This was a great month for Ace Hardware. J.D. Power and Associates ranked Ace Hardware “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores” for the seventh straight year!
I love Ace Hardware for several reasons. When it comes to customer service, they are solid as a rock. Lots of companies considered rock stars in customer service win awards and accolades—companies like Amazon.com, Southwest Airlines, Zappos.com and others. Deservedly so, by the way. They really are great companies. However Ace Hardware is a different kind of success story. They are a David versus Goliath story, as they compete against Home Depot, Lowes and other “Big Box” companies who have larger stores, more inventory and bigger advertising budgets. Ace uses customer service, and specifically helpful customer service to compete and prosper in their market. But that’s not so much a secret. After all, the JD Power award is very public recognition for a job well done. Their secret starts with their culture.
The bottom line is that to be the best place to buy you must be the best place to work. Here is your best tactic:
Treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated—maybe even better!
If you have followed my work, you know that I’ve shared this line for many years. It’s the Employee Golden rule. This is the focal point of a company that is customer focused. The employees must be aware and in alignment with leadership’s vision and mission. Ace has simplified their vision and it can be summed up in one word: Helpful. They have operationalized the word helpful and every employee understands it. Ace wants to have the most helpful hardware stores on the planet. They hire for helpful, they train for helpful and they basically live and breathe helpful. To do this, they can’t just tell their employees. They have to demonstrate it. Not only must the customers experience it, the employees must experience it as well. It’s in their DNA, which for a company is their culture.
When it comes to amazing customer service, it starts on the inside and works its way out, and everyone in the company has to step up and become a leader in that effort. Amazing from the inside out means not saying one thing and doing something else. It means being genuine, and making sure that what people see and hear from you is what they actually get from you. At Ace, associates experience helpful before they are expected to generate helpful.
As Mark Schulein, one of the Ace retailers told me, “We focus on engaging with our own people first, knowing what they’re going through at home, finding out what’s going on in their lives, learning what we can do to support them, because that’s exactly what we want them to do for the customer once the customer walks through the door. We believe that in order to be the best place to shop, you have to be the best place to work first.”
Whatever gets rewarded and reinforced becomes part of the company’s culture—and whatever doesn’t get rewarded and reinforced affects the culture too.
The internal culture is the secret to delivering customer service. You can have all of the tools, techniques and more, but if customer service isn’t deeply rooted in the company’s culture, it won’t work.