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Convenience store customers have historically reported that location, price, store appearance, beverage options and the appearance and “freshness” of food offerings is top of mind when choosing a store. However, one of the most critical factors of c-store selection that is rarely quantified — and a serious drawback in the segment — is the attentiveness and friendliness of shopper-facing staff.
A news article last year told of a Starbucks employee working in the Chase building in Manhattan who was asked by a customer to join the bank as a customer service representative because she “endeared” herself to many of the regulars. Bank executives were so impressed she always knew their name and beverage when they entered the store that they hired her.
While this is not a common occurrence, this feel-good story supports the well-known adage, “Treat your customers the way you want to be treated.” Whether you run four stores or a chain with more than 100 units, the friendliness and attentiveness of your staff often determines if a customer returns.
In our latest research, some of the top reasons consumers give for picking a c-store are order accuracy, service speed and in-store cleanliness — all in the 80-percent range. What’s also apparent is that friendly service ranks just as high (and notably, rates higher than prepared food prices).
Many implications and actions can be drawn from this finding. First, ensure employees dealing directly with customers are helpful, friendly and responsive. This means frontline staff must first feel valued, which trickles down from the top of the organization. Using Starbucks as a best-practice example, the coffeehouse chain provides its full-time employees with health care options, 401ks and college tuition assistance.
Secondly, employee friendliness can create a “halo” effect and raise the perception of a number of factors. For example, if you have an employee who builds rapport with regular customers and makes new customers feel special, their perceptions of price, location and store safety increase because customers see a higher value in frequenting a store that welcomes them.
Finally, while pursuing a customer-centric culture may be challenging, the results can mean sustained patron loyalty, differentiation and word-of-mouth marketing that is not easy to replicate.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.