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Handling Customer Attitudes

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In my first article, I mentioned that, as professionals, we need to understand the "Communication Cycle." In order to be a consultant and problem-solver, we need to understand what's important to the customer, and have to relate our product benefit so he/she accepts and understands how we can solve the problem or need. We need to have a meaningful dialogue. Remember, we want to establish the relationship of a consultant, not an "order-taker" or clerk.

In order to establish this relationship, we need to be able to identify and deal with the various customer attitudes that we will face. These attitudes are Acceptance, Skepticism, Indifference and Objection.

As we probe to identify customer needs, we will then introduce an appropriate product benefit that will solve that need. Keep in mind we are not "pitching" a product, we are providing solutions to needs. We will use Support Statements to establish each benefit and establish rapport. The customer will react to each benefit in any one of the four attitudes I just mentioned.

Acceptance is the easiest attitude to deal with. As you introduce the product benefit and your customer accepts and agrees that the solution is correct, simply probe to identify additional needs. Then introduce the appropriate product benefit through Support Statements and solve the problem or need. Then look for "buying signals" that indicate the customer has accepted your solutions with phrases like "sounds great", "that's it" or "I agree." These phrases indicate the customer is, in most cases, ready to commit to a course of action. Acceptance - not too hard to handle!

It's not unusual for a customer to doubt that your product will do what you say it will. This is Skepticism. The product benefit you introduce may be different from what another sales person may have said. Or, your benefit may not be familiar to your customer, or he/she may have experienced something different. In any case, we may resolve this skepticism through the use of a proof source which provides credibility to your "words." You can utilize Point of Purchase materials, warranty cards, product demonstrations, manufacturers' specs, fabric swatches, wood finish samples, etc. Remember, the "truth never changes, lies do!" Those people who say anything to make a sale cannot use a proof source; you can. Then explain the proof by introducing the appropriate benefit, saying something like, "So what this means to you is..." Help your customer fully understand what's in it for him/her and ensure your credibility.

Indifference is a common attitude because your customers do not have a great deal of experience with home furnishings. They will be indifferent to your product benefit because they see no need for what you've explained. They're not familiar with what the product will do for them. They can also be indifferent because it's not what they had in mind. It would be a major mistake when the customers say, "What else do you have?" or "It's not what I had in mind!" to take them immediately to something else. At that point, don't give up! Probe to find out why they feel that way. You can provide more information to help them appreciate the benefits they weren't sure of or didn't see the need for. Use Closed Probes to point out the benefits that will solve some of their unrealized needs due to their unfamiliarity with the product.

Objection is the attitude that many sales consultants have difficulty with because they don't want to deal with adversity. Objections are not problems. They simply are opportunities to further explain how your product benefits can really help your customer. The objections are just another step in the communication process, and nothing more. This is where your customer is really saying, "Tell me more," "I don't understand" or "I need more information."

There are two kinds of objections. The first is due to a misunderstanding of the product benefit through lack of knowledge. Probe to find out what is unclear and answer it directly. The second type of objection is a perceived drawback. In the mind of the customer, the objection really exists. Price is a common example. Here you want to minimize the objection by introducing a series of benefits that together outweigh the prime objective. The concept of "price equals value" is important. Use the "Total Offer Concept" of justifying price.

An analogy I often use is this. "Mr. Customer, if I had a small box in my hand and I said what's in this box costs $100, would you say it costs too much?" The customer normally says no, because he/she doesn't know what's in the box. I then say, "However, if I opened the box and pulled out a one-carat diamond ring, would you still say it costs too much?" The customer says "No, I know what I'm getting." I then say, "Then let me review this product so you know what you're getting for your investment." Then review all the features and benefits of the product, and include all the services of your company as well, because that's what the customer is also getting in return.

These are the different attitudes that we as professionals must identify and deal with. But, as you can see, we can have a clear strategy to handle them. Remember, we are communicators, consultants and home furnishings professionals.


Ron Wolinski is Manager of Simmons Education. Questions can be sent to Ron care of FURNITURE WORLD at editorial@furninfo.com.

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.