Salesmanship: Why you can’t say no

Home Columns Salesmanship: Why you can’t say no

by Warren Tyler

The mainstream press has a vendetta against big retailers. Mainly the claim is they are destroying smaller retailers. The truth is small retailers are destroying themselves. When conducting customer service seminars, I ask a simple question when we discuss how to handle difficult customers: “How is it that some of you haven’t two nickels to rub together and somehow you can afford to argue or even tell off a customer?” Meanwhile, the big boxes, which have billions, would never condone this behavior in any of their employees. In fact, returns and adjustments are usually made with no questions asked.

Many retailers feel there is a line customers should not breach. Unfortunately customers hold all the cards. Do a great job for somebody and we are lucky if three people hear about it. Cross her just once and everyone in her world will hear about it. Right or wrong, her contacts will believe her. You don’t stand a chance. The whole situation is insidious because you can never track how much business you lost. These people will never come in to your store to tell you why they will never do business with you.

I have heard some facilitators tell their audience they would never let customers abuse an employee, much the same as I recently read in an editorial, and it’s the same comment I’ve heard many times from individual retailers. So the idea of striking back at unreasonable or rude customers is deeply rooted. This is amazing, since nowadays every single customer could conceivably hold the key to your survival. This behavior is not only juvenile, but it’s akin to committing suicide.

There is a solution that doesn’t lose customers and solves the problem.

You first need a simpleton’s understanding of human behavior. Most of the customer issues have little to do with what the retailer did or didn’t do. Things pile up. I believe a truly nasty person is rare. However, there are things that happen to people in their life that manifests itself into bizarre behavior. How do we know the rude or unreason- able individual hasn’t just lost a loved one, been diagnosed with a fatal illness, has a kid on drugs or just lost a job? In the case of a recent editorial where a cat was inadvertently imprisoned in a wall, the contractor at fault may have refused to do anything, and if it were my pet I may have panicked. The retailer was the last hope.

If it were me, I would have the compassion to understand the customer’s panic and do something. My guess is that once I freed the kitty, an offer to pay would be forthcoming. And if not, so what? You would have made a friend. It would be perfectly acceptable to infer what an unfeeling lout the contractor was, but even though not at fault I am going to save that kitty.

The obvious answer to all these problems is to teach your people basic human skills that allow you to solve the problem and have the involved customer thank you for doing so. These basic skills include listening until she is completely finished, analyze the situation (my pet is going to die!), take action and thank her for giving you the opportunity to help.

Nothing is 100%. I was sitting at dinner in Las Vegas with some of the most important retailers in the industry when the discussion turned to: “When I finally lost it with a customer.” My adman who was with me knew I had a better story than the rest and was flummoxed that I wouldn’t repeat it (it had to do with an enraged husband who physically dragged his wife from the showroom). In my position as the service “guru,” I felt there was nothing to gain, so I sat with a Cheshire cat smile, aloof and haughty.

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