Friday, March 6, 2020

JC's customer-service Rule #2


Everyone’s got a short list of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s for their business segment; and here are mine.  I don’t ordinarily make guarantees; but if your business is fielding calls and questions from customers and you sincerely want both to make a good impression and to make money, I’ll challenge you: if you’re not already following a policy that includes these simple guidelines in some form, do so, and you’ll get what you want out of what you do.

RULE #2: Know Your Market

Joe Poole conducts an in-store seminar at Austin Kayak
Joe Poole conducts an in-store seminar at Austin Kayak, c/o ACK

This is the first rule of writing, publishing, or performing on a stage (all of which I have done). Haven’t we all seen The Blues Brothers in which the brassy blues band have to play a hard-core country-and-western bar and literally risk their lives to win over the audience?  Lesson learned: there’s no point in attempting to do what you do if you don’t know how it’s going to be received.

It is also a vital factor in selling anything. Market awareness is key to every business.  A Certain Large Marine-Supplies Chain ('Big Blue') has had a policy of locating their stores in places with high real-estate values - because they believe, out there in California, that boaters everywhere are most likely rich white one-percenters.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  They should put their stores where the boats are! - and I’ll state here that their recent financial distresses are down to their not following the the market-awareness rule.

Many small retailers, in frustration, develop one of two truly awful mindsets about their customers: ‘they’re cheap as dirt and never buy anything’ or ‘they’re filthy rich and hate people who work for a living’.  Neither of these is necessarily true.  Most likely, customers are just people with needs who are looking for real answers to reasonable questions about quality, utility, wait time, and final cost; and they're frustrated too at not getting respect for needs. Expect them to ask these questions, and respect their reasons for asking.  Have ready answers to the most common questions (Rule #1).

Moreover, know something about who they are and where they come from - probably situations in life not much different from yours. Where do they use their boats, or whatever it is they’re looking to use? When do they use them? Are they into performance, comfort, convenience-? Do they appreciate bargain pricing or the highest quality? What’s their level of experience? Do they prefer buying online or from someone they can meet and shake hands with? You need to know these things (and probably much more) in order to be truly useful to them; and they’ll welcome your interest and be eager to share information with you.

Achieving an easy conversation with a customer about what he’s asked about is a valuable means of gaining his trust. Customers like to be listened-to, respected, liked, even joked-with. If he’s on the phone, ask him about the weather or other conditions ‘out there’.  Listen to and amuse him about his response. I’ve long been prone to teasing callers about their great fortune in living down South where the boating season is longer - it serves to remind the customer, with humor, how lucky he is compared to others (me). Share with him anecdotes about your personal experiences with the product he’s asked about - but be honest; there’s no point in fabricating stories.  If you’re a real-world user of things like what you sell, that’s the best way to build a bridge of trust with a customer - who, in reality, is not much different from you.

Most importantly, never comment about religion, politics, and sports teams with a customer - even if you know his inclinations in these areas. Some other customer, about whom you know much less,. might overhear you. Offending a customer about a personal matter (no matter how right you think you are) is a sure-fire way to lose money from your pocket. Even if the customer brings it up, smile and respond with a nonpartisan ‘Yeah; what are you going to do?’ and keep focused on the important part of your job, which is earning money through honest effort and mutual respect. Ultimately the customer will view you as an affable professional who is full of useful information, easy to talk with, and eager to fulfill his needs - which means he’ll be coming back regularly.

Helping small and independent businesses polish and benefit from a sound customer-service policy is my main focus. Get in touch; and we'll see what we can do to bring your business to the next level.

- JC2

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