A typical day
I was in a local mom-and-pop sporting goods store the other day with my family to pick up some tee ball gear for my son. We’d been there a week before to get some of the basic stuff and the owner was really great in terms of helping me and offering good advice. I had a good experience and I returned. That’s what business is in the business of doing, right? Well, that day the owner wasn’t in. There were some other guys there.
When I approached the counter, the idle person behind the counter directed me to the person in the office that was on the phone. I heard that person yelling at someone on the other end and then proceeded to be annoyed with the person behind the counter for telling him he had someone he needed to take care of. About five minutes later, after I had been browsing their wares while listening to a number of nasty remarks over the course of the phone conversation, the gentleman slammed down the phone on whom he was speaking with and decided to join me in on the sales floor. No more than 30 seconds later the person behind the counter approached us to tell him he had a call. Guess who? The person he just hung up on, of course! He turned around and went back into the office leaving me on the sales floor once again to my own devices. I didn’t get the whole conversation but one thing I did glean from the back and forth was the reason that he hung up on what turned out to be a potential customer was because he told him that he really needed to work on his customer service skills.
At that point I put down the helmet and protective gear I had in my hand and walked my family out of the shop. I told my wife we would go to Modell’s nearby. Consequently we got all of my son’s gear there and saved a bit of coin while doing it. Believe it or not, it really didn’t sit well with me though.
Death of a small business
I think the reason it took me so long to leave the store was that I was having a hard time believing that any of this was actually happening. In the back of my head I thought there was some guys from Candid Camera filming me. Sadly, they were not. It’s always been my experience that small businesses offered the best customer service because that’s how they compete. You deal with people that actually know what they are talking about, they provide personalized attention, and are, well, professionals. Let’s face it, they can’t compete on price with the big boys so they adapt. I love a good bargain as much as the next guy but like I have said before, I shop on value. Getting an education and someone that values my business is worth a little more cash to me and this tends to build a relationship.
My earlier experience at this establishment was no surprise. It had all of those things. The next experience I had with them resembled something you would expect from one of the bigger places. What happened here? Apathy, poor form, disregard for the customer. In short, there was no professionalism. I doubt if the gentleman I observed had any stake in the business and his attitude reflected it. His attitude is hurting that business. This, in my opinion, is the worst type of thing that can happen to a small business. It hurts their reputation, disenfranchises it’s loyal customer base, and robs the place of its charm – the very things that they worked so hard on. What a shame.
Professionalism is important – always
Just because you work in a sporting goods store and wear nylon pants with a sweatshirt doesn’t excuse you from acting like a professional. I’ve never been much of a fan of a dress code. It applied a bit more in a corporate environment but I really believe I do my best work when I’m most comfortable. For me that’s basketball shorts and a t-shirt. Regardless of how I am dressed, when there is business to be done I always approach it the same way – the only way I know how. This is just something that has been engrained in me over the years and I can’t do it any other way. Independent of your capacity, you have to take pride in your work. If you don’t take your job seriously then nobody will. I don’t expect my general contractors in a suit nor do I think a personal trainer should be in anything but athletic wear. Those that I know that do these jobs are knowledgeable and it comes through when you speak to them. Customers are your livelihood after all so why not start things off on the right foot and keep them there?
What does this mean to your business?
I’ll be you my last dollar that if you are a business person that conducts themselves with a level of professionalism that your peers can’t match you will be more successful than them. Attitude goes a long way. It may not do the whole job since you will have to deliver a good product at the end of the day but so many businesses have little or no product differentiation. Anyone who has ever shopped online knows this well. Web hosting is fairly generic; it’s the customer service that has companies like Liquid Web winning. The pint of Budweiser is the same across the street. It’s the person serving you that makes the difference. Professionalism is a HUGE differentiator – use it! How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors in your market? I would love to here it below.