There are two small businesses that I frequent near my Minneapolis suburban home. The first I do so out of loyalty – they rock. The second I visit because my family wants to – despite my ongoing objections. Let’s quickly examine the difference between the two customer experiences and see what they can teach us.

Von Hanson’s Meat Market - - feels like an old-fashioned butcher shop. The product is excellent and I cannot remember ever having a bad experience with their food. But more noticeably, the customer service they deliver is outstanding. The folks they hire behind the counter are fast, always friendly, courteous and consistently professional. I’ve never asked a question they couldn’t answer and every single employee I’ve encountered there appeared to take ownership for their store and the products they sell.

I’ve never been to an Everything Wine location in Vancouver - - but the way that Fast Company describes them - - leads me to believe that Von Hansen’s is their Butcher Shop equivalent.

On the other side of the customer service equation is a local bakery that sells Maple Long Johns to my wife and children. They bill themselves as a European bakery, and by all accounts they do make a mean Boule or Scone. But of the many times I’ve been in the establishment, I can only think of maybe one or two times that left me with the impression they appreciated our business. The counter-service is distracted and often rude, the employees have not handled product questions well, and they appear to take zero ownership in the business or the service they deliver.

So what am I to assume about the employees or owners of these two establishments? Can I laud the customer service focus of the Von Hanson’s teens while lamenting the attitude of those working at the bakery? Or is it fair to believe that the front line employees learn and espouse the attitudes and priorities of their leaders?

I’d like to think there are two things going on at Von Hanson’s that is making them consistently great. First, they are hiring the right young talent. There are plenty of young folks looking for work but they clearly have a knack for identifying and selecting new hires that will dedicate themselves to delivering top notch customer service. As important though, they clearly train their new hires that serving their customers in the “Von Hanson’s way” is priority number one.

So is the bakery guilty of bad hiring or poor training? Both? I guess the only way they’ll be prompted to figure it out is if enough customers stop allowing sugary goodness to trump basic customer service standards. Or maybe that is the lesson to be learned (be it good or bad)…that if a product is of high enough quality it just won’t matter to people how it is delivered! I’m going to hold out hope that customers can expect both a great product and a great customer experience.

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Comment by pam claughton on May 5, 2010 at 8:21am
Very interesting post, and something I think about often. We were discussing this just the other night when talking about local restaurants that we go to more often than others. It's not always the ones with the best food that get our business, but the ones with the best service and that feel most appreciative of our business. It's the smallest things, the little touches that can make such a big difference. I think of a local coffee shop in downtown Plymouth, Kiskadee, that is owner operated and no matter how busy they are, the owner is always friendly and thanking us for choosing to get our coffee there.

I read a book recently that you might enjoy, called Secret Service,

It's fascinating because it looks at ways to take your business to unimaginable levels through exceeding expectations for customers through outstanding customer service and in ways that are subtle, so the customer doesn't always know what's going on, just has an amazing experience. For instance, at a hair salon they give all first timers a white cape to wear and this gives all employees a heads up to give that person a little extra attention to ensure they feel special and want to return.
Comment by Chris Fleek on May 5, 2010 at 8:17pm
Thanks for your comments and the book recommendation Pam! Another thing to consider is the size of the marketplace - in the examples I used the only competition that both the meat market and the bakery face are the local big box grocers (unless people are routinely purchasing meat or baked goods online). But how would the dynamic change if there were no local competitors at all? Think of the businesses in a small town where consumers have no immediate alternatives? Do customers turn to online retailers such as for their shopping rather than patronize a local shop with poor service? Whether it's the local florist or the area screen-printing shop, the web enables all consumers to explore alternatives! And nothing makes a consumer consider other options faster than a poor customer service experience.


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