The same but different

Departments - Viewpoint

How to stand out in a marketplace of sameness.

March 7, 2017

Not everyone can have a niche market. There’s a reason I see hundreds of thousands of 3-gallon Buxus when I travel – there’s a huge demand for that product. If you’re growing blocks and blocks of the same plant as your neighbor down the street, you’ve got to make an impact on your customer base.

I was reminded of this during the last few months as a consumer of two convenience stores in my hometown – QuikTrip (QT) and RaceTrac. RaceTrac is more convenient – it’s located adjacent to the high school, so it’s easy to pop in after wrestling practice to get my kiddos a Gatorade and a quick snack. I pass it every weekday for nine months – we’re in there a lot. QT is farther away, but close to many of the stores I frequent and close to the freeway heading “to town,” as we say in the country, so this chain gets a lot of our money, as well. The two stores are so similar in size, product options and design, that it’s easy to confuse the two. Both stores even use red as their main color scheme for signage.

Recently I noticed that my experience at QT is far superior to that of the one at RaceTrac, despite buying almost identical products at each store – fuel, bottled water, Gatorade, grab-and-go snacks, etc. When I enter QT, I’m immediately greeted, even when the place is crawling with customers. The store is clean and well stocked. The restrooms are clean. (This is a deal maker or breaker for me. You could have the most awesome product known to man, but I’m not going to buy it from you if your restroom is gross.) When I check out, the associate looks me in the eye (eye contact is powerful and crucial when making a connection with a customer), asks how my day is going, is patient if I’m digging for exact change in my purse, and says thank you at the end of our exchange. Those two words mean everything to me as a customer. It’s so rare to hear thank you from service companies anymore, and I’m still befuddled by it. How can anyone not train their employees from day one to simply say, “thank you” at the end of a transaction?

My experience lately at RaceTrac has been quite different. There’s no greeting when I enter, even when there are very few customers in the store. There’s no caring voice asking how I’m doing and there’s no thank you spoken before I leave – instead I get a “here you go” as I’m handed a receipt or the stale, “have a nice day.” Where am I going to start exclusively spending my money? QT, of course.

The Tulsa-based company often ends up on the best-places-to-work lists. Employees go through some vigorous training and are well compensated – managers can make $70,000 or more. And all employees are offered a generous benefits package.

In a market where two stores provide me with the same product at the same price, where one is more convenient and one is more in-tune with customer service, I’ll pick the latter every time.

Make sure you’re reviewing your customer service priorities, plans and scores at least twice a year. It could mean the difference between profit and peril.