“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This isn’t a message we usually ascribe to when it comes to business. We’re all about innovation and change, pushing boundaries and adapting to the times. But we allow one notable exception: customer service.
There’s just something about good ol’ fashion customer service that we love. It’s showing every customer that you care—that they’re more than a profit. From the days of front porch general stores, retailers that fostered relationships with their customers were successful, and that’s still true today.
Take, for example, Lester Binegar of University Bicycles. Binegar and his team are known throughout the industry for their unparalleled customer service. We chatted with the traditionalist for a little insight into his (very simple) process.
How did you get your start in retail?
I started in retail in 1989 as a bike mechanic with the idea of making my career in the bike industry. I quickly moved into the service management role and then store management. I then went to work for Fisher/Lemond Bicycle as a sales rep for 12 years in Colorado. University Bicycles was one of my clients and they approached me about managing the store. It was literally the only retail store I would have considered because it’s such a unique and successful business. There’re very few retailers like Ubikes because of the location, the community, the tourism and the history. Most of all though, it was Doug’s (the owner) approach to his business that made me realize it would be a perfect fit for me.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Leading my staff toward giving EVERY SINGLE PERSON who walks in an amazing experience. It’s the whole thing and it’s the way we approach every part of our business.
You’re known for your excellent customer service—what are a few key points of advice you’d give to retailers trying to improve their customer service?
#1 The owners and managers must be present on the floor and must always be working to give every customer amazing service. There can be zero tolerance for anything less.
#2 Organize everything you do as a business with your customers in mind. Put yourself in their shoes and have your store support their needs through your inventory selection, service department abilities and store procedures.
#3 Empower and trust your staff to make decisions for your customer’s best interest. Then watch and teach as mistakes and successes happen. Learn from them and change your business as needed—and quickly.
#4 If you’re an owner or manager you should know your own weaknesses and strengths. Constantly ask for and be open to criticism and improve as needed.
#5 Do not run your business based on a “numbers” philosophy. Good numbers happen as you achieve a consistent level of excellent service. We could ignore our monthly profit and loss statement for years and still kick ass.
#6 Value your staff and do all you can to pay them, teach them, protect them and then kick them out of the nest onto something bigger and better for themselves. Repeat as necessary.
#7 Fire employees who are not adding to the store’s culture. Do not allow poor attitude, lack of productivity or negative personalities to remain employed by you.
How do you integrate old-fashioned customer service with modern retail tenets?
We are all about simple business principles that are proven over time. There is no secret here, and there are no shortcuts. There’s hard work and dedication followed by scrutiny and a willingness to improve. We demand excellence, we reward excellence and we will constantly evolve in order to give our customers what they want.
How do you motivate your staff on a daily basis and keep them excited?
Providing a fun place to work that can serve as a stepping stone for your staff to move on to something better is very important to our success. We provide lunch on the weekends, we meet every morning to discuss improvements and successes, we take the crew on cycling trips three to five times per year, we have a keg for anyone who wants a beer after work, we sit down often with everyone to meet and keep things going in the right direction, and we truly give a shit about their lives and watching them grow as employees and people during and after they leave our business. Our staff is everything and we make it a point to take care of our family.
Why is customer service important—most important?
If you can’t provide great service to your customers, you will die. This is the beauty of competition. Embrace your competitors (internet and other retailers) and work to do a better job.