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Today's retail marketplace has become an aggressive playing field. The internet provides consumers with a new medium for purchasing a world of products and services, and retailers with a new frontier to engage and retain customers. This competitive marketplace has allowed consumers to sit back and watch retailers slug it out until one brand remains standing. If most retailers deliver on what they promise, what are the attributes that make us partial to a brand? The winning brands sweat the small stuff.

Coffee Anyone?

Coffee has been around for centuries. Dunkin' Donuts got its start in 1950 and began selling "America's Best Coffee." I sat in a Dunkin' Donuts twenty years ago and read the Sunday paper. How did they fall behind Starbucks? Starbucks put their brand on the world map by creating a process and culture caffeine hounds couldn't resist. How? Starbucks sweats the small stuff.

Starbucks shifted the retail mission from coffee transaction, to coffee relationship. Baristas aren't happy to make you a cup of coffee; they are delighted to present you with one of their creations. Their employees report they can recall many first names of morning regulars and how they prefer their coffee. They handle the rush of customers with the flair of New York City bartenders. This kind of employee performance can make you believe you can taste the difference in their coffee.

The genius of this retailer began with empathizing with coffee drinkers. What else would customers appreciate with their beverage? Starbucks expanded their breadth of products to include breath mints, bottled water and even their own brand of music CD's. They created an experience people were inspired to revisit. An environment replete with "little things" (products and services) made a major difference to the average Joe visiting for his cup o’ joe. That shift in thinking built an empire.

The Auto Wins the Lotto

Car dealerships have been around for seventy years. At the time of this writing, there are about 270 LEXUS dealerships in the country--compared with 5,000 Ford dealerships. LEXUS is the number one selling luxury nameplate in the U.S. Why has their success been a steady, steep climb since its conception in 1989? LEXUS sweats the small stuff.

Consider a car buying and servicing experience from a customer's point of view. What affects where you decide to take your business? LEXUS conducted a comprehensive study and put their findings to work. It doesn't make sense to guess at what people want, or try to condition customers to like what we offer. If the dogs don't eat the dog food, all else is immaterial.

At your typical LEXUS dealership, you can sit in a comfortable customer lounge, and enjoy a cappuccino while watching CNN on a flat screen television. Still not impressed? You can connect to the internet during your complimentary carwash. These are little details that make a car shopper partial to their brand aside of product attributes. For the average buyer, the buying decision isn't based on what's under the hood. (How many pounds of torque does your car offer?) The decision is based on the subtleties of value-added services that have little to do with the core product offering.

The Ritz Service Blitz

There are an abundance of hotels in the U.S. Each promises a hassle-free, turnkey experience. They worry about us while we tend our agendas. How did the Ritz-Carlton and The Four Seasons establish luxury brand name recognition? They focused on the small stuff.

Most premier hotels provide a luxurious $500 a night room. The reasons some perform better than others is due to an obsession with the little details. Many brands can offer you a room key with a smile, few anticipate your needs days before you arrive. The best brands take note of your pillow preference, wine preferences and if you are partial to egg whites. You don't think a little chocolate on your pillow is a major coup until one night it is not there. It's always the little things.

W.I.I.F.M.? What's In It For Me?

You're wondering, "How does this apply to me?" Individuals who ask themselves "what's the small stuff in my business?" and convert the answers to customer service training and actions will distinguish themselves from the competition in any industry. This may mean sending a hand-written thank you note, remembering a birthday, or offering customers complimentary bottles of water. These are the deeds and gestures that nudge new business in your direction when opportunities straddle the fence.

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