Poor Customer Service: Small Town Weakness #2… & Possible Solutions

Poor customer service is the second of seven common small town weaknesses identified by Becky McCray of Small Biz Survival. As promised in this post, following is a summary of Becky’s post on this area, as well as a few of my own as it pertains to Lewistown and the surrounding Central Montana area.

Weakness #2: Poor Customer Service

Poor customer service an be improved with a deliberate effort to welcome customers.Poor customer service could be summarized as a shopping experience which falls below the expectations of the shopper. This makes it somewhat subjective, because what one person finds to be helpful could be irritating or sub-par for another.

For instance, you might prefer to have attention from a store employee as soon as you walk through the front door. In contrast, I would much rather wander around myself for a while, but have easy access to help if and when I ask for it.

Becky suggests four actions which would help a small business deliver good customer service. Along with each are my thoughts as the suggestion pertains to Central Montana…

Good Customer Service:

1) Welcome every person, every time. The advantage of living in a town as small as Lewistown is that everyone seems to know everyone else. This means that not only can the shop owner and staff welcome each customer, they can often do so by name. Over time, such shopkeepers also recognize folks like me who prefer to find things on our own and learn to leave it at “hello” and wait for us to initiate further interaction.

2) Know your product and answer customer questions – in person, by phone and online. Our local shops seem to know their product line and are generally quick to answer questions, either in the store or by phone. Online is an area most could work to improve, however. Some have delved online by creating Facebook pages, which is a great start. Intentional focus on using the Internet as a customer service tool would go far in improving local customer service.

3) Be fast. This area is a real struggle in our remote location. If a store doesn’t happen to have a desired product already on the shelf, the typical wait for a special order can be days, if not weeks. While understandable, it’s not realistic to expect local customers to wait longer than what it would take to secure the item on their own, either online or by traveling to make the purchase. If a local store has found a way to get requested items delivered quickly, it would be to their benefit to make us all very aware of that ability… and then be sure to follow through on the promise.

4) Fix problems personally and quickly. Service industries are the first that come to mind in this area. While some Central Montana vendors react quite quickly, others seem to be much harder to reach. If you can’t even get the business to return your call, chances are getting your problems taken care of isn’t going to be fast or result in a positive customer service experience. If the slow response is a result of a lack of available vendors, this would be a good area for potential entrepreneurs to explore.

Customer service training to help implement the above solutions may be available locally, says Becky. For instance, our local Job Service Employers Committee (JSEC) offered customer service training last spring when we hosted a handful of seminars by Steve Beck. In addition, Becky suggests focusing on building relationships, which for many is the draw to living in a small community.

Do you have additional suggestions for how to improve customer service in a small town? Would improvement in this area increase the likelihood that you’d support local shops?


Prior Posts in this Series…

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