With a difficult economy and more and more products becoming more and more alike, service has become even more important.
Not just good service. Exceptional service. Here are some examples from the Wall Street Journal:
At a Mini Cooper dealer in Plano, Texas, they're installing a dog wash, to give you something to do while your car's oil is being changed.
Beauty shops are adding arcade games. Companies are equipping waiting areas with computer tablets and free WiFi. Those are to minimize the "waiting feeling" that we hate.
One car dealership expanded its waiting area to four times its normal size, to include a "quiet area" with computers, a place for kids to play, and a "lounge" area with an arcade area. As a result, the dealership can have a smaller loan fleet because more customers are willing to wait there during service.
A Los Angeles car dealership group has a Starbucks Cafe, with Starbucks-trained baristas. Customers who wander in for coffee get to see the new cars. The car salespeople are not allowed to talk cars near the coffee section.
In a completely different area, an orthopedic surgeon launched a smart phone app with color-coded wait times, so people can go out and shop and know when to come back. Once back inside they offer Internet tablets so patients can surf the Web.
The WSJ also talked about Halo, a Chicago hair salon for men, with a living-room-like waiting area with free beverages and big leather chairs and TVs. The men are sorry when they're called for their styling.
Whatever the industry, service can be the big differentiating factor. We often pay more for a product knowing the service is superior. And yet banks and some supermarkets and drug stores are taking services away, shifting more of the work from employees to their customers --- more online banking, more self-checkout at stores.
One of the great things about Oregon --- you're not allowed to pump your own gas. But actually, when self-service was launched in other states, the oil companies were worried about asking people to get out of their cars and get their gas. Research showed most people didn't mind; it was better than waiting for the attendant.
Sometimes good service is doing more, sometimes it means doing less. But the only way to find out is by knowing your customers.