business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

More than ever the ability to stand out from the crowd - to be distinct - is becoming an essential element of business success.

Let’s take an absurdly simple, yet incredibly important example: too often in customer service situations I get the sense that the “thanks” I hear are being given with all the sincerity that politicians make promises. It’s just a word that people are trained to use and it’s said with all the energy and passion of “here’s your change,” “next” or “how did you enjoy your meal.”

So when someone breaks through that noise and actually makes you feel appreciated, it is rare, meaningful and special. And that’s what happened to me this weekend and it took only three unexpected words.

Here’s what happened. My wife and were having lunch at our closest Wegmans store, as we frequently do before shopping. As we finished our meal, a smiling staffer named Vicky came to our table and asked to collect our trash. I told her that was unnecessary as the trashcan was only 20 feet away, but she would have none of it.

Why was that? Because in her words, “You deserve it.”

Think about that phrase and keep in mind that my wife and I did absolutely nothing to deserve anything special. Yet the phrase lingered with us. We actually spent a few minutes trying to figure out exactly what made us deserve special treatment. (Believe me we tried hard and unsuccessfully to come up with reasons. For instance: “Maybe she reads MorningNewsBeat” was one suggestion.)

The more we discussed it, the more we realized what Vicky had done. She had turned a simple bit of customer service into something memorable, something that stayed with us and something that actually made us feel appreciated. It was no big deal, but it was a reminder of why we drive out of our way to go to Wegmans.

All it took were three words: “You deserve it.”

Now there’s a chance that Vicky says that to every single customer she meets and if that’s the case, more power to her because she is breaking through with a unique phrase. In fact I hope her supervisor has witnessed Vicky’s interactions and applauded her for what she does.

What’s more, I hope that Wegmans, which I know has excellent training, encourages staffers to find different phrases and words to exchange with customers instead of the usual monotone “thanks.”

And that’s exactly why I share this story. In today’s hyper-competitive world, customer interactions at store level are going to get ever more important - especially as e-commerce makes it increasingly easy to shop anyway you want. As traditional retailers look for ways to fight back we’ll correctly hear all kinds of discussion about omni-channel offerings, analytics and personalization of the customer experience.

But let’s hope we don’t overlook the simple and obvious power of making the customer feel special and appreciated. Little steps like that could go a long way to reminding shoppers that we care and want them to keep coming back.

Trust me, they all think they deserve it.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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