At your service: Aug. 4, 2010

People are often surprised to learn that I love country music; even more surprised to find that love matched by one for Italian Opera. It makes perfect sense to me. I love music that tells a story and is sung with passion. The things that surprise us about people are rarely as contradictory as they seem when we get the chance to see the full picture. People are always multi-faceted and have a few sides that can surprise us.

This is why it pays to get to know your customers’ needs beyond the one that first brought them to your business. The man who came into your store to pick up an auto mechanic’s tool may return to buy parts for his sound system. He may also come in for his wife’s birthday present. The store with diverse inventory will be able to sell him things over and over for many years.

Even more diverse than the individual is the community in which we all come together. Many businesses are specialized, offering a select line of products or specific services. When you don’t offer the thing that will meet your customer’s need, be the one who recommends to them a place where, or person from whom, they can get it.

We all hope that people will come to our business for whatever they need. The fact is that we cannot meet the needs of all the people all the time. We can, however, provide direction that will help our customer find what they want. When we direct them to another business that meets their needs, they are more likely to continue shopping locally.

Spreading business around the community serves us all. We keep customers within the community by ensuring that they can get what they need right here. There are very few things that cannot be accessed here in the mountains, but you sometimes have to look around a bit to find what you want. When you have done that research, however informally, sharing it with your customers makes yours the “go-to” business.

We often hear people reminiscing about the days when there was a department store in most villages and a new car dealership in many. Except for those who insist on having cars direct from the factory, those old needs can still be met locally. New businesses have opened that carry clothing, organic foods, bicycles, fireplaces and a wide assortment of goods and services. The more we know about the happenings among our neighbors, the better we can serve our customers.
I am talking about more than just shopping locally, I am talking about fully supporting our local competition. The pie may be more humble in this economy, but it is big enough for us all to have a slice. The pie is made bigger when we keep the money circulating within the community. We serve our customers well when we enable them to find what they need close to hand and we serve the larger community when we keep customers close.

The better we know our customers and their many needs, the better our recommendations can be. They need us for this critical service almost as much as we need them to stay in business. Their needs and our knowledge about what is available locally and how to find it are a complete match.