How a supermarket in Leeds proved a personal touch is always appreciated

A trip down memory lane reminds Manar al Hinai how investing in customers by remembering special events that are important to them will leave lasting memories that last for years.

When I first moved to Leeds in England to study a few years ago, I experimented with the city. I took different routes to the university to test which was shorter and paid a visit to a number of supermarkets to see which was more convenient and provided the best options (by options I mean sweets and baked goods). More importantly, I wanted a grocery store close to my apartment to save my wrists unwanted pain from carrying heavy shopping bags home.

It was the holy month of Ramadan when I first moved in and I visited a supermarket across the street to buy some ingredients for dinner. The DVD movie selection by the entrance attracted my attention and I grabbed a movie to watch whenever I had some time. But then I noticed the “Ramadan food aisle”; a whole aisle dedicated to everything from spices, bread, and Ramadan-flavoured drinks, with even a frozen food section also housing special dishes for the holy month. I felt like I was in Abu Dhabi.

From then on I was hooked. I loved the fact this supermarket chain cared about the Muslim community. Although I had to enter a small shopping centre to reach it, instead of just popping around the corner to another grocery store, the customer care and service was worth the extra walk.

For me it all boils down to good customer service, and I cannot stress the importance of this – especially for start-ups and small businesses. There are numerous businesses out there, some that are formed overnight. And what will make your customers stick to you over your competitors is not only your unique product, but how you relate to them, how you establish a relationship, a rapport – a strong bond that makes them choose you every time.

One of the simplest ways to provide good customer service is to acknowledge the different religious festivals. Whether it is Eid, Ramadan, Christmas or Diwali, do something simple such as sending an electronic greeting card. If you have the means, a simple present could go a long way. It will show that you care and acknowledge their holiday as well as serving as a reminder about your services.

Perhaps you could offer a special voucher or a discount for that occasion. If you have a website, then a simple banner with a greeting message would do. Google has adopted this; I am often reminded of different holidays or important dates such as an inventor’s birthday, from the way it customise its home page around that special event.

I deal with numerous organisations, retailers and supply chains, and I can sometimes forget about them. One media company, however, constantly reminds me about its services by remembering me in different seasons. When Eid is around the corner, I receive a box of chocolates. Ahead of the New Year, I receive a card signed by the team members, and when it is Ramadan I am offered a special rate.

Another company sent me new calendar design options a few weeks ago in case I wanted to print calendars for the office or as a gift for my contacts.

The holiday seasons are not only an opportunity to raise your customer service profile, but also to market your business and increase your sales.

That is the real challenge. Being busy with increased orders and customer demands should not mean that you take longer to respond to customers’ inquiries. In fact, it is at that time that you should provide your best ever customer service because the majority of your clients will be in a rush, in a desperate situation, and catering to their need at a tough time could translate into bonus points for you. It’s a great way to attract and retain loyal customers who liked the way you catered to their last-minute demands when everyone else was too busy.

Whenever I discuss good customer service with a fellow entrepreneur, the Leeds supermarket story gets a mention. Years have passed since then, but I still remember it vividly. Treating your customers well could leave them with lasting memories. Invest in the extra details. They go a long way.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer based in Abu Dhabi. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai

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Published: December 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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