More customers are lost to company indifference... at all levels... than any other cause.
As children many of us read Aesop's fable of the goose that laid golden eggs. For those readers who may not quite remember it, let me retell it. Once upon a time a farmer awoke to find that his pet goose had laid a golden egg. After having had the gold's authenticity verified, the farmer spent that first night in sleepless anxiety wondering if the goose would repeat its golden productivity. In fact it did, and did so the next day and the next and the next. The farmer was understandably overjoyed, but soon his joy gave way to his greed. An ancient saying notes that whom the gods would destroy they first make foolish, so the farmer did a foolish thing. Not willing to settle for one golden egg a day, he cut open the goose hoping to get all the shining eggs at once. Of course, he killed the goose and thus put an end to any more golden eggs.
Because all the animals in Aesop's fables stand for people, it should be easy for us to see the goose as symbolic of the customer. Like the fabled goose, the customer too lays golden eggs in our stores every day. Like the farmer in the fable, some owners and their personnel too often display an unwillingness to settle for the customer's day by day productivity. So, like the farmer, some foolishly cut open their precious customers and thus put a sudden end to their productivity.
The shame in all this is that the customer, like the goose, asks so little in return to be perfectly satisfied: just a little care and appreciation. Also like the goose, the customer does not hope to get back a golden egg, that is, the money expended for the purchase. The customer simply expects to obtain the benefits of the product. Here's an unshakable fact: nothing gets in the way of the customer's enjoyment of those benefits as much as the company's indifference, no matter when it is shown. Government research showed that 78 percent of customers who decided they would never shop a given store again attributed that decision to the indifference shown them by someone working at that store. Here's where the analogy to Aesop's fable changes somewhat. Every customer, on the other hand, knows lots of other customers who also lay golden eggs. When treated indifferently, the customer tells between ten to twenty of them not to shop at the store that showed indifference. When treated with care, the customer tells about seven others to shop at the store that showed a caring interest. Clearly it is not a store's greed that normally puts an end to most customers shopping in a store; it is its indifference.
Nothing cuts to the heart of a customer more deeply and more quickly than indifference. After all, doing business is based on a relationship of trust between two people or more. Let's ask ourselves what is the most damning thing in a relationship, say, between two spouses. Is it not the attitude of indifference one side shows the other, an attitude of taking the other side for granted? Let's take a look at some of the ways retail stores communicate their indifference to customers. Take one of the first memorable contacts between the customer and the store--a phone call for information. Pick any ten places of business. Call each one for information. You'll be amazed at the indifferent voices at the other end which send out the same unmistakable message of "How dare you interrupt me? Don't you realize this is a place of business?"
Take the way so many customers enter our stores with no one to greet them, the same stores that boast that their customers are their guests. Or take the cold way many customers are greeted: no smile, no eye contact, no apparent appreciation for the person who is the sole reason for a store's being in business. To look at these greeters' indifferent faces you'd think the sun had just gone behind the clouds as they lay on some beach sunning themselves. Customers greeted with such cold indifference will always be turned off no matter what words the greeter uses. For however important the words in a greeting, they are never as important as the way in which they are said. Years ago I had occasion to witness living proof of this. I watched a veteran salesperson, Perry, a salesperson for a store in Beaumont, Texas, answer a customer who right off the bat at the entrance told him she'd prefer to shop by herself. Perry, in his inimitable style and grace, moved to within ear shot of her and whispered: "Ma'am, I'd come along with you if I hadn't already seen this furniture so many times." She took one look at Perry's kind face and smiled back. Not too many moments later Perry walked her to the counter where she made her purchase. She wasn't won over by Perry's words as much as how he stated those words, humorously, kindly without a hint of sarcasm.
I do not wish to imply that at times customers do not tax the limits of our patience. Not many months ago, a manufacturer's rep told me of an actual incident one of his fellow reps, named Joe, experienced. Just before going out on a service call in the customer's home, the store owner warned him: "Now, Joe, before you go out to this woman's house, let me give you some advice. She's a holy terror and absolutely merciless with reps." When Joe arrived at the customer's home, he soon realized that she was worse than he had been led to believe. Nevertheless, he listened patiently and politely to every one of her complaints, though she seemed to try her utmost to get him to lose his self control. Finally, she put her face right up to Joe's and with the meanest stare and the most sarcastic voice she said: "Well, am I the witch they told you I am?" Calmly Joe replied: "Why, Ma'am, I wish I had five customers just like you." Thoroughly won over, she responded most cordially, "You do?" To which Joe answered: "I most certainly do, but the sad fact is I have about twenty just like you!"
We all know that customer service is often hard and tedious and frustrating. However, fewer of us know customer service never works when it is assigned solely to an office or an agency. To work consistently, customer service must be a culture that permeates an entire company, an atmosphere, a feeling, a living testimonial that a company cares. Those who aren't quite sold on the importance of customers should try doing business without them.
Not too long ago I was informed of a salesperson's blatant act of indifference toward a customer. In a sleepshop run by one salesperson at a time, a customer entered to re-select a sleepset. The set she had purchased several weeks earlier from another salesperson in that same store was simply too hard. As the customer entered, the salesperson on this day kept on playing solitaire at his desk. When he realized the customer was there to re-select and that consequently there was little, if any commission to be made, he completely disregarded the customer and continued with his solitaire. The customer was furious and later on called the store owner to vent her anger. It seems this customer had bought three or four other sleepsets at this same store for members of her family. The owner was understandably livid with rage and threatened to fire the salesperson. The salesperson's reaction? How dare this owner even think of firing him, a million dollar writer!
That night as I lay in bed thinking about this sorry excuse for a salesperson, I could not help feeling sad over one more foolish salesperson whom I hoped the gods would soon destroy. I felt even sadder over one more golden-egg-producing customer who had already been destroyed.
Corporate trainer and educator Peter A Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. He is also a noted speaker and group leader. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to Peter care of FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.