Proactive Vs. Reactive Customer Service

Vario Creative focuses on proactive marketing.I live in Sutton, a town in Massachusetts with virtually no industrial base for taxes.  A couple of years ago, a plan to put a Home-Depot on the land of an abandoned drive-in movie theater was rejected. 

On March 15, I had one of the largest Wal-Mart’s in the state open about 2 miles down the road from me.  Just across the town line in Northbridge.  Meaning I get all the traffic, but Sutton gets none of the tax benefit.  And believe me, Sutton could have used the taxes.  Meanwhile, we just had a proposition 2 1/2 override go through (the Commonwealth of Massachusetts limits property tax increases requiring an override vote for increases over a certain percent).  Last year, we defeated 2 separate attempts at property tax override.  This year’s override was specifically designated to help buy 132 acres of land from the former Shaw Farm, on which to locate town buildings, which many have noted will mean another override for the cost of building on the parcel later. 

But that isn’t the real story, at least from a marketing perspective.  The marketing perspective comes in when we start to look at the local businesses reaction to the new Super Wal-Mart.  They range from the truly admirable to the contemptuous.

First off, I’ll say that I’ve always bought my groceries at Shaws.  In the past 7 years, they haven’t managed to make me an more than a disinterested customer.  No engagement, no passion. From the standard problems of their employees parking their cars close to the buildings, to the stocking clerks discussing what time would be best to take their Ectasy before the party (they decided about an hour before their shift ended would be perfect), no one would consider them a bastion of customer service

However in the days since Wal-Mart opened, my trips there have been remarkably different.  On several occassions I’ve had people walk up to me and ask “can I help you find anything?” I was floored.  Not once in 7 years has anyone ever asked to help me.  Further, there appear to be many more specials on the things I actually need.  Anecdotally I have heard (and cannot substantiate) that they were losing substantial money on a daily basis right when Wal-Mart opened. 

My question is this: where was this effort before the advent of the Super Wal-Mart?  It’s obviously a reaction, which I find somewhat insulting.  If you were really committed to customer service, you would have done it before you were forced.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Whitinsville Aubuchon store. They’re known thoughout town for providing incredible customer service, they carry the odd ball hardware parts a tinkerer like myself needs and they’ve on many occassions directed me to another store that carries what I need, when they don’t have the item.  Their customers service is so good, I sometimes wonder if they aren’t actually cutting their sales slightly, but limiting the impulse shopping I might do while walking through their aisles.

When I need something, such as hardware, lawn mower parts, etc., I drived directly past Wal-Mart and go their.  I have made a committment in my own mind that I will not buy from Wal-Mart that which I could buy from Aubuchon. 

That’s the value of proactive customer service.  You have already created a level of customer goodwill which engages customers, which allows them to identify with your shop, service or product.  And in the case of the Whitinsville Aubuchon, I’m not the only one who’s made this decision – I hear it voiced by others daily. 

Congrats to manager June Stanovich, Dennis and all the crew.  You guys are excellent! 

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