Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's the Little Things That Count

I'm a stickler for customer service. I've written here, and in numerous editorials during my tenure as editor, about how to earn repeat customers. Clearly, making judgements on customers is a bad idea, as I've already posted. But what little things make a one-time shopper a loyal customer? 

Almost everyone can name a favorite place to shop or dine. And, aside from those who are label-obsessed, it usually boils down to the experience. My sister in Connecticut, for example, is loyal to Michaels Jewelers, because the salespeople are friendly, non-assuming and offer little things like jewelry cleaning while she shops--regardless of whether she's spending $50 or $5,000. My best friend, Jenn, a high school teacher in the D.C. area, meanwhile, shops at J. Crew because the mega-brand gives props to hard-working (and underpaid) educators by offering a 15% discount. 

My own personal favorite example: Tim Hortons. For those not in New England, Tim Hortons is, roughly, a regional competitor of Dunkin Donuts. Being a coffee fiend constantly on-the-go, I stop for coffee, on average, once a day. When I moved to Rhode Island last year, I drove right past this unknown Tim Hortons and headed for the DD I knew from New York. Until, that is (I don't remember why, but) I hit the Tim Hortons drive-thru in Westerly about a year ago. As usual, my lab pup, Mia, was in the backseat. We pulled up to the window and along with my coffee (which is also, I should note, cheaper than DD), the employee asked if Mia would like a Timbit (Tim Hortons equivalent of a DD Munchkin). Well, with that, Tim Hortons certainly earned a loyal customer in Mia. Like most with fur-children, I'm a sucker for my pup. So, I was thrilled that this chain-restaurant offered a little something special to my little girl.
As a result, I avoid Dunkin Donuts (even when Mia isn't with me) and seek out Tim Hortons. Now, I'm not a mathematician but, by my rough estimate: in a year, Tim Horton has invested $50 in free "timbits" for Mia. In return? They've made about $600 in profits off my coffee purchases. Dunkin Donuts, meanwhile, with higher coffee prices, has lost roughly $900. 

Interesting food for thought, no? Generally, as this example illustrates, it's a matter of seeing the forest and ignoring the pesky trees. Sometimes merchants think they can't "afford" to "give" things away... even little things, regardless of what they may mean for customers. But, when you break down the numbers, the question really is: can they afford NOT to? 

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