Friday, March 28, 2008

First Class

I flew first class for the first time yesterday. I've done a lot of travel over the years, but I've never flown first class. It always seemed extravagant and unnecessarily, but in this case my wife was being nice to me and used her own frequent flyer miles to encourage me to fly rather than drive. Flying first class was quite an experience. Early boarding, extra legroom, drinks with real glasses instead of paper cups, free refills, unlimited snacks, and a smiling, happy stewardess. I could swear the stewardess was friendlier and the apple juice a grade better than usual. Oh yeah, and I arrived to my destination a split second sooner than my fellow coach passengers. One passenger from coach said "Lucky you!" when I had to get back to my first class seat after stowing my carry on (I was in row 1). First class rocks, and everyone knows it.

This got me thinking about business. How do you run a first class business? It sounds cliche, but the concept of first class is actually definable, as opposed to the frustrating goals of "doing your best" or "having the best." First class is a marked improvement in service over standard service. It's defining the baseline, possibly from observing competitors, but most likely from your own experience as a customer. It's looking at what others do and then doing things just a little bit better. They didn't serve me free champagne in first class, they just served my apple juice better. What's important is the customer perceives service as a cut above, and they're willing to go the extra mile to come to your store. As I've mentioned before it's also critical to be consistent. If I get my apple juice in a paper cup next time or my stewardess is in a bad mood, first class loses all its value.

With the Internet, a brick and mortar store is the equivalent of first class, since the Internet is the perfect example of coach. A faceless interface, a questionable delivery time, hidden costs, the potential for damaged goods. It's coach, the cheapest way to accomplish your objective, but with no love or loyalty on anyones part. Many online game buyers, who aren't all about price, say poor local game store service is their reason for shopping online.Many have been done wrong, or describe how they haven't received even the most basic customer service. It's been said a hundred times, no store is so good they can offer bad service.

Black Diamond Games is about to be the last real game store in the county and I don't feel vindicated or happy, I feel challenged with a sense of responsibility. I'm now the game gate keeper. If I miss a hot game, it won't be sold in my area. Where once I could allow another local store to carry the torch for some game product, now it's up to me to pick it up or let it die. What will likely happen is the customer will buy that game online and I may lose them as my customer. Even with my brick and mortar competitors closing down, the online baseline still exists, the coach of consumerism. I'll still have to maintain first class.

P.s.: Imagine being at a national game convention like Gencon. When someone asks you where you're from and you tell them, they respond: "Yeah, that's near Store X. Lucky you!"

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