I live in a picturesque small town. It’s a great place. Being a good citizen, I support the local small businesses that are the backbone of the community. I want to support them. I want to give them my business. They are my neighbors and my friends. We live together, play together and worship together. Our children are friends.
But these small, local merchants make it difficult for me to remain a loyal customer. The "backbone" has osteoperosis. They give crappy customer service.
- I walked into a store to buy some bird seed. Based on the type of store and their inventory you’d expect them to carry bird seed. I was met by the scowl of an employee who informed me in a snobbish tone that they don’t carry birdseed because it attracts mice. Maybe it would also attract customers who want to buy it. I went to Wal-Mart, was greeted with a smile and bought my bird seed.
- I walk into the local coffee shop almost daily. I’ve been a regular for almost three years. They should put a sign above my usual booth saying, "Tom’s Office". Not once have I been greeted with a familiar smile. If they know my name, they’ve never used it – even though I often initiate and greet the baristas by name.
- I love fresh baked goods from the local bakeries (as my bathroom scale can attest). One bakery has a well known reputation of offering grouchy service from crabby women. I thought the "Soup Nazi" was funny on Seinfeld, but I don’t want to experience it personally.
- Update! I’m actually writing this post from my coffee shop "office" (stop in for a scowl sometime – I’ll buy you a cup of coffee). I ordered a coffee and a cinnamon roll when I came in. After 30 minutes they hadn’t delivered the cinnamon roll. When I went up for a refill on the coffee, I mentioned this. It was promptly delivered. No apology. No "thanks for your patience." No "Gosh, Tom, you’re such a great customer. Sorry we blew it. Next time the cinnamon roll is on us!" The attitude could be construed as "Who cares? Screw you. Where else are you gonna go? What, you think there’s a Starbucks on the next corner?" (sometimes I envy Starbucker just for having the pseudonym)
- I walked into the local small engine and equipment shop several weeks ago, money in hand, to buy a lawnmower. I waited for several minutes for someone to approach me. When someone finally asked if they could help I said, "I want to buy a lawnmower." I was utterly flabbergasted at the response. "Listen, I need to unload some stuff in the back. Can you come back in an hour or two?" (I wish I was making this up).
Maybe these local merchants take loyal local customers for granted. Maybe they’ve grown lazy knowing that they can count on a certain amount of community goodwill and support. Nevertheless, when you can’t compete on product quality/inventory or price – you must compete on service. Guilt and community loyalty will only go so far.
To be fair, not all my experiences have been negative. But I have precious few illustrations of quality service from the local business community, and that makes me sad.
Am I alone here?