What was Old is New Again: Customer Sales and Service Returns Local

By Brian Silverman   |   October 21, 2015


IBM research states that in the next five years buying local will beat online shopping!  Being local will become increasingly important as shoppers demand instant gratification from their purchases. And new technology will bring all the big data that makes online shopping so effective (“you may also be interested in…) to the local store.

I would surmise, however, that the appeal of buying local is not just about the thrill someone gets from buying something you can instantly hold in your hand, but more about customer service. Relationships will become increasingly local in how companies sell, service and support customers, as compared to online shopping or even a big box store experience.

I recently experienced two different vendors’ customer service;  the contrast between the two was quite different. Neither business is a “mom and pop” local store but their approach to a customer need varied marketedly.

I needed a new cell phone.  The one I bought directly from Motorola had fallen to the ground and broken (due to a conflict between my dog and a neighborhood iguana).  So, like many other people, this was an urgent issue as my cell phone is my only number for work as well as home.

  • I started out going to my cellphone carrier’s store. I had a legacy unlimited data plan, which I wanted to keep. I also had a particular phone model  I wanted to keep.  The store reps could not do either of those things for me and told me I should go online instead. I chatted for an hour with an online customer service rep and received no solution to the problem.  I then called their “premier” support line and went through the same thing.  This “premier” support desk’s final answer was that I could not have both my unlimited data plan and the phone model I wanted.  All three customer service interactions were with company employees. This was not the experience I would have expected after having been a customer with this company for well over ten years.
  • The second encounter was with the customer service department at American Express. I had never used the purchase protection of my American Express card, but this was a good time to leverage that protection as I had had the new phone less than a week. American Express treated me like an old friend.  The customer service rep thanked me for my 15 years of loyalty by dropping 1500 skymiles into my account, shared my anxiety over the iguana incident, and handled the purchase protection claim with kindness and professionalism.  This company acted more like a local store that wanted to keep my business.


A few years ago, consumer expectations were more focused on price, variety and convenience.  Today they are moving back to the desire for good customer service and that local personal touch.

Not only does the forecast call for online shopping to move back to local shopping, but my expectations are now changed – I want the kind of service I would get from a local merchant wanting to keep my business.

All businesses, whether online or local, whether big company or small mom and pop shops, have to keep in mind that social media has changed the game for customer service experiences. In the old days, people used to meet at a local pub or diner and discuss shopping experiences. Today, people leave reviews and comments on social media.  Bad service, bad advice or incorrect pricing can travel as quickly as old style gossip, but now in 140 characters or less! Even before your customer leaves the store, the social grapevine is humming. The same can be said of good service, such as the kind I received from American Express.

(As a disclaimer, I am not mentioning the cell phone carrier as I am assuming, as in any local service, the customer service reps were just having a bad day!!)


by Brian Silverman

Brian Silverman

About the Author

Brian Silverman is a Senior Marketing Strategist at DeLaune and Associates. His career spans more than 25 years of success and leadership with IBM. IBM partners, and companies in sales, marketing, and product management.

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