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Independents or Nationals ? The Service Debate...

Posted 16 April 2013

Now let’s be absolutely honest here.  Look back over the past 12 months and think about the times when you have been dealt with bad service .. however you would define ‘bad’ or ‘service’.

Now, how many of those incidents happened with one of the evil, money-grabbing, all-pervading national businesses or chains  And how many came from the near-deity, the independent ?

I had cause to do this very recently, and have since asked an admittedly unrepresentative sample of friends and clients the same thing.  And they came up with the same answer…

You see, try as I might, I can’t pin any of the worst offences on a National.  Each of the incidents which have set my blood boiling have been at the hands of the sacred independent.  You know the sort of thing … the butcher who clears the shop for the last half hour of opening and won’t serve you if it means dirtying the knives again.  The baker whose idea of a good day is when they’ve run out of produce to sell at 2pm, despite being open till 4.30 (why do they bother paying their staff for the afternoons, I wonder…?).  The plumber who simply won’t answer a phone message offering them work ?

Now don’t get me wrong, my strongly-held belief is that we should support the Independent and loathe the National … and there are some fantastic examples of independent retailers and service companies who wipe the floor with all their competition.  But they are still in the minority .. and that leaves me perplexed.

How are Independents to succeed if it’s not on the excellence of their customer service ?  They’ll not compete on price, they’re disadvantaged on location, they’ll likely be left behind on range … that’s simple economics.  But on Service ?  It’s simply an attitude, a learned and trained skill, something you can completely tailor to your customer base, and something where you can create clear blue water of differentiation from your competition.

And yet so many don’t bother.  They don’t define what level of service they want to provide, they don’t set standards to adhere to, they don’t measure their customer satisfaction, they don’t train their staff to think differently, they don’t react and respond to customer feedback – all the things that the dastardly Nationals manage to do on a national scale.  And what happens ?  Well you know the stats – less than one in 5 businesses which started 5 years ago are still going today.

So maybe we need to be asking ourselves some different questions .. instead of bitching about Tesco or slating Costa about the effect they have on our lovely market towns and characterful villages, let’s start by asking ourselves – how can we be better?  

Believe it or not, the answer is pretty simple…