We’re seemingly bombarded by articles discussing “the Apple Experience,” or “the Disney Experience,” or the old standby “Nordstrom Experience.” What’s simply ignored is that these companies offer premium products and services. We just blindly accept it, and move on. Since we always use these premium examples, the door stands wide open for cynics to write-off these experiences because people willingly pay extra for them. We all probably hear “you get what you pay for” at least once a week.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer you a story to the contrary.
My wife and I found a really nice wooden swing set and playhouse recently, and my father-in-law was gracious enough to help us pick it up (it’s always good to know someone with a truck and trailer). Everything was in great shape, however several pieces of hardware had rusted, and we ended up needing to replace a few things. After we dropped everything off at the homestead, we took off to the nearest hardware store for a few nuts and bolts.
Hanover, MI is not what anyone would consider a big town. It’s best described as a farming community, with a gas station, a small grocery, a fire station, a small factory, and, of course, a small hardware store. With less than 450 residents, there isn’t an Apple store, most can only dream to visit Walt Disney World, and it’s highly likely no one knows what a Nordstrom’s is, let alone where to find one. Fortunately, it doesn’t need any of those things for its residents to understand what a good customer experience is.
As we entered the hardware store, I was treated to a carefully choreographed ballet of phenomenal customer service. My father-in-law (a Vietnam veteran, and Michigan Bell retiree-turned-hobby farmer) was greeted by name, as the manager was already ambling toward us. After explaining what type of hardware we needed, he grabbed a small paper sack and a pen, and escorted us to the appropriate aisle. He then proceeded to write down on the sack the cost and the quantity of the items as my father-in-law read off each piece (I’m pretty sure they’ve done this before). All I had to do was stand back and grin. The whole transaction lasted less than ten minutes, all at a whopping cost of $10.29. I was dazzled.
This same thing happens at small hardware stores around the country. Customers bring in the most random of broken parts, screws, and fixtures, and some cheerful employee leads them right where they need to go. It happens with predictable frequency after customers get blown-out of big-box hardware stores. Whether it’s a $0.06 nut, or a $3,500 lawn tractor, the service is always the same. Exceptional.
If you find yourself needling a little inspiration, drive past the Apple store. Keep going past the bookstore. Keep driving until you’ve left the suburbs behind. Drive to the nearest small-town hardware store. It might be all the inspiration you need.