I dropped in to see one of our local bankers recently, and as we were visiting, we got to talking about customer service. In particular, we got to talking about how the little things actually mean more to our customers than the big things do. Somewhere in our discussion, he pointed to a plaque on his wall that had this motto on it: “Little things don’t mean a lot; they mean everything.” That quote really resonated with me, so much so I snapped a photo of it with my phone before I left.

As MI retailers, I believe it’s the little things we do that define us and our store culture. Everyone in MI retail pretty much gets the big things right. We remember to stock popular drumsticks, heads, cables and strings. We remember to put price tags on the guitars, and we always manage to take the money when a customer wants to check out. We turn the lights off when we leave at night, and we write payroll on Fridays. Those are the big things we have to do to function in even the most marginal way. We’re all pretty good at doing those things. I think the differences our customers notice is in the little things we do (or don’t do).

Let’s go to one of my “small thing” pet peeves as an example. Calling someone back in a reasonable amount of time seems like a small thing, but to me it’s one of the markers that indicate one’s reliability. Most customer service is so poor today that I almost assume when the phone company rep says, “I’ll check with my supervisor and call you back,” I know that’s really code for “I’m tired of dealing with your problems. I’m giving you the brush off.” When a manufacturer’s rep or a distributor’s rep says they will call me back and days pass before they do (if they do), it tells me I’m just not that important to them. In contrast, when a rep calls me back before I expect them to call, it tells me I matter to them. Translating that into our stores, calling a customer back quickly, even when we’re delivering bad news, tells the customer that they matter to us, and that sets us apart from many of the other stores they might have encountered. That gives us an edge in the world of MI competition. Let’s go further and boil this example down to its essence: Keep your word. Always keep your word.

Kindness is a small thing that helps us stand out from the crowd. When a mom with a little girl comes into the store, I enjoy finding one of our store brand pink picks and asking the mom if it’s OK to give her daughter her own pick. This always results in real joy for the little girl, and appreciation on the part of the mom. That little girl will always think of us as the “guitar pick store,” and when she’s old enough to spend her own money, I’ll bet she comes to see us first. The mom will remember us, hopefully, when it’s time to buy Christmas gifts or rent her daughter’s first clarinet.

I’ll frequently slip off and grab a stool for a customer, and just place it next to where they are standing. I don’t ask if they want one. I just do it. Not only does the customer appreciate the chivalry, a seated customer stays longer. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to leave money with us.

Consideration, kindness’s first cousin, also makes a subtle impact on customers. Go into Blues Angel Music, Jim DeStafney’s store, on a hot day, and you’ll find cold water or lemonade available. The sensation of a refreshing cold drink on a hot day cements his store as a place that gives customer comfort serious consideration. If I was shopping there, I’d assume that since Jim gets that little thing right, if I had a real issue with a product from his store, he’ll get that right as well.

Unexpected happiness is pretty easy to make happen. We keep a bowl of hard candies on our counter, and when we’re putting purchases in a bag, we drop several candies into the bag. That “little thing” is so unexpected these days our customers light up when they see it.

Another form of consideration is giving relief to customers when they have an issue. By relief, I mean the customer walks in or calls or emails with a problem, and we convert their problem into a sense of relief by doing whatever it takes to make their problem a non-issue for them. On our end, if it takes spending some money, taking the product back, doing a free setup, we need to just do it, and do it gladly. Yeah, I know it’s hard to act pleased to lose money on a customer, but don’t think of it as losing money, think of it as investing in that customer. He has to leave the store thinking it made you happy to make him happy. We have to put ourselves in the customer’s place, and ask ourselves “What would make me happy about being here, if I was the customer?” and then do it.

The little things we do to make the customer glad he or she is in our store, the little things that make the customer feel welcomed, these are the little things that set each of us apart from the retail herd. We should be nurturing that mindset, and developing it into part of our store cultures. The best part of the little things is that they are free to us, and priceless to our customers.

“Little things don’t mean a lot, they mean everything.” I need to drop that banker a thank-you note. Reading that sign alone was worth the visit.
Happy trails.

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