19 Oct The Post-Purchase Evaluation
Today I was writing about the decision-making process that leads a customer to make a purchase decision and it made me think about my most recent purchase at a local liquor store on Saturday. I go into a lot of different stores for bottled gifts, usually near where I’m headed. The one I went to Saturday is an older store I visit time and time again. They’re in a run-down retail strip that has parking, but not always quite enough. The neighboring Caribbean restaurant smokes meats on a grill in front of their shop sometimes fogging the whole area. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the pawn shop on the end have a customer.
While they aren’t one of the stores that has bullet-proof glass at the counter (that always worries me), it has that slightly retro feel with the shelving all being very short, hand-written, neon-colored sale tags, and the back of the store has an old laminated table the looks like it was once filled with some old guys smoking and playing cards but now could be for Keno. I don’t really want to ding them for not updating the furnishings. It’s always clean, brightly-lit with no bulbs missing, and generally friendly people work there.
And that’s part of what I like about them. The door jambs may need some paint and counter-top-vinyl-lined shelving units may look kind of 70’s but they still take care of it. Nothing is broken or dirty, just worn. There’s no dust or rust. They take an interest in their customers, but don’t pester. I can browse as long as I like, but if I eyeball one of the local characters on-staff, they give their full attention promptly. Each person knows the inventory they’re supposed to have and where it’s located. Prices are always reasonable and they have a large selection of the 1.75L sizes for the value-conscious.
So that might seem like everything you expect, right? Yes, but my point is that surprisingly enough, this is not the typical experience I find going into a liquor store. This store is making up for physical location characteristics that might otherwise make me feel uneasy by being on top of their service, the same way I have enjoyed a good dive bar or greasy spoon who still delivers top-notch service. Here are a few examples.
I sometimes get a hello, not as in “I see you and I’m watching you,” rather as “I’m available if you need me.” I get acknowledgement for the brand I request, as in “I notice you have good taste in bourbon. Are you familiar with either XYZ brand, which also has these characteristics in common with the one you requested, or ABC brand which is new and just a little bit different in this way?” If it weren’t my industry, this kind of interaction would really help to expand my interest in a wider variety of products. When I am looking for a specific item, the clerk doesn’t just point in the direction with instructions, they give me a quick “that’s near the Whatever,” and then if I hesitate, they walk me to the area and point with an open hand so I can see my options without handing me a bottle and expecting me to commit. If there’s a relevant deal, I get that tip-off.
So what stood out Saturday was that I met the owner, Sandeep. It’s obvious in speaking with him he’s the one responsible for such a well-trained staff. Aside from recognizing my taste in bourbon and making his suggestions, he asked me if I was a frequent customer, probably because he had seen me head straight for the item I came in to purchase. And so yes, I told him that I had been in a couple dozen times over the past five years. Thoughtfully he asked if we knew the in-store tasting schedule, which I did not, and soon learned. And then he asked if there were any other occasions he could help us with, and in this instance there was indeed something coming up Thursday for which I had a specific purchase in mind, but did not think his store carried the item.
Okay, so this is where service truly exceeded expectations. Originally I was just being nice in engaging the owner in considering the planned purchase of a wine I know his store doesn’t carry. I’ve been to enough stores where I put in a special order request and then nothing happens that I didn’t think much of it. And I knew where to get this wine for Thursday reliably, and planned to go there Sunday regardless to make sure it was in-hand for this occasion. But Monday I got a mid-morning phone call from the owner following up to make sure he was quite clear on what I was looking for because he was having difficulty finding it in the ordering catalogues. I had already assumed the quick turnaround special request was going to be a non-starter and picked up the wine Sunday.
I told him I had already satisfied my immediate need for Thursday, because he had warned us Saturday that even if he was able to special order, the earliest it would be delivered was Thursday. But I also was so pleased to hear from him, I would happily make an additional purchase and hold onto it for future use. After lunch Sandeep called again with one of his distributors on the line. The distributor was trying to explain that the name I had given was a growing region, not a brand. Fortunately with the bottle in hand I could read to him that it was both the region and the label name, but give him the particular wine estate that bottles the label from the label’s fine print. Not a vintner that distributor carries in this circumstance, but an education all around. And while it likely wouldn’t get the special order solved for Thursday, the extra effort, even calling me Monday instead of the stated Tuesday for follow-up has demonstrated that this shop completely deserves my business.
Bringing it all back around to the primary point, what I was writing that brought up this whole story was the last stage of the purchase decision-making process, the post-purchase evaluation. When you get a customer in your establishment, they’re yours to lose. This is one of the benefits of asking customers if they have visited before, and if they have, asking what brought them back. You have the chance to set expectations each time you interact with a guest in your bar, restaurant, or hotel, or in this case liquor store. By meeting and even exceeding expectations, you build trust, and make it that much easier for the same customer to decide to repeat their business with you. It’s not just one good experience that holds your customer’s loyalty, it’s consistently good experiences. Sandeep exemplifies an owner who takes initiative in ensuring a consistently positive customer experience, and continues to sustain the loyalty of his customers. You are in control of this aspect of your business, and it costs nothing other than your attention. Please remember the power of this kind of no-cost opportunity and make it part of your routine.