The small town nearest to my farm now has two convenience stores.
Big news, I know! But bear with me here for a bit... this is a teachable moment...
I frequented the first store every few days for a couple years, and while the faces grew familiar, they rarely were anxious to smile, converse, or thank me for my business. It often seemed as if they felt they were doing me a favor in taking my money, of which I gave them plenty (being one of those evil, die-hard SUV owners and all).
So when the second store opened, I gave it a try. Much to my delight, the staff is friendly, helpful, accommodating. They once tore the place apart attempting to find a stamp for me when the post office down the street changed its hours and I needed to get a letter in the mail. Tonight, while waiting for my "Friday Family Night" pizza, one clerk with whom I've chatted a few times suggested we should get together for coffee (she and I realized we are neighbors), and we most likely will do just that. I actually look forward to visiting that store, which is probably high praise for a gas station.
These two stores are similar in many ways. Their pizzas and prices are comparable, though the first store carries a larger selection of products. And, of course, gasoline is just that. But here's the kicker... to patronize the store I favor, I must go out of my way and cross a busy four-lane highway. This girl does not generally go out of her way, nor am I much of a shopper. I tend to visit the most convenient location, get what I need and get out, even if the convenience costs a few cents more.
Unless, of course, it feels good to go out of my way... and in this case, it does. By simply acting as if my business matters to them, by building a relationship and offering pleasant customer service, the second store earned my willingness to make the extra effort to cross the highway and spend my money at their establishment.
If that seems inconsequential, consider this: I drive a large SUV (a necessity), live fifteen miles from my daughters' school, twenty miles from the town in which those same daughters attend tae kwon do classes four nights a week, and eight miles from our church. That adds up to a whole lot of miles and a whole lot of gasoline most weeks, and does not account for the couple times a month I drive into the city, or to my parent's house an hour away, or the occasional family road-trip. We buy gasoline for my vehicle, more for my lawn mower, and diesel fuel for the farm pickup and tractor. And of course, we occasionally purchase a pizza, or case of soda, or some paper towels...
These two stores are an apples-to-apples comparison; the difference is in the small details. Relationship building and customer service are not rocket science. Its pretty simple, really.
Smile. Ask about your customer's day. Be helpful. Be authentic.
It makes a difference.