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Which Lane Are You In? Is It Customer Service?

There are some companies that are recognized for their customer service.  It’s their focus, they have built their brands around it, and they’re good at it. You could say they “stay in their lane.” Some examples would be Ace Hardware (think helpful), Nordstrom and Zappos. Are these companies known for being the low price leader? No, but that doesn’t mean that they are overpriced. They compete fairly on price, but they deliver added value with their customer service. They are in the customer service lane.

Of course, these companies do have promotions and sales. I have found great buys at Nordstrom’s semi-annual sales. But their main focus is not on sales and discounted items. It’s the experience, and whether you shop during the sale or any other time, you get the Nordstrom experience.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have Dollar Stores. Their main goal is to offer an incredibly low-priced product. What you don’t find there, though, are sales experts greeting you at the door like you would at Ace Hardware, for example. The people are friendly as you interact with them at the cash register where they take your money and bag up your purchase. And that’s OK. It is part of their plan. Low prices are their focus, and they too, stay in their lane.

I started thinking about all this when I heard that Radio Shack had decided to close about 20 percent of its stores. Closing low-volume stores could be a savvy business move for a retail company, but it has been reported for some time that the business is struggling. Radio Shack was once a retail industry icon, so what happened? I may not have all the answers to that, but I do have a theory about what contributed to its current situation.

First let me say that I love Radio Shack and have great memories of going there as a kid to get items for cool projects (OK, maybe I was a bit of a geek). I still visit Radio Shack on occasion to purchase electronic accessories. Something has changed though. When I visit their store in the mall today I don’t get the same impression that I did as a kid. You know, that they sold things that weren’t available anywhere else – batteries, wires, cables. It was a cool place to find just what you needed. Do they still have that “cool” factor and offer hard-to-find items for electronics, phones and TVs? Are they the stores that come to mind when you are in the market for electronic items? Somewhere along the way, they switched lanes, but I’m not sure what lane they’re in now.

This is just an observation that made me think of companies that struggle because they can’t choose a lane and stay in it. Radio Shack may struggling to find its lane, and this just highlights the importance of that focus.

The companies I mentioned earlier – Ace Hardware, Nordstrom, Zappos – are not weaving around in traffic, shall we say. There is no confusion. We know what lane they are in and what they stand for. The same goes for the Dollar Stores and Walmart. Whereas the customer-service focused companies are firmly in their lane, the low-price stores are as well, and it works for them. There are yet other companies that stick to their chosen lane of industry-specific merchandise or very high-end merchandise.

So, which lane are you in? Did the answer come to mind easily? Hopefully it did for you and would for your customers as well. You can change lanes in business. It isn’t illegal and you won’t get a ticket. But it must be done with caution or you will confuse the customer. This remind me of the saying: “A confused customer won’t buy.”

(By the way, if you know who said, “A confused mind won’t buy,” let me know.  Our search for the source of this quote didn’t give us a definitive answer.)

Read more from Shep Hyken
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