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This digital age has welcomed a world of online retailers and on-demand services who are ever ready to ship you what you need, when you need it or stream what you want, when you want it. Mobile services are also on the rise with pet groomers, pop up shops and even dentists willing to travel to your home or business to deliver their goods.  

As such, it’s right for small businesses to be worried about the rise of on-demand services. Remember Blockbuster? Gone are the days of going to the video rental chain and perusing titles to choose what you’re going to spend the weekend watching. Netflix made it easier and more convenient. Then came Crave, Hulu, Amazon Video…

So how as a small business do you compete against this onslaught of online services and stores? How do you differentiate yourself so that your storefront is consistently welcoming clients and customers and closing sales?

Here are three ways to compete against on-demand services and stand apart from your digital competition:

Be Human

There is nothing more infuriating to me than calling a customer service line to be greeted with an automated message that reads options I can select by pressing 1 to 9. Or even worse, the automated message that says back in a robot voice what it thought I said and then asks me to confirm with a yes or no? I want a human! That’s why I’ve called customer service.  

As fancy as live chat may appear, nothing beats talking to a human being who can hear my frustration, exhaustion or exhilaration about their product or service and then provide the correct answer or knowledge which addresses my issue. Even better is when they can see and read my body language because I’m talking face to face with a customer service representative.

To be great at being human (as bizarre as that sounds), you’ll need to arm your storefront or brick and mortar business with a team that excels at customer service. You want your frontline staff to be friendly, know what they’re talking about and be able to supply answers and info promptly and thoroughly. That means taking the time to provide superior training and creating a culture where all people in the business value the services and products you provide.

When people are passionate about what they do – this is reflected in how they speak to others and this excitement is contagious, spreading to clients and customers also. Which brings us to…

Relationships. Relationships Matter

The difference between big box retailers and family owned mom and pop shops is the way customers feel. I don’t go to Walmart because I want to visit my favourite sales rep who’ll tell me about new products that have hit the shelves. That doesn’t happen there. There’s too much turnover and well, it’s not Walmart’s business model. I go in, find what I need and leave.

Online retailers also provide a quick and convenient experience but brick and mortar locations offer the opportunity to create relationships.  Again, it’s about people being human. It’s about the relationships that are developed through great customer service. Granted, this ability to cultivate relationships is not strictly reserved for independently owned business.

Starbucks and Nordstrom’s train their staff to provide exceptional customer service in an effort to distinguish themselves from their competitors. And clearly, both have remained successful by doing so.  Even though, the connection created is fleeting and only lasts until the transaction is completed and you’ve left the building, the point is these businesses understand the importance of making customers feel valued and a part of the business’s fam. Starbucks addresses me by name when giving me my drink. This minor detail goes a long way in helping to create a sense of this big business ‘getting to know me’.

Algorithms do continue to get smarter and smarter anticipating and thereby offering up product suggestions and recommendations based on past search results and past purchases. But again, these are machines. Not people. Nothing will ever replace the personal touch a great small business or brick and mortar location can provide through sincere and stellar customer service.  

Create an Experience

Apple totally gets this. They’ve created an environment which encourages customers to stay a while and peruse their devices, use them, charge your phone, etc. With its open concept and large aisles, they’ve created a kind of communal consumer space where you can walk in, experience their products and walk out if you wish.

Bass Pro Shops also provides this immersion into an experience of all things outdoorsy. They have aquariums stocked full of local fish! The immense square footage of their stores is like going camping in a land where all types of outdoor activities are possible. What both Apple and Bass Pro provide is an experience.

Sure, I can order a MacBook online or get a fishing rod delivered to my house but when I go to these specially designed brick and mortar stores, I am entering a world where I can play and truly experience what products and services they have to offer.

Viewing jewellery online vs walking into a Tiffany’s jewellery store are entirely different experiences. To stand apart from these on-demand and online services you want to create experiences for your potential customers that they just can’t resist.

Going to your business location should be a treat, an event if you will, an experience to look forward to in and of itself. Whether you create that by re-modelling displays or retraining your staff to better engage with customers, you want people to leave your business feeling like they’ve just had a wonderful experience they can’t help but want to share with others.

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