In the age of Groupon, the return of Local Customer Service

In this age of Groupon, consumers are ostensibly looking for and testing new business relationships with coupons. Price has become a commodity, and now local merchants need to distinguish themselves based on service in order to build and maintain a loyal customer base. I myself have been witnessing a vast sea change on how banks, rental car companies, and even cable companies are empowering their employees to provide immediate solutions to problems. Thank Zappos for instilling a refreshing brand of “customer is always right”, and the social media for making corporations aware that rigid policies or bad employee behavior will produce a wave of outraged public feedback.

So what is the best way to get great customer service now? In today’s wired society, the answer is not obvious. THE CONSUMER NEEDS TO NURTURE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEIR LOCAL BUSINESSES. 800 numbers and online contacts don’t solve problems because their “operator” staffs can’t make exceptions to their standard business practices to solve problems. Here’s a starter list of five local businesses where building a personal relationship pays off in spades:

BANKER. Everybody thinks the banker has become irrelevant with online banking and ATMs. Get to know a banker because only they can credit an overdraft fee, clear a check quickly, or simply confirm a bank action in less than one minute, something I can never trust an 800 operator to do. My holiday wine gift to my banker pays off in  fees he’s credited over the year.

CAR MECHANIC. Trust is critical with mechanics because they can screw with you so easily. Dealership mechanics are generally tasked to profitability by their managers so it’s important to find a good local mechanic. Just as important is to return a quid pro quo service; if you’re a restauranteur, offer a free dinner. And don’t forget to post 5-star reviews on Yelp, AngiesList and Google Places and Facebook… all of them!

RENTAL CAR AGENT. Once the most rigid of service species (“your gas tank is only 7/8 full”), your “personal” agent can get you great local or under the counter pricing, a car upgrade, or even reserve that special car just for you at rack rate. The secret? Always ask for the email address of their regional manager, request a corporate phone call followup (Enterprise does this) and give them props. Their ascent to management is much quicker with good reviews.

HARDWARE STORE CLERK. Home Depot is good for projects but their employees may as well as work in a grocery store. For minor home repairs, a good local hardware clerk will save a lot of time by giving you an exact solution. They’re underappreciated; their reward is the recognition of their incredible usefulness.

NORDSTROM SALES PERSON. Nordstrom has a liberal return policy that allows consumers to reasonably return any product no questions asked long after the purchase. That policy makes Nordstrom the Zappos of department stores. Simply purchase everything through your personal Nordstrom clerk; take advantage of the three big sales events. Your commission based sales clerk (averaging 7% of sales) will go the extra mile to find desired items at other stores and make returns much easier.

Obviously, the new customer service movement can be extended to any business beyond the five above. Any stories from the local front?

About Pat Kitano

Patrick Kitano works with brands in developing hyperlocal engagement solutions and is administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of The Local Network on Street Fight, and is reachable via Twitter @pkitano and email

, , ,