touch adds a physical dimension that cannot be equaled by any business software application. Not to diminish the strategic importance for CRM software, it's just that good technology and good customer service are complementary.

As retailers approach the holiday shopping season, the lessons being shared by Best Buy are certainly worth reading, and probably worth considering in your own company.

The MarketWatch story described how Stephens went undercover into one of his Best Buy stores and asked to buy a tripod for his iPhone. The store didn't have the item, and the clerk did a Web search, and shared with him a Web page where the item could be purchased for under $14.00 on eBay. "Best Buy didn't make a dollar," Stephens told MarketWatch. "But the sales clerk did something that you can't find anywhere else."

A retail store, or any type of business, doing something a competitor chooses not to do for a customer delivers competitive advantage - that customer will likely return with his future buying needs.

Perhaps we are coming full circle in the world of customer service by actually viewing customers beyond a single sales transaction and as valued people worthy of an extended relationship. This is a key lesson to recognize if your business expects to sell products or services to customers for a long haul.

We'll have to watch and observe to see how the Best Buy customer service experiment works out. But it doesn't take a crystal ball to figure out such a move will result in some level of success which makes Best Buy a place consumers want to shop.

 

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