I was in a gift store the other day when a customer asked for something specific she had seen there before. The employee first of all thanked her for coming in and then went to the back room to look to see if they had any more in stock. She came out and said, "No, I'm sorry. We're out of that one. The company sends us a random selection so I don't know when we'll get another one in. I can call you if one comes in the next shipment. But, if you can't wait, you might be able to get it at... (and then she listed off about 3 other stores in the area). Thank you for coming to us first, though. We appreciate you starting with us!" WOW! That's how it should be done! And, it was COMPLETELY sincere - nothing canned or practiced or recited.
I had such "warm fuzzies" for this rather young girl that I wanted to go over and hug her. I felt like that screaming Mary Murphy on "So You Think You Can Dance" - I wanted to start hollering, "THAT'S HOW IT'S DONE, BAYYYYYBEEEEEE!"
Exceptional customer service is really such a simple thing. It just takes roll-playing and practice. It's free to give but has great worth to the receiver and can eventually be of great value to the retailer in the form of loyal customers.
Don't be afraid to send customers to another store to find something. In fact, why not invite another owner out to lunch and talk about how you can help one another? It's called "Co-opetition" and it can help our industry if done correctly.