Frankly, had anyone asked me --- I’d never have considered Springfield, Missouri, a “Southern” city. But it’s as Southern as they come. Once I got used to designating “unsweetened” iced tea in restaurants, I quickly learned that the pleasant ways of the Old South are alive and well in Springfield. People speak, wave, nod their head when they pass. They let you go first down the aisle in the grocery store. They still carry your bags to the car. Bank tellers notice when you appear in their line for the second time in a month. And they’ll actually stop and ask if they can help when they see you struggling with something heavy.
As a small business owner this is of particular interest to me. Why? Because it makes me want to return to a business when I’ve been treated unusually well. I will drive a few blocks more to visit the best health store in Springfield (Mama Jean’s Natural Market - http://www.mamajeansmarket.net/) because of the lady who took time to help me find a special product I was hungering for. Last fall we repeatedly bought sodas and gas at a small store down in Rockaway Beach because the clerk took time to explain what bait the trout bite on down there (unlike what we’d been told at the sporting goods store up here in the “City”) and after following her advice we actually CAUGHT enough trout to have a good mess of fish for dinner that night. And the librarian who responded to my email and helped me get a library card really made my day. As an avid reader and researcher, I love Springfield’s library system and have taken full advantage of the opportunity to use it --- thanks to this lovely and gracious woman who took additional time to explain some of Springfield’s history to me.
All this Southern kindness made me stop and think about my own business policies. I have always tried to go the extra mile with my clients. Good service has become increasingly rare in this age of computers and speed. The rat race has overcome many. One of my reasons for leaving the conventional office environment behind was my desire to give my clients more personal attention. My clients are used to calling me with questions on everything from filing deadlines to help fixing footers in WORD. They know I’ll take care of them – if the software question is tricky, I’ll have them send me the document so I can fix it myself and return it immediately – generally without charge. And I know the next time they have a paying project that’s appropriate for my involvement, I’ll hear from them. In other words --- I give them a reason to come back!
One of the local news broadcasters likes to remind folks here that the Ozarks is where you can still find “Mom and Pop operations.” To some that would be a derogatory statement. To me it pretty much summarizes what I want my business to be – a place where people know they will be served well by me and where they know their business is appreciated.
My friend’s husband has his own auto restoration business and he just had open heart surgery. Recently I drove him to his bank --- a small, locally owned operation where he’s banked for more than 10 years. The teller at the drive-through window not only recognized him (way over in the passenger seat), but knew he’d had surgery and asked how he was doing. We then hit my favorite grocery store (Harter House) and his usual cashier and several other staff members greeted him warmly, with genuine concern for his well-being. This was the same store that shocked me on my first visit when one of the managers insisted on carrying the grocery bags to my car. When you buy meat from their marvelous meat counter the butchers ask if you want items broken down into separate packages --- a real blessing for a single person like me!
Take a little time and think about YOUR business practices. Are you doing all you can to encourage customers to return? Do you know enough about their businesses to offer helpful suggestions? Are you going the extra mile to make sure they get what they need from your projects? Do you add that little dollop of cream with a cherry on top? When they approach you about a new project, do you let them know how glad you are they have come to you and not that big box store down the freeway? When you haven’t heard from them in a while, are you checking to see how they are doing?
Much has been said about the economic downturn. My personal feeling is it works to the advantage of small businesses like mine. Large corporate businesses are locked into rules and regulations imposed by a “front office.” We, on the other hand, can adjust to our client’s needs and keep that sale from going down the street. Last night’s news broadcast contained an interview with businesses in a small community near Springfield (Ozark, MO). Several business owners repeated the same mantra: We go out of our way to be friendly and give visitors something extra. After all, why else would they come back?