Customer Service


If you are like most natural products retailers, you believe you give good customer service. If so, you should be seeing a steady flow of new customers into your store. Why? Because good customer service creates good word-of-mouth.

If a steady stream of new customers isn’t flowing into your store, it means you are not getting good word-of-mouth. And if you’re not getting good word-of-mouth, your service may not be as good as you believe. Let me explain.


What Is Normal?
The brain prefers not to think. What? That’s right. It wants to remain calm, undisturbed, to reserve power for its most important evolutionary Natural
Products Marketplacepurpose: detecting and protecting the person from threats, and reacting effectively to emergencies. Because of this survival instinct, the brain is expert at knowing what is normal so that what’s abnormal stands out.

For example, what steps did you take to dress yourself this morning? On what side of the road did you drive to work? Where do you keep the keys to your store? The brain organizes normal events such as these into mental groups or models, called schema, so that it doesn’t have to think about them each time they occur. As long as the event is normal, it fits the mental model, and allows the brain to stay calm.

The Key to Word-of-Mouth
What do people believe is normal about customer service? Forgive me for being blunt: People think normal customer service sucks. To see if I am right, check your mental model for customer service. What do you expect when you go shopping? Aren’t you surprised when you actually get good customer service?

A mild amount of surprise is the key to good word-of-mouth. When a mildly abnormal event occurs—such as truly good customer service—the brain kicks into gear to digest and rethink the new experience and update its mental model.

Now, here’s the beautiful part: when our mental model is disturbed, we want to, need to, talk about it. This is the psychological basis for word-of-mouth.

Ohgave adTruly good customer service disturbs our mental models because we don’t expect it. As a result, we will tell our friends, family, acquaintances and co-workers about our surprising experience to help us sort out and adjust our beliefs. If you give good customer service, your customers will want to talk about it; “You know, every time I go to Joe’s Natural, they really care and help me out. You should check it out.”

A Little Self-Reflection
If you are like most independent retailers, you believe customer service is your strongest competitive advantage. You’re right. And, if you consistently deliver good customer service, many or most of your customers will talk to their networks about their surprising experience in your store.

But if you’re not getting new customers through good word-of-mouth, perhaps customers think your service is, well, normal. WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a holistic consumer marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 33 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 900 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. Jay is next scheduled to speak at NPA Southwest Healthfest in Dallas, TX, May 14 through 16, 2010. He also will speak at Natural MarketPlace, Las Vegas, on “Retail Strategies for a New Decade” on June 10, 2010, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., and will be at Booth 629. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2010