By working together, the shooting sports industry is delivering better products at higher perceived value than ever before. This is the ultimate form of customer service and it’s there for the taking — just hop aboard for a wild ride.
Following a brief dip after the presidential election, sales in late spring went back up. It looks like there is a new normal in that more people are shooting more. Much of this success results because they are able to get what they want and need at prices they can afford.
When manufacturers introduce new models, it is a form of customer service to end users. When distributors offer specials that can pass-on value to end users, it is a form of customer service. When retailers take advantage of all that is available in the industry to the benefit of end users, it is a form of customer service.
But when words, phrases and concepts are overused, they become passé and as a result, no longer serve their intended purposes. “Customer service” is such a term. Depending on how one wants to define the term, it is possible to have terrible real customer service, yet be awarded gold stars for perceived outstanding customer service.
Perhaps it’s time to take another look at what that term could mean, rather than what various folks may think.
Bottom line is serving the wants and needs of the customer. Traditionally it has been interpreted as being salient primarily, if not solely, at the point or points where the customer is directly and personally involved.
That’s valid, but it’s not the entire story. True customer service is the combination of “customer serving” products and processes along the manufacturing/distribution/sales continuum.
Traditionally, most, if not all, meaningful customer service happened at the retail level. But the advent of the black gun phenomenon and the inherent modular nature of it changed all of that. These changes not only continue, but also are accelerating in ways that are truly exciting.
Function may be a bedrock basic in shooting sports products, but it is far from the only major consideration among the customer base. With black guns has come an identity market, the likes of which this industry never knew.
Now, the “look” of a part or an entire rig can be the deciding factor for large segments of the customer base. For these folks, the entire industry has responded in ways that serve the customer better than ever before in the history of Gundom.
To pick just one from an expanding litany of offerings in all categories, witness the number and variety of an item as simple as the forend for an MSR.
The biggest challenge on this front is keeping up with trends. Face it, for the most part this segment of the industry is more akin to the clothing business than the traditional gun business.
Happily, there are many consumer segments, some of which are very knowledgeable and sophisticated, and others, not so much.
Hence, for some of the other consumer segments, the key is totally different: they don’t know much about what all is available on the market. They are doing all they can, just to figure out what it is they need. Then they can worry about what it is they want later. Upon further consideration, this is pretty much exactly the opposite of what it was not too many years ago.
In this regard, the entire industry is doing a better job of true customer service than ever in the past. Not only is the variety of products wider and deeper than before, but also the number of items that are marketed for specific kinds of applications continues to expand rapidly. Witness the specialty ammo offerings of late.
And there is more. Manufacturers, distributors and individual retailers seem to be offering more and more “package” deals where, for example, optical sights and mounting systems are sold as a package for less than the combined prices of the individual elements. This is possible because of the more or less universal use of the Picatinny rail. The combinations represent a good deal monetarily for the consumer, but actually are much more important than mere dollars.
The real service to the customer here is that such combinations also are “plug in, bolt-on” in that that they are the right size/height, etc., so that all the end user needs to do is bolt them on and start shooting.
It is debilitating when a customer buys several different items that are intended to be used in concert, only to learn after the purchase that something was the wrong diameter, the wrong height, etc., and that it won’t work with the rest of the stuff he or she has.
When taken in their totality, the combination “package” offerings and the application-specific identification of ammo, etc. represent a win-win for all involved. It means that customers who lack high levels of understanding of these kinds of things are now able to get what they want and need, right from the get-go.
This means more fun, which means more interest and sales. If it isn’t both easy and enjoyable to spend money, customers won’t. They want to, but they won’t respond positively to anything.
Fortunately, the entire industry continues to offer more in all categories. True customer service is providing what the end users want at values they can appreciate. And this is a result of the entire industry, working in concert.