When a customer walks in to your snowboard shop, and especially if they buy something¿the way they are treated will reflect heavily on whether or not they will come back. As the number of snowboard stores begins to double and triple, and as product differentiation becomes increasingly difficult both at a wholesale and retail level, and the difference between companies is often so minute that retail service and the attention you give your customer become the deciding factors for doing business.

Companies that neglect their old accounts, eventually lose part of that business to competition. Research has shown that it’s five times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an old one. Factors that drive people away from a business, be it a snowboard shop or an all-purpose sporting goods store, include rudeness (attitude), lack of knowledge about the sport, incompetence, apathy, inattention, and over-pricing of product. Outstanding service and word of mouth will not only keep present customers but attract new ones as well.

Implementing a program of good customer service needs to start at the top. Management must be committed to fostering positive relationships with customers, employees, and stakeholders (community, parents, vendors, sales reps).

What is good customer service? Start by treating your employees and customers with respect, consideration, and appreciation. Take suggestions seriously. Recognize that customer relations mirror employee relations.

Some of the programs that other successful businesses have used include a toll-free customer-service number. Calling across country to talk to someone about a product malfunction is much more annoying when it’s your own dime. When customers do call, make sure they are not put on hold. If you can’t help immediately, take a message and call back as soon as possible. Prompt and helpful service is key to having a good customer-service image.

Another important, yet controversial, customer-service issue in the snowboard industry is a no-questions-asked return policy. Because product abuse is a factor, consider looking at each situation individually. Talk to the manufacturer of the product about replacement; if that is not an option, look at giving the customer a special replacement price.

Guarantee service satisfaction. Be willing to admit to an error or service disagreement, and take immediate steps to correct the problem. Let your customers know that you appreciate their business by developing customer-loyalty programs. Measure the value of your customer by what they will do for you in a lifetime, not by an individual purchase. The lifetime value of a single customer can reach thousands of dollars.

Overall, the key customer-service issues to be aware of and implement as policy are: quality, service, attitude, value, product knowledge, support of the sport, and community involvement.