Guest or Customer

Is it annoying when a teller at the bank refers to you as a guest instead of a customer? Maybe; but there is a good reason they are doing that: Large companies are large. Well “duh” you may say but hear me out. As a company grows larger it invariably loses the ability to relate to it’s customers on the intimate level of a small business. As much as people crave convenience and low prices they also crave the familiarity of merchants that know them and understand what they like and how they shop. In a lame attempt to create this familiarity many stores and attractions have taken to calling their customers “guests”. I think this was pioneered by Disney at their theme parks which try to the point of distraction to seem like an extension of your comfy living room. Workers at Disney aren’t even called employees, they are “Team Members”, yay team! It all has to fall flat because no matter how many euphemisms you attempt to employ to replace the word customer at the end of the day that’s exactly what they are: customers. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s no secret that if someone walks into a Walmart they are there to buy something (usually socks or underwear but sometimes charcoal briquettes). I highly doubt that someone going to Walmart or Chase bank or any other huge retail presence truly notes if they are addressed as a customer or a guest or anything else as long as it’s a polite greeting. There will never ever be an intimacy between a Walmart cashier and a “guest”. It just won’t happen. Their job is to get you checked out quickly and efficiently. They can address you any way they like, it doesn’t matter, in the end they do and say what they’re told to by a corporate handbook and there is nothing wrong with that. It just won’t ever create a “real” experience nor should it.

Retail by nature is strictly a transactional experience: buying and selling; until it’s not.

So what’s my point? Small retail or as I have termed it “Community based retailing” can often become much more intimate and involved. Last week I spent a half hour listening to and consoling a client who had just lost his father. My colleague was amazed that he just came into a (my) store and felt comfortable enough to very emotionally discuss this sad event in his life. This did not happen by chance. I have cultivated an environment that encourages just this kind of familiarity and intimacy, the kind  that a large store can never achieve. If you think this goes unnoticed in your community you’re  dead wrong and delusional. Not only is it noticed, it is vital. People often seek out these type of connections because they provide comfort and intimacy while at the same time maintaing a distance. Try walking into a Target and seeking the consolation of the sporting goods clerk. It is not going to happen and it wouldn’t make sense. Community based retailing survives because of interactions like this and people are willing to pay a premium for this type of environment. If you doubt me I invite you to spend an afternoon in my store with me and see the wide variety of conversations and breadth of knowledge about my clients that I employ every day. It is of course something I love but I do it because the community wants it.

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