9 Ways to Provide World Class Service and Profit

While big online retailers have plenty of systemic business advantages, you have advantages of your own. One of the biggest is customer service. Even in these days of online social everything, there’s not much more satisfying than a quality face-to-face experience.

9 Ways to Provide World Class Service and Profit

Customer service includes friendly, knowledgeable employees doing their best to work with customers along with attention to detail. (Photo: NSSF)

While it’s easy to blame online retailers or unfavorable price advantages for losing customers, it’s almost always a service issue that causes someone to stop doing business with a retailer.

In fact, leading management consultant surveys show that between 70 and 80 percent of lost customers result from poor service experiences. Here’s the worst part. Less than 10 percent of those customers will bother to explain to the business why they left. Let that sink in. Most customers you lose will be upset about something and you’ll have no idea what it was or even that they left you for another retailer.

To add insult to injury, lost customers are really, really expensive. As with most things in life, customer value follows the 80/20 rule, meaning that 20 of your customers will be responsible for 80 percent of your profits. So, losing one of those makes a big dent in sales receipts. Gaining one is an expensive proposition too, especially compared to the cost of keeping an existing one. Most studies find that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep an existing one. When you net all that out, investing in practices to keep your customers makes a lot of financial sense. 

The good news is that keeping customers is largely under your control. Sure, there will be some who go their own way for various reasons no matter what you do. But the majority are yours to keep or lose depending on how you elect to do business. 

Let’s explore some strategies with proven success to build a service-centric business.

Service Means Making Money

Providing excellent service isn’t about butt-kissing or being subservient. The ultimate purpose of providing good service is to make money. Lots of it. Just ask the General Manager of the Boston Common Ritz-Carlton hotel, one location in a chain world-renowned for its exceptional customer service. He explains, “The owners of this hotel opened it for only one reason — to make money. Our job is to help them make money. And how do we help them make money? No matter what our work is and no matter where we do it in the hotel, our job is to make guests feel good, so they come back.”

It’s that simple. 

Every time you suffer through a difficult customer or have to re-dedicate your efforts to motivating your staff to provide superior service, remember that you’re getting paid by the hour to do it. As you watch that satisfied customer walk out the door, just remember that they’ll be back to buy again. If they’re supremely satisfied, they’ll tell some friends to drop by. By keeping them as a loyal customer, you’ve executed the single most effective strategy possible to improve your bottom line. 

Consider Customer “Satisfaction” A Failure

Many of us check social media reviews when buying a product or deciding which hotel or restaurant to visit. As most review systems are based on one to five stars, could we agree that a three-star review means “satisfied?” If a restaurant listing has an average three-star review, meaning customers are “satisfied” but the next restaurant in the list features a five-star rating, where are you going to eat?

These days “satisfied” isn’t good enough.

If you’re “satisfied” will you rush out and tell friends about your experience? Will you spend the time to leave a positive review on the business’ website or some other social media review site? Probably not. How about if you’re inspired or uplifted about your experience at a retail store? “Satisfied” isn’t a word you want associated with your business. You’ll be far better off when customers use words such as “thrilled,” “ecstatic,” or “amazed.” Anything less is a failure. 

Treat Service As A Profession

If you’re reading this, you may not have watched too much of the PBS television series Downton Abbey. It’s not exactly a macho gun aficionado show. To catch you up, the story was about the Earl of Grantham and his family in early 20th Century England. As much as the narrative covers the lives of the aristocrats, it also delves into the life stories of the grand country home full of professional servants. The word “professional” is the key. At the time, professional service was a worthy career endeavor. Whether maid, cook, butler or footman, these individuals aspired to perfection and rising through the ranks as they excelled at mastering the details of their trade. 

The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain continues to dominate in treating customer service as a professional endeavor today. Once again, the company came out on top of the Newsweek and Statista America’s Best Customer Service 2019 report. Why? For the Ritz, who prides itself as having “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” it boils down to three simple tactics or “steps of service” that provide guidance for their 40,000 employees across 97 properties worldwide. 

1. Give every guest a warm and sincere greeting.

2. Always use the guest’s name when anticipating or fulfilling their needs.

3. Bid them a fond farewell.

By defining the job, whatever it may be, as professional service, the company continues to “wow” guests year after year.

In the gun business, you may need to consider ranking your hiring attributes a bit non-traditionally. It’s easy to find and hire “gun gurus” who can tell you the change in operating rod design of M1 Garand rifles. While product knowledge is important, customer service skills are more so. Sadly, our industry has a well-earned reputation for lousy service and part of the reason is that we focus on hiring buddies who are also keen on guns. If you can find a guru who knows how to wow a customer, then great! If you can’t, consider finding a service professional and training them on the gun knowledge.

“Satisfied” isn’t a word you want associated with your business. You’ll be far better off when customers use words such as “thrilled,” “ecstatic,” or “amazed.” Anything less is a failure. (Photo: NSSF)
“Satisfied” isn’t a word you want associated with your business. You’ll be far better off when customers use words such as “thrilled,” “ecstatic,” or “amazed.” Anything less is a failure. (Photo: NSSF)

Implement A Service Culture

A couple of random tactics won’t transform a business into a service champion. Companies such as Walt Disney make service a core component of everything they do. As the big man once said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” And it works. On any given day, 75 percent of the guests in a Disney Theme park are repeat customers. 

Disney uses a seven-part service mandate that it has integrated into its iconic Seven Dwarves framework. While you won’t want to copy this verbatim, because make-believe dwarves have little to do with modern firearms, it makes sense to develop your own three or four mandates of customer interactions. 

1. Be Happy ... make eye contact and smile! 

2. Be like Sneezy ... greet and welcome each and every guest. Spread the spirit of hospitality — It’s contagious! 

3. Don’t be Bashful ... seek out guest contact! 

4. Be like Doc ... provide immediate service recovery! 

5. Don’t be Grumpy ... always display appropriate body language at all times! 

6. Be like Sleepy ... create DREAMS and preserve the “MAGICAL” guest experience! 

7. Don’t be Dopey ... thank each and every guest! 

Drive A “Show Ready” Mentality From The Top Down

One Disney service hallmark is being “show ready.” People, places and processes are all carefully designed to make sure the business is ready to go when the doors open and remains that way throughout the day. Implementing a cultural change like this is a top-down affair.

There’s a story about Walt Disney touring the California park back in 1957 with a group of Disney executives. After seeing one of the group step over a piece of trash, Disney asked the VP why he didn’t pick it up. The man responded that picking up trash was not his job. You can guess how that went. Disney fired the highly-paid executive that very day, reinforcing his cultural mandate of always being show ready.

In the firearms retail business, being “show ready” can be as simple as making sure the store and entrance area are clean and organized, new stock is put on the shelves and staff is smiling and ready to wow a customer. 

Empower Your Employees

While we’re talking about Disney, I want to share a quick story that illustrates the very real value of employee empowerment. Visiting the Orlando park with my then-young son years ago, we were headed out at the end of a long day. Stopping by a kiosk near the Tomorrowland Speedway to buy a model car my son had seen earlier, we found the kiosk closed.

As we were browsing some stores on Main Street to see if we could find it there, a cashier overheard us talking about the car and how it didn’t seem to be available in the Main Street gift shops. Just an average cast member, this young woman picked up a phone, made a call, had someone open the kiosk and hand deliver the model car to the store where we were. We were stunned. We hadn’t even complained.

Here’s the important takeaway. The person who solved the problem was a cashier who was empowered, like every other employee there, to provide excellent service. She didn’t require paperwork or management approval to fix a problem. The other regular cast member who answered the call didn’t question the request either, but acted immediately. What did that cost the Disney corporation? A few minutes of time. What did they get? Sure, a model car sale, but much more than that. Not only has my family been to Disney countless times since, but here I am telling the story to you 20 years later. 

Anticipate Customer Needs

People are satisfied when they get what they ask for. They’re awed and dumbfounded when they get what they need without having to ask. That’s the value of anticipatory service.

The good news is that providing anticipatory service doesn’t require mind reading or magic. All it takes is a little caring, supplemented with basic observation. Here’s an example: I’ve received hundreds of transferred guns for stories and reviews over the years through a dozen or so different retailers across multiple states. In all that time and with all those transactions, not once have I ever had a retailer suggest a related product or gear that would pair with the firearm I was picking up.

At a minimum, wouldn’t it makes sense to anticipate that I might need some ammo of the same caliber? “Hey, we just got in some new Master Blaster 6mm Ultra Magnum cartridges that should work great in that rifle you’re picking up. Would you like to see it?” 

Suck It Up For The Long-Term Benefit

My family was in the retail furniture business for decades. One of the hallmarks of the company’s brand was “no question” customer service. As most of the business was centered around high-end antiques, there was often a need for more “hands on” interactions. Whether that was installation or on-site repair, customers quickly learned that the company would stand behind their sales and word spread to that effect. 

Sometimes, people will take advantage of a solid service mentality. I remember going on one service call regarding a dining room table. The customer called and claimed that their $15,000 table had a dent that they didn’t notice when they bought it and they wanted it fixed, preferably on site. He was not happy and asked how the company could have charged so much money for a “damaged” piece of expensive furniture. He demanded immediate service the following morning, which was a Saturday. 

For kicks, I rode along and watched the carpenter raise the dent and begin the process of refinishing the surface to match. During this process, one of the customer’s teenage kids walked in and said something to the effect of, “Oh, I’m glad they can fix that. I thought when Mom dropped a pitcher on the table that it would have been permanently damaged.” We collectively bit our tongues while the buyer made his awkward “Oh, crap I’ve been busted!” face. To make a long story short, we smiled, finished the repair job and even apologized for the trouble. 

Why suck it up when the customer was clearly lying and trying to take advantage? Reputation. That customer would almost certainly buy again once they got over their embarrassment at getting caught in a lie. But more importantly, while they may not tell friends about the good experience, they certainly would have spread their story about our refusal to stand behind “damaged” products to anyone who would listen. This “warranty call” probably cost a couple of hundred bucks in skilled carpentry time, but protected tens of thousands in long-term business. 

In a questionable service situation, you can certainly be right and “win” a dispute with a customer in the wrong. However, it’s almost always a Pyrrhic victory and while you might “win” the battle you’ll probably lose the war. Sometimes it’s better to just “suck it up” in the name of service.

Say It In Writing

Customers don’t care what you know until they know that you care. When a customer knows that you’re concerned with their well-being, you’ve moved the retailer/customer relationship to a whole new level. 

I have a pile of letters in my filing cabinet from Frank Brownell. I’ve not yet met him in person, but apparently, he really appreciates my mentions of Brownells in articles that I write. For a long time, after a magazine article with a Brownells reference would hit the streets, I would receive a personal letter from Frank thanking me for thinking of Brownells and sharing my thoughts on whatever the topic at hand was. Obviously, Frank wasn’t reading every article from every publication in the industry, but it was clear that he cared enough to solicit some help and invest the time and effort to send all of those thank-you notes. 

The point of this story is two-fold. Frank Brownell obviously cared. He also showed that sentiment by sending a quick signed note. Why not order a few hundred embossed notecards with your store name and logo and send everyone who buys a new gun a two-sentence hand-written thank you? I guarantee that you’ll stand out.

While big online retailers have plenty of systemic business advantages, such as volume buying and pricing and the ability to inventory a vast selection of products, you have advantages of your own. One of the biggest is customer service. Even in these days of online social everything, there’s not much more satisfying than a quality face-to-face experience.


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