by John Sciacca
“If the office super store was supposed to put us suppliers out of business, why are we still here? Take a look at where you are. Where you once worked in a dying industry, you now work at its birth. Those super stores are terrified of us. Anybody know why? Let me tell you how I buy something these days. I know what I want; I go on the Internet, I get the best price. I don't know what I want; I go to a small store that can help me. The era of personal service is back. YOU are back. You'll find that customers will pay our higher prices and then they will thank us. And then we will say to them, 'You...are...welcome.'" — Robert California (James Spader), The Office
Stop. Go back. Read that again. Because that is *exactly* what I did when I heard that quote on The Office. I shouted to my wife. “Whoa! Wait! That was brilliant! Rewind it. I have to write it down, word for word.”
Now, substitute “office super store” with “Big Box retailer” or “on-line sales” and “suppliers” with “custom installers” and you’ve got it. Go on. Read it again. I’ll wait.
I’ve written some less than flattering things about the prospects of our industry. My “State of the Union Address” was anything but champagne dreams and caviar whatevers. My query about “Are we becoming Amazon showrooms?” did not end with any suggestions or solutions.
But this…THIS is the solution. THIS is the reason why we will continue to survive and be relevant and grow in times of low-low pricing and less than zero-margin video and other far larger companies failing. THIS is the heart of what we do and the core of what our business has really always been about and what we all need to focus on to keep on keeping on.
We provide something that these others can only dream of: “The era of personal service is back.”
Forget about the touchpanels and the lights dimming and the simplified control solutions. That’s tech. People don’t buy tech. Steve Jobs taught us that. People buy the experience. And a huge part of that experience is the trust, the support, the knowledge, the guidance, the personal service that only we can offer.
I introduce my customers to my install team and tell them, “You will get to know the name of every person in our company.” Think the Big Box stores can say that? Or Amazon? They're lucky to even get an actual human-to-human encounter that doesn't involve "click to send." That’s part of the personal service only WE can provide. We are not nameless and faceless; we are personal and we build relationships.
I went into a local Big Box store over the weekend. There were probably 30 employees in the store and around two customers. The employees were clustered around different displays. One group of like six stayed huddled together creating what sounded like a GWAR station on Pandora as me and my 4-year old daughter walked by them – GWAR being barely 40-year old appropriate let alone something a 4 year old should be subjected to — wandering around looking at displays. During my 20 minutes wandering around, I was approached once. If you or your company can’t do better, print up a “WE ARE CLOSED” sign and stick it on your door right now.
Honestly, people that know what they want, people that just want a box to show up on their doorstep, people that are looking only at the bottom line price, those people were *never* our people. Just the other day a man came into my store and said, "So, you don't compete with Wal-Mart, huh?" And I responded, "No, sir. If you want to just buy the cheapest thing possible, we're not the right company for you."
But, I think sometimes we forget that it is “service” and not “serve us.” Customers – as frustrating as they can be sometimes – are the entire raison d'etre for our being in business. Simply put, no them, no us. We are here for them; they are not here for us.
But after many years in this business – especially after several recent ones that can best be described as “challenging” – it can be easy to lose sight of that. To forget that our customers are expecting American Express Black Card level service. And, frankly, what they are paying for and what they deserve.
Think about this. I can go to a deli. I can buy a spectacular cut of meat. I can take it home. I can season and prepare it and open a bottle of red wine and have a nice meal with my wife. Or I can go to Ruth’s Chris and pay probably 5 times as much. Which do you think is the better experience? Why would anyone pay 5 times as much for something they could do on their own…and then THANK them for it? It’s the experience. It’s the service. That’s what our customers deserve. That’s what they are willing to pay for. Focus on it, deliver it.
We need to return to the roots of going above and beyond, where “good enough” is NOT good enough. Very few of us could probably honestly examine our business practices and say, “I can’t do anything ANY better. I’m giving the BEST service I possibly can.” I used to write every customer a personal “Thank you” note. I used to send out a yearly mailer describing all the new, cool and exciting things that had come out. I used to be excited to meet someone after hours when it fit THEIR schedule to discuss something. Somewhere along the way I stopped. Business was easy. Now it's not.
Now I’m gonna start again.
What did you “used to do” that probably made you successful that you have stopped doing? Reboot. Go back. Do it again.
Customers will pay us for what we do. We have to make sure we keep giving them a reason to.