Encounters... timeless lessons

Your own customer-service experiences can make you a better business owner.

Many stories in this issue deal with things successful stores and owners do. This has me reflecting on my own customer-service experiences and the retail lessons that can be learned from them.

Granted, the following scenarios did not occur in the bridal world. However the lessons to business owners are universal:

Scenario #1:

The setting: Starts off at a gym, ends at a local favorite pizza restaurant.

The situation: When the tall, older gentleman first approached me on the treadmill and asked why I wasn’t wearing my standard “uniform” (ESPN ball cap), I was surprised he’d noticed. When this same gentleman showed up the next day and gave me a new hat, I was surprised and grateful. Turns out this man was more than just polite and observant: he was also the owner of a popular local pizza restaurant, which had a great reputation and was well know for being involved in the local community. He handed me coupons for free pizza and invited my family to come in and try it out.

We went, and he made us feel like his family. He sat down at our table and chatted with us for a good fifteen minutes. He was polite, friendly and interest- ed in our lives. During this time, other customers stopped by to say hi; kids came over to thank him for the pizza; and he was constantly on the lookout for fun pictures to upload to the store’s Facebook page (The winner : a seven- year-old wearing a self-made pizza dough moustache). Our server, who had worked there since day one (20+ years), said his boss was “beyond awe- some” and frequently handed out free pizza coupons to people at the gym.

The lesson: This restaurant didn’t become successful by accident. Yes, the pizza is good but the importance of owner interaction – being present in the store and community; really caring about customers; and regularly interact- ing with them – is a major secret to its success.

Scenario #2:

The setting: A certain car dealership, which shall remain nameless to protect the not-so-innocent.

The situation: My brother was going to buy a new car to celebrate his recent college graduation, and I decided to accompany him. I’m one of those weird people who actually likes car shopping, and hey, I had the afternoon free.

Much like brides today, Kevin wasn’t entering the shopping process uneducated. He knew – largely from Internet research – what model he was inter- ested in. He did not, however, fully understand the different upgrade packages and wanted a clear-cut answer as to price. I knew my brother – loaded with graduation money – was a serious buyer. If he’d gotten the answers he was looking for that day, he would’ve made the purchase.

Unfortunately, we were paired with what could’ve possibly been the world’s worst salesperson. Main issue: He absolutely refused to answer questions. (Actual exchange: Kevin – “So what options come on the Limited package?” Bad salesperson – “Well I really don’t want to get into that right now. Let’s take it for a drive first!”) Against what should’ve been our better judgment, we went on the drive, during which time Bad Salesperson responded to ever y inquiry in one of three ways: 1) “I don’t know” (his favorite); 2) with false info (We were in a four cylinder, not six); or 3) “My Superstar Manager can tell you when we return; I’ve only been here six weeks.”) (Ah-ha! We were finally getting somewhere. . . the guy was new!) Amazingly, however, “Superstar Manager” wasn’t much better. He was more interested in lecturing us about how “stupid” it was to pay cash for a car than providing the information we were looking for (yes, “stupid” was the actual word he used). End result: we got out of there as soon as we could. Kevin, whose parting comment was, “I wouldn’t buy from this place under any circumstances” ended up purchasing a couple days later from their main competitor.

The lesson: Customers don’t appreciate having their time wasted. If they ask questions, they’d like answers. If you don’t know, tell them you don’t and offer to get the answer. Playing coy doesn’t increase your odds of a sale; it’s annoying and unprofessional.

These are only two of many customer-service experiences I’ve had over the years, and I’m sure I’ll encounter many more.

Everywhere you look business lessons abound – the good, the bad and the ugly. Always keep your eyes and ears open, and learn what you can from ever y situation. Not all will relate direct- ly to your bridal salon, but each and every one will make you a better business owner. And therein lies the real value.

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