Just as the story of lemmings following each other off a cliff to thier death is a myth (see American Scientist November 4, 2003) so too is the myth of service of many chain stores.

They’re faking it. On cue their smiles and wishes give off the impression that they are glad to serve you but we all know how easy it is to fake it when we want to.

Hey, for $10, $15, or $20 and hour depending on where you live and your age, you’d be happy to fake it. And you’d fake it without knowing why. Who cares eh? As long as you are paid right and on time.

This is what the sausage factory work experience in chain stores in giving our kids.

Independent retailers don’t need to fake it. No, they and their employees can provide the real thing, the real experience of customer love. People will soon connect with the real experience over the fake have a nice day.

In Australia our supermarkets have ploughed into the fuel retail space and now we have supermarket trained people selling fuel and other things. For months now I have been presenting at the counter to pay and they mumble something which I never quite catch. They gesticulate toward a display of discount candy (Tic Tacs etc) but I still cannot work out what they are saying. I am sure it’s a discount of some sort. But the delivery is so fast I cannot understand it.

The employees in these fuel factories are doing their job. They’re getting the pitch out. But it’s lost on me. In fact it annoys me that they do it every time and so poorly. I just want to pay for the fuel and leave. I don’t need them to do their routine on me even if they must just to please their boss.

The other day I purchased fuel at an independent station. The experience was different. Relaxed. No garbled message. Sure he tried the up sell but it was without the pressure of getting through the choreographed sales routine. His was unique.

For a reality check on how employees feel about their place of work check out this blog site. It’s a warts and all rant by people about their jobs. Some of the entries talk about faking it.

Independent retailers may not be able to match the chains on price or on advertising spend but we can match them on customer love. To achieve that we have to provide employees with a place to work they look forward to coming to. And when they’re not at work they have to think about work in good terms. If we achieve that it shows to our customers and this is gold in their minds – the chains cannot achieve that because gold doesn’t come out of factories.

So, start by talking with your employees. If they’re not happy try and create an environment in which they are happy. If this cannot be done help them find happiness elsewhere. Once you have a happy team the relationship with the customers will become more personal and business will grow. This is not brain surgery. It’s small business 101 and it begins with you then your team then your business and finally your customers.

It’s about the customer stupid. Always and forever.

While our big business competitors talk about customer service they don’t understand the personal nature of it. We do (or should) and if we wholeheartedly embrace it we will WIN more business.

We should leave big business to act like lemmings while we get on with the real work of genuinely looking after our customers.

Consumers can tell if you’re faking it.