- Selection or Expertise
- Online Functionality
Companies like Staples and Office Depot follow such similar business models that they can really only differentiate themselves by their marketing and by their service. Since marketing only creates a perceived difference, customer service becomes the sole differentiator.
While I think Staples’ branding is more memorable (“That Was Easy”) compared to Office Depot, I’ve found Staples customer service abhorrent. I have walked into Staples, wandered around and walked out, never having spent a dime. Not only was I not asked if I could be helped — I never saw an employee!
On the contrary, at Office Depot, there are usually a number of employees available near the front of the store. I have had employees — and managers — go out of their way to locate a specific product, even when it meant climbing a ladder to retrieve a $3.00 bag of magnets. From the cashiers to the copiers, the staff attitude seems positive, helpful, knowledgeable and caring.
While each customer’s experience may vary — based on store management, location, staffing, etc., — the main point is that similar companies can differentiate themselves from the competition through superior customer service. Depending on a company’s size, achieving excellent customer service requires senior management buy-in and a potentially significant and ongoing investment of time, money and training. But the payoff is huge.
With the rise of online review sites, like Yelp — and consumers willing to praise or punish — businesses, especially those competing for the same consumer, need to consider not only the bottom line, but the “frontline.” Staff that interacts daily with customers is the first step in gaining — or losing — business.
I have only looked at two businesses here; we can all cite examples of poor customer service – and good. The difference seems to be in the overall culture of the business, an investment in training and a universal attitude of “caring” that is conveyed by the staff.
As the saying goes, “Customers vote with their feet.” Welcome, help and satisfy your customers and they’ll be back. Ignore or fail to satisfy them? They’ll walk out and never come back.
Here are some customer service questions for your business:
- Does your business care?
- Are you making customer service a priority?
- Do you respond to emails, phone calls and letters promptly?
- Do you monitor your company reputation through Google Alerts, Twitter, Facebook, blog comments and other social media platforms?
- Does your company differentiate itself by superior customer service?
Martha Spelman is a Los Angeles-based small business marketing, branding and content marketing consultant. Click to find out more about Martha Spelman.