Today’s guest post is written by Terence Stephens.

Business inspiration and ideas come from funny places.

In an October episode of The Office, Robert California launched into a short monologue saying customers either know what they want and buy it on the Internet, or they don’t know, and go to stores with customer service to help them figure out what they want.

Because of this, he continues, big box stores actually fear shops with knowledgeable staff who aid the customer in fulfilling their needs, “Customers will willingly pay our higher prices and then they will say to us, ‘Thank you.’”

Was this just an example of Hollywood establishing a successful CEO character or a valid observation?

I reflected on my experiences and spoke with sales and entrepreneur friends.  There is definitely something to learn for anyone operating a small business whose income depends on ongoing business relationships.

Help your customer overcome their weakness

One thing I don’t have a lot of experience in is fashion.  I don’t think I dress poorly…mostly, but not too many people are going to be jealous of my clothing.

A few years ago, I needed nice clothes for my wedding announcement photos.

A store associate overheard me expressing my frustration and offered to help me pick out some options to narrow down my choices. I ended up buying an outfit he showed me instead of leaving and browsing through other stores. I would have bought from any boutique, but he made sure I bought from his store; and that I would consider his store for my future purchases.

Before this, I’d never thought of asking the associate for help.  Had any store offered this service to me 10 years earlier, I likely would have been a regular customer for a very long time.

Tell your customer how you can help them

My entire life I’ve needed this type of help, and would have gladly sought this personal attention for many shopping trips, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know this service existed.

If small businesses are going to compete with big box stores, they have to get the word out on how they can benefit their customer.

Recently, I was at my town’s end-of-summer festival and wandered into our local children’s book store. After I made my purchase, the owner-associate made sure to tell me all about the store, including potential use scenarios (If you need a quick gift, we’ll gift wrap it and you can be on your way).

I’m not sure how targeted he was (I wondered if women got different shopping scenarios), but I now know where to go next time I need a beautifully wrapped gift requiring minimal time and effort on my part.

It clearly isn’t possible to summarize all consumer experiences with two examples, but I know through selling knowledge, services, and relationships, we can take a lot of business back from companies merely competing on price.

If we know what we offer, and clearly show that offering to every potential customer, we’ll be able to provide more relevant, quality products than any big box store every could.

So what do you think about Robert California’s advice?  Is it just a script used for character development or is there really a business principle in there?

Terence Stephens is a founding partner of Set Sail Class and Care. In early 2000, his desire to be an Internet tycoon led him to choose the major of computer programming.  Years later, he discovered he should have studied online and offline marketing.  He is still paying for this mistake, but feels the lesson is almost over.