Last time, in The End is Nigh? Part I, we talked about the impact of Big Box stores on your traditional, Brick-and-Mortar Favorite Local Game Store and how they can combat the retail giants bringing in non-traditional board games. This discussion was started, in part, as a response to an article written by Erik Weks on Wired.com. Our first suggestion was to increase variety and diversify their on hand stock. Today we discuss Customer Service.
Superior Customer Service is our second major area in which the FLGS can score over their Big Box rivals, and it is even more important than variety. So important that we can’t cover it all in just one article.
So the question is, what does Customer Service mean to the local, independent store and what can they do to distinguish themselves from the big guys?
Consider what passes for customer service in a Wal-Mart, Target or other similar retailers. Generally speaking, the staff of these stores are very busy, few and far between and possess only the basic information presented on the box of whatever product they are selling in whatever department they work. There are exceptions, of course, but my experience, both as a customer and former employee of such places, tends to be more like this than not.
Major retailers like to staff at a minimum level in order to keep expenses low. During busy hours you can generally find two, maybe three employees, in the busiest departments depending on store size and location. Toy and game departments are usually slightly better staffed than this, but not by much.
Speaking from experience, these Toy Department employees spend most of their time doing one of two things, either putting new stock on the shelves or picking up after the latest rampage of unattended children. Add in special projects from Managers, arranging product nicely on shelves, processing customer returns, covering breaks in nearby departments and so forth and the typical employee finds actual Customer Service to be, at best, 5th or 6th priority in their typical day.
Given that the typical FLGS has but one department and tends to be on the smaller side of retail spaces, it is far easier for store owners and employees to be available to customers and, while it often seems daunting, there is less extraneous work to do. This allows the FLGS Owner to focus more directly on Customer Service.
Customer Service is more than just the usual meet, greet and point routine, though. Unfortunately, this is exactly what you get at some game stores. The attitude seems to be that the store is doing the customer a favor just by existing in the first place and we should be thankful for that. If that sounds familiar to you it should. It is exactly the same attitude the majority of Big Box store employees have. You feel as if you have somehow interrupted their day by coming to shop there. Customers, especially new ones unfamiliar with what your store may have to offer, don’t need to come to your store to get that attitude. They can go, literally, anywhere else. And they will.
If you want to keep them, and keep your existing customers, you have to do more.
If a new customer comes into the store your biggest chance of retaining that customer is in offering personal service. Greeting and pointing isn’t going to do it. You have to assess your customer’s needs and do your best to fulfil them.
If a customer tells you they like, for instance, Monopoly and want something like it, it is up to you to clarify what it is about Monopoly they like. Is it the roll and move mechanics? Or the idea of owning Real Estate? Do they enjoy ability to charge their friends for using their property? Maybe the Chance or Community Chest cards are what really appeals to them?
Yes, some people just really like Monopoly, but others focus on one aspect as being most enjoyable. Sometimes that aspect has almost nothing to do with the actual game itself, but in order to meet the customers needs, you have to figure out what that is first. If a customer tells you they like the Real Estate portion, that can lead to games such as Acquire. If they like something more abstract, such as the way everyone has fun when playing, then another game, such as the recently discussed Apples to Apples, which encourages players to have fun while playing, may be exactly what they are looking for and is nothing at all ‘like Monopoly’. You won’t know until you ask the right questions. Questions which Big Box employees rarely, if ever, ask. Instead, they just point the Monopoly seeking customer at another version of Monopoly.
Product knowledge is something you as a FLGS owner or employee can offer as well. Anyone, including the customer, can pick up a box and read the back of it. Unfortunately this isn’t going to tell the potential customer much about the game aside from theme. The back of the Pandemic box, for instance, tells us the following:
You and your companions are highly-skilled members of a disease-fighting team waging a battle against four deadly diseases. Your team will travel across the globe, stemming the tide of infection and developing the resources you’ll need to discover the cures. You must work together, using your individual strengths to destroy the diseases before they overtake the world. The clock is ticking as outbreaks and epidemics accelerate the spread of the plague.
Will you find the cure in time?
The fate of humanity is in your hands!
While that all sounds interesting and perhaps even a little exciting, it doesn’t tell us much about the game. For instance, it leaves out the extremely important fact that you are playing against the game itself and that everyone is on the same ‘team’. It doesn’t mention anything about the action points, or the way the deck of cards works or the roles and abilities of the player or how hard the rules are to learn or what number of players it works best with or even if your one friend, who speaks Spanish better than he does English, can still play the game reasonably well with the rest of you guys without needing lots of translation help. Only you can answer those questions for your customers and only provided that you take the time to get to know your products.
Now, we aren’t saying you should play every single product your store carries. Nor are we saying you should be able to answer every rules question or speak at length on the differences between the various edition of the 18xx series of train games. Or even that you know how initiative is handled in each of the 17 different role playing game titles you carry. That is patently ridiculous, although, to be fair, I’ve been to a couple of Game Stores where they could do all that.
What we are suggesting is that you need to know more than just what is written on the back of the box. Because anyone can pick that up and read it and then know just as much as you. You do, for instance, need to know the difference between the latest edition of Age of Steam and Steam: Rails to Riches because that difference is explained nowhere on the box of either of them, even though both the games came from the same original source game. Even knowing that there IS a difference is a step further than any Big Box is going to be able to go. That makes you more valuable a resource to the customer. And that brings customers back.
Next time, we’ll take an in-depth look at services that the Big Box guys just can’t provide.Add to favorites
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