Sat, Oct. 19

Customer Service – An Invaluable Asset

Question: My business is seeing a decline due to the increase in big-box stores and online retail Web sites offering goods and services similar to those I offer. Can you suggest a good way for me to retain and build my customer base?

Answer: When it comes to providing value to customers, volume isn’t the primary factor — personalized service is. And – this service can be offered both in a brick and mortar store and with an online presence.

Personalized service can help small businesses stand out from both the chain stores and the flourishing retail Web sites. Excellent customer service gives a powerful competitive edge in an age when consumers expect a high level of responsiveness. And don’t forget that it is cost effective to maintain a Web presence so you can offer customers the convenience of making a purchase or placing an order for something special.

Joe Neri, owner of the Well Red Coyote in Sedona ( goes the extra mile for his customers. “My wife, Kris, and I pride ourselves on our extensive knowledge of books,” Says Neri. “One of the cornerstones of our business plan as a locally-owned, independent bookstore is to provide exemplary customer service. If someone comes into our store, or contacts us by phone or email, looking for a particular book, we want to respond by either having the book in stock, ordering the book, even if it is hard to find and/or out of print, or letting them know that the book doesn’t exist.”

“We have state-of-the-art databases and search engines,” Neri emphasizes, “and can usually find a book quickly, order it electronically and have it in the store for the customer to pick up in 2-3 business days. And, unlike online book retailers, shipping is always free with us and we don’t require a minimum purchase, nor do we require prepayment.”

Page Springs Cellars and Arizona Stronghold ( are also known for their excellent customer service. Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Kevin Grubb said, “People come back because we provide an enjoyable experience in a unique and comfortable setting. We are passionate about what we do and love passing that on to our customers.” According to Courtney Vickers, Marketing Manager, “the web store is a great feature so out of town visitors can have access to our wines even after they return home.” Vickers continues, “Through analytics and tracking, we do know that we have thousands of visitors on a weekly basis, from all over the world.”

How you connect with customers in person, by phone or email will differentiate your small business from the bureaucratic nature of big-box chains or impersonal Web sites. Respond promptly and with a friendly greeting. Avoid putting callers on hold for longer than a minute and respond as soon as possible. Although it may be impractical to handle email inquiries as they arrive, designate certain times during the day to handle email or assign the responsibility to an employee.

By observing what other successful small businesses are doing you can gain valuable insights and decide what to change to keep your customers coming back. Evaluate what makes you shop at one place rather than another. Also, consider conveniences. Determine what you can do to make it easier for your customers to find items and get on their way.

Getting sound advice on issues facing today’s small businesses is important for long term success. There are a few days left to register for the SCORE Business Plan Workshop for the Verde Valley. Saturday June 4, 2011. Cost of the series is $90 for two participants from a single business. Contact Northern Arizona SCORE today if you don’t yet have a SCORE counselor. Today is a good time to start to build that mentor relationship. To learn more, contact Northern Arizona SCORE at 800-776-9859 or email us at or visit our website at

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