I had a fantastic customer serviceexperience on the weekend, and being a huge fan of giving credit where credit is due, I thought I would share my experience. This particular service experience started me thinking about how the global economic slowdown is affecting the manner in which consumers are shopping, and the implications of these changes on their associated expectations and feelings about the act of purchasing.

Though the Australian economy has so far escaped the ‘R’ word, consumer behaviour has noticeably altered compared to the same period last year. Consumers have employed a variety of methods to make themselves feel more secure in the marketplace. From reducing the amount of products they buy to delaying other purchases, consumer spending this year is shaping up to be all about cautious – rather than conspicuous – consumption.

However, purchases still need to be made and that is how I found myself at my local The Good Guys store last Sunday afternoon. I was in the market for a new printer, hardly a product purchase requiring a high level of emotional involvement, yet the service I received while choosing and paying for my printer was absolutely second to none. From the moment the sales person spotted me browsing the aisles to the moment he deposited my newly purchased printer in the boot of my car, as a customer of that store I felt my store experience was custom matched exactly to my needs. So, later that day when I found I had neglected to pick up a new USB lead while I was there, I jumped in my car and by-passed three other electrical stores to head straight back to The Good Guys.

When times are tough and consumers are feeling the pinch, low prices are attractive, but individual, custom service is what consumers remember and speak to others about. Retailers often make the mistake of assuming low prices during times of economic instability will ensure repeat, loyal custom from shoppers, yet the opposite has been found to be true. Customers are more likely to pay that little bit extra at the checkout of retailers who have formed authentic relationships with their customers, offer value-add deals which genuinely benefit the consumer, and who are not afraid to show their customers how much they appreciate their custom.

Consumer psychologists have all types of theories attempting to explain exactly why this is – surely low prices should attract the majority of consumers during times of economic instability. However, study after study has shown that no matter what the economic climate, consumers consistently rate service and convenience over product cost, and during times of restrained spending consumers develop more defined loyalty towards goods and service providers who show that they appreciate the consumer’s business.

Four days after purchasing my new printer I have forgotten how much I paid for it. What I haven’t forgotten is the service I received at the store, nor the salutation given by The Good Guys team member as I left. After carrying my purchase out to my car, and positioning the package to ensure it would not be bumped or damaged on the trip home, the team member looked me in the eye, gave me a genuine smile and said “Thank you for your custom”. Personal, direct and appreciative – this is one happy shopper who will be back!