What Sets You Apart?

July 31, 2010
Written by
“We deliver great customer service and quality products.” This is a frequent response I hear from garden centre retailers when asked what sets them apart from competitors and others in the industry. Of course, these factors are important to a business, but this is a common line that consumers hear all too often. Companies don’t promote the fact that their customer service is average and the products they offer are only satisfactory.

Great customer service has become a cliché. Pay attention to commercials on your local television or radio station and when you’re flipping through the newspaper – how many advertisements rely on this line? It’s safe to say that this selling point is overused and it’s a phrase that no longer gets people’s attention.

A new report put together by Colloquy, an organization dedicated to researching the global loyalty-marketing industry, finds that Canadian consumers no longer cite customer service as the leading factor in driving their loyalty. The Canadian Retail Loyalty Index (the full summary is on page 8) found that the importance of customer service dropped 18 per cent since 2008, and competitive pricing is now the number 1 factor. (On a positive note, young adults still cited customer service as the top factor in loyalty.) No doubt, you can attribute the popularity of low prices to the recent recession, when shoppers became accustomed to hunting for deals and bargains, but I believe another factor is customer service burnout. Retailers aren’t clarifying what makes them unique and, as a result, customers aren’t taking the time to find out.

Next time someone asks you what makes your garden centre great – get specific. Brag about your specialized services (like the fact that you’ll deliver flats every spring to Mrs. Smith because she’s been shopping with you for 40 years) and tell your customers where you find that quality product and the work you do to make sure it is the best around. Add these tidbits to your signage, to your receipts and to your promotional material. Be creative with your marketing message and don’t waste your advertising budget on the old customer service adage. Potters, our garden centre profile in this issue (page 10), uses humorous and clever ad campaigns to get noticed and finds that shoppers actually seek out their ads and look forward to what they’ll say next.

Our cover story (page 16) is another great example that proves unique customer service is still relevant, if garden centres are willing to go the distance. Peterborough, Ont., is home to a number of great gardening businesses, and local residents have plenty of options when it comes to shopping for garden products. Instead of fighting over customers and chipping away at one another’s bottom line, these businesses have banded together to form Garden Route to ensure that shoppers have a great gardening experience. If one garden centre doesn’t have a product, then the business will happily recommend another centre that does. The effect of this co-operation is that customers walk away happy and armed with all of the garden supplies and products they need. They also appreciate that former competitors can put aside their differences and join forces to serve them.

In today’s retail environment, shoppers are seeking out a personalized experience – they want to be treated as individuals and with service that’s unique to them. Instead of great customer service, you need to deliver great, customized customer service to set your garden centre apart. And you need to brag about it.

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