By Tron Jordheim
There are plenty of places to rent tools and equipment in any town, anywhere. When people need to rent a post-hole auger or a trencher, many go to the local, family-owned equipment rental shop—because of the experience. It is not a sparkling clean place. In fact, it looks a bit like a glorified tool shed, with all the grease and dust one might expect. They haven’t built their business and retained their customers for decades because of the décor; their regulars return because of the staff-customer relationship that makes renting at their business an enjoyable, personal experience. They appreciate that when they walk through those dusty doors, the employees know their name and their needs.
We all have our own shopping styles and preferences. No matter how you slice it, shopping and buying comes down to basic pain and pleasure stimuli and responses—we are subject to conditioning. Places and actions that we associate with pleasure we seek to experience again, and we seek to avoid experiences that cause us pain. Your customers go through this process during every contact they have with you, and it’s paramount that when they leave your establishment, they leave glowing with a desire to return.
Craft a customer-centric culture: focus on their experience from point-of-entry to point-of-sale to increase growth and retention.
There are five touchstones to establishing a customer-centric culture, and putting them into practice will give you a leg up on your competition.
Audit Your Customers’ Experience: An experience-audit aids in identifying your customer type, and allows you to model your business based on their needs. When you put yourself in your customer’s shoes, you know best how to serve them—and build a profitable business in the process.
Put yourself in the mind of your customer by conducting a simple audit of the pains and pleasures involved in your business. Make two columns on a piece of paper and title one Pain and the other Pleasure and walk through the entire process your customer walks through while dealing with you. Track each individual perception of pain or pleasure—you may be surprised at the number of negatives. Do the pains and pleasures correspond with the type of business or service you provide and with the types of customers you have?
Learn Your Regulars: Local, family owned equipment shops have become a staple because the owners and staff created relationships with their regulars. They built a culture and environment of ‘the neighborhood rental shop,’ where their customers knew they could go for their equipment needs, but also friendly conversation, teasing and jokes from the staff—where you’re expected, as the customer, to engage in the banter and give it right back.
Your regulars become your mouthpiece in the market: recruiting new business and customers simply by word-of-mouth praise. When you form longstanding relationships with your regulars and recognize their individual likes and dislikes, you can tailor an experience that feels distinctly personalized and negates any inherent pain that accompanies your industry—which will generate business success with increased customer growth.
Hire Staff That Mirror Your Culture: All the time and effort that you exert to make your business a one-of-a-kind, individualized experience is negated if your staff does not mirror these values and ideals. Your employees are the keepers of your culture: the ones who maintain your operating standards, customer-service practices and the atmosphere that distinguishes you from a similar shop down the street.
You must be meticulous with your hiring practices to ensure you’re bringing the correct people onboard. Reject candidates that do not parallel your customer-centric model. Instill in your new hires the magnitude of your business philosophy.
Don’t Overcomplicate and Trust in Feedback: There are occasions when business owners actually diminish their customers’ experience in an attempt to overcomplicate their service practices. A prime example of this occurred at a local grocery store during their first year in business. Customers would often leave their carts throughout the parking lot. The owners and staff did not have return racks for carts because they did not want to convey an obligation for their customers to return them to the store—they wanted them to leave them in the lot for the employees’ to collect. While a nice sentiment in theory, in practice they were creating a parking lot situation full of obstacles and potential damage to their customers’ vehicles.
After receiving feedback throughout the year, they decided to install permanent return racks in the parking lot, and while it requires a bit more effort on the part of their customers, they no longer have to navigate a minefield of carts or risk damage when they come to shop.
Considering any and all feedback is a paramount component to running a thriving business. Your experience-audit will assist in determining their validity, but you should always take heed to what your customers are saying. Your customer service practices should be organic and seamless and never overcomplicate their shopping experience.
The Product and Service Parallel: If the product you sell or the service you provide does not live up to your customer service, than your patrons will not return. All of the perks of choosing your business over your competition go out the window when what you offer fails to live up to expectations.
There must be a direct parallel between the way you treat your customers and what you provide them—if you don’t, your base will begin to dwindle. They may head to the shop down the road that doesn’t nail the customer service aspect, but they always receive the service or product they expect once they leave.
Shopping or conducting business should not feel like a chore best avoided: it should be an enjoyable experience, one that your customers desire to repeat. A customer-centric culture defines you, and will carve out your share in the market as the place to go—and put you ahead of the competition.
Tron Jordheim is the CMO of StorageMart, one of the world’s largest privately held self-storage companies with locations across the U.S. and Canada. He has helped lead the company to double-digit revenue growth for the last four years by embracing digital marketing and call center support. Jordheim has consulted for companies and spoken at trade events in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Spain and Mexico. Prior to StorageMart, Jordheim managed one of Culligan Water’s top U.S. bottled water franchises. With 40+ years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he continues to be sought after as a public speaker, sales trainer and consultant. For more information, visit www.tronjordheim.com.