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The True Value of Value-Added Customer Service
By Orvel Ray Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

There's a True Value hardware store in my hometown that has a reputation for being expensive. You can find it cheaper just about anywhere, but if you just can't find it anywhere else, go to McGuckin's Hardware.

I was restoring an antique drum set, and had broken a lug-screw. This lug had a square head to fit a drum-wrench, with English threads. Companies stopped making these things fifty years ago; today everything is metric. Rummaging through parts bins in the dusty back rooms of a dozen music stores proved a major exercise in frustration.

As a last resort, I went to McGuckin's. The shock walking in the place was overwhelming! Huge, brightly lit and spotless. Everything neatly labeled, priced, and exquisitely merchandised.

I had barely walked in when a young man in a freshly pressed green apron greeted me with raised eyebrows and asked, "Are you looking for something in particular?"

"Well, yes," I said. "I've just about given up hope, but maybe you've got something in the way of a bolt or something that will work." I showed the clerk the broken lug and resigned myself to enduring the usual runaround. I was growing accustomed to being shuffled from to one clerk to another for an hour or so before being dumped out on the street.

"Let's take a look," says the clerk, turning down a long, narrow aisle, walled in by high steel shelf units, each containing hundreds of small drawers. The first drawer he opened revealed an assortment of four-sided-head-with-a-three-eights-inch-diameter-chrome-plated-shaft-with-English-threads lug bolts!

"Now what length did you need?" he asked. I was astounded.

Three register clerks stood by, waiting to ring up my sizeable order. I paid forty cents, which when you think about it, is an outrageous price for one lousy bolt. But I would have gladly paid twenty dollars or more to repair this old drum. I had already invested weeks looking for the broken part, and the McGuckins clerk found it in two minutes. And now, as a home owner, I spend a lot of money in Mr. McGuckin's higher-priced-than-anyone-else-in-town hardware store.

You can't walk down an aisle without bumping into one of those green-aproned guerrillas. Two thirds of McGuckin's employees are dedicated to full-time floorwalking, and every employee stocks shelves until everyone knows where every one of over 10,000 items can be found. They are prohibited by company policy from ever using the phrase, "No, we don't have that." Instead they say, "We'll be happy to order it for you," while serving over 3,000 customers a day, seven days a week.

The success story of this hometown hardware can be boiled down to three common sense things that guerrillas understand. First, they anticipate the customers' needs by having a wide selection of merchandise and options available. In addition, the guerrilla is always prepared to suggest some solution or alternative, even if it means brokering an item, or personally introducing them to a competitor.

Second, they give customers only one person to deal with. These guerrillas know the territory. If you want to win the respect and loyalty of your customer, take personal responsibility for solving the problem without handing it off to someone else. If this means you have to do research, check with another department, or ask a supervisor, fine. Guerrillas will set up a three-way conference call, and keep the customer at their side and on the line as they investigate.

Third, they add value to commodity hardware items through display, merchandising, and service. Guerrillas know that people make buying decisions on the basis of value, not price. And everyone at every level can find ways to add value, regardless of the product. Whether it's tracing the status of an order, investigating an invoicing error, or pricing out a custom job, guerrillas remember that customer service is everyone's responsibility.

The bad news is that American business is increasingly being dominated by coupon printers, discounters and off-shore manufacturers. In this economic environment, service is the only arena where the guerrilla can compete effectively.

The good news is that people will gladly pay for exceptional treatment. That means service that never sends them away frustrated, service that surpasses the norm, service that surprises and delights, service that solves their problems. Such service will be the key to profitability for the handful of guerrillas who get it right.

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