Oct-20-2008

Full Service or Self-Serve

Post written by Chris Spagnuolo. Follow Chris on Twitter 3 comments

Last week I spent some time at my in-law’s place in Wisconsin. While we were visiting around the cow-dotted countryside, we came to a small town called Hilbert where we had a great dinner at an off-the-beaten track restaurant called the Village Hearthstone (I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin). On the way out of Hilbert, we passed through New Holstein. My in-laws pointed out Schaar’s Union Oil Service Station. It didn’t look like anything special, just a nice looking family run service station. But they told me it was the last of a dying breed: The Full Service Gas Station. Yes, I know, Oregon and New Jersey are full of them, but it’s because by law they have to provide full service. In Wisconsin, as in most other places, self-service is the norm. But Schaar’s is different. I’m talking real old-fashioned full service. The “Check your tires ma’am?” kind of full service. They’ll actually open your hood and check your oil and wiper fluid…and top it off if you need. They clean your windows, your wiper blades, and your headlights. And of course, they pump your gas.

My first thought was, “Hmmm how quaint. But the Kwik Trip across the street has the same gas for 10 cents cheaper per gallon. Bet they do much more business than Schaar’s.” My in-laws quickly informed me that actually, not many people from New Holstein stop at the Kwik Trip for gas. Schaar’s apparently has a very loyal following. Their customers love the full service that Schaar’s offers. And guess what? As small town as it sounds, the guys who work at Schaar’s actually know their customers. They talk to them. Everyday! They understand the people they serve. They understand that their attention and full service is what sets them apart from the monolithic Kwik Trip’s of the world.

On the other hand, Kwik Trip’s customers get exactly what their name implies. A quick stop, fill the tank and off you go. No extra services. No special attention. No pleasant conversation. No chance for Kwik Trip to get to know their customers or vice versa. It’s a cold, one-way relationship. Even though Kwik Trip is cheaper by 10 cents per gallon and offers the “convenience and value” of self-serve, Schaar’s has something Kwik Trip doesn’t have: A real relationship with their customers. And that’s what really matters.

The lesson here: Next time you have a chance to interact with your customers, really take the time to talk with them. Build a relationship with them. And take the time to recognize that lower cost and “best value” is not always the path to success. Offer your customers more than a quick fill up. Offer them full service. Don’t you think they deserve it?


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  1. Neal Pearce said,

    Chris why does it have to be OR why not give customers choice? Sometimes I want to chat and interact, sometimes I just want what I want and then get going no frills. I think customers deserve choice don’t you?

  2. Chris said,

    I do think customers deserve choice. But what I believe is that if you provide excellence and really differentiate yourself, you build a Tribe. And Tribes follow you wherever you go. You can’t build a tribe with self-service. You build a Tribe by building relationships.

  3. rishie said,

    I think the punchline is, give your customers the best service you possibly can. Because they will pick up on it and appreciate you for it if they do.

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