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What the Sub Shop Owner Reminded Me about Customer Service and Sales

I have frequented the sub shop around the corner from our offices lately to take advantage of a seasonal seafood sandwich. And by frequent, I mean the people start making my sandwich as soon as they see me approaching the door. A few days ago I received the sad news that my favorite sandwich was no longer going to be available. The news was delivered by the shop owner and how it was communicated, as well as what followed, was a master class in sales and customer service for every business everywhere. These are the take-aways for me:

1. Be proactive with your customers

Rather than have me come in for lunch in the coming days full of anticipation about how delicious that sandwich was going to be, she told me BEFORE my next visit what the status of my favorite ‘merchandise/service’ was. Not only did that make me feel special, it also helped prevent a negative reaction from me in the middle of lunch service had I not known. Most importantly, it allowed her to start solving the problem for me before it was an in-the-moment problem – which was really smart.

2. Have a solution for a customer before they know they have an issue

As soon as she told me my sandwich was going away she started the sell to keep me an engaged and loyal customer regardless of the loss of the basis of my relationship with that location and brand. She immediately asked me if I had tried their tuna sandwich as it provided me another seafood option. My husband makes the best tuna salad in the world so I told her I didn’t purchase it in restaurants. She quickly pivoted to chicken salad as a replacement and showed her expertise in another area of customer service and sales…she started to talk me through what else I might like while demonstrating her knowledge of her products and her observations of me, the customer.

3. Show your customer that you are an expert in your field AND are tailoring a response to them

She asked one of her employees to bring me a small sample of the summer chicken salad. “You like cold sandwiches and a seasonal offering so I think you’ll really like our chicken salad,” she mentioned as she handed it to me. She used the Amazon upsell technique by telling me that lots of customers that enjoyed the seafood, also loved the chicken salad. She also knew every ingredient in that salad (there were 8) and before I took the first bite I had confidence that it was good, that she had suggested it with me in mind, and that she knew everything about everything she served.

4. Personally invite your customers to return around a specific item or event

I’m from North Carolina and though I’ve lived in some pretty exciting cities, I chose to return here and stay. Having said that, hearing ‘Come back to see us,’ ‘Tell your friends about us,’ and any other rote invitation to return to a store falls flat regardless of the southern hospitality behind it if it doesn’t connect to me specifically. My sub shop owner asked me specifically to come back the next day to try the chicken salad. She then asked me if I knew what time I was going out to get lunch because she’d be happy to have one waiting for me at that time. To show her commitment to my dining experience she also let me know that if I just didn’t like it, she would make me a replacement. That invitation to return for something chosen just for me at a time that was important to me, is what ensured that I ate there again.

5. Encourage them to spread the word

After I had eaten the chicken salad and liked the chicken salad she asked me if I had others in the office that might want to try it. She also encouraged me to write a quick review about the shop and that salad in particular. I was happy to comply.
The incident lasted all of five minutes but encapsulated perfect sales and customer service techniques. Your customers want to feel that you are looking out for them, that they can be confident in your recommendations, that you want them to return because you can provide something specific for them, and that you are one of their tribe by an invitation to recommend them. All of these things not only provide a wonderful customer relationship, they lead to sales and loyalty.

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