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Treat Customers Like Friends

Furniture World Magazine


Treata them like friends and they will buy. Make them mad, sad or scared and they will walk.

All store owners who haven't done so should treat their salespeople to a copy of Michael Le Boeufs "How To Win Customers and Keep Them For Life." The small book is an excellent adjunct to balance those authors who stress the importance of specialized product knowledge and selling skills. Le Boeuf insists that the way to win customers and keep them for life is a well kept secret: reward them. Not exactly a new prescription. Several centuries ago a Spanish religious thinker was fond of saying that one could catch more bees with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar. Noted sales consultant, Brian Tracy, currently teaches that customers buy only from friends. Not exactly new either. I recently read in a commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics that the Greek word friendship - philia- "constituted the bond that held the members of any association together such as the family, the state, a club, a business partnership or even the business relation between buyer and seller." I would like to call attention to the word "bond" which sales trainers tend to call empathy, or the rapport that should exist between buyer and seller for the transaction to be win-win. In this article I would like to discuss the ways to bring about that bond and at the same time how to avoid the practices that weaken and even destroy it!

To start with, I would suggest a general prescription: extend to all customers the same courtesies you would to a friend. Let your persona be such that your customers find you pleasing. By persona I mean your personal hygiene, your dress, your tone of voice, your eye-contact, the posture with which you greet your customers, the words you use to greet them, your smile, attitude, your professional presence, and the other seemingly unimportant facets of body language customers rely on to form their first impressions.

But even before all these, I would call attention to another kind of courtesy stemming from the areas immediately surrounding the entrance to our stores: the parking lot and sidewalks and steps too often littered by all kinds of offensive materials; cigarette butts and plastic cups and other forms of debris, the very kind we do our utmost to eliminate in the areas leading to our homes. I am also referring to the cigarette odors that hang like a London fog in some stores, odors not only irritating to many but especially painful to those with asthmatic conditions.

And how about those ads of ours that whisper in the smallest of print, "Sold only in sets" print small enough to tax a jeweler's eye. "But that's the way we get them into our stores," some might argue. It certainly is, but do we want to get them into our stores feeling angry at us? Le Boeuf writes that customers buy only when they're glad; they don't buy when they are mad, sad or scared, and it doesn't help to have them enter our stores that way either.

Or take the way most salespeople answer a customer's call about a brand they don't carry: "Sorry we don't carry X-Brand." Click. Another lost customer. How much more profitable to reply:

"That's a great brand. We carry Y-Brand and Z-Brand. Perhaps you'd like to come in and compare that brand against ours to help you make the best buying decision." Or you might try: We've certainly heard of that brand, mind telling me if that's the brand you currently own and what you especially like about it?" When I first brought this up for one chain of stores, skepticism ran high. "You mean you're actually going to tell customers that's a great brand? Why they'll buy it all the more." Lo and behold, that didn't happen. They merely got a significantly higher percentage of such calling customers to come into their stores.

Some years ago while I was talking with a manager of a car dealership in Houston Texas he shared the following experience. A consultant they hired suggested they fly in the face of what is a common practice among dealerships: never, never, never quote your prices over the phone. This consultant advised the opposite. The dealership reluctantly took his advice. Remarkably, sales increased by 25 percent. "That was the only change we made," the manager added.

Reward customers, they buy; don't reward them, they don't buy. For example, how many employees of a company thank those who call no matter what the reason for the call? A customer calls to voice a complaint, thank him. Another calls for information, thank her. Thank every customer? Yes, every single one. Why? Because it helps make the customer glad. Glad they buy; mad, sad, scared they don't.

Why, if this is so obvious, have we missed it for so long? Perhaps because as one wit put it, the obscure we eventually see; the obvious takes us a little longer.

One more example. All of us recognize the fast talking ads on radio or T.V., fast enough to let an auctioneer sound like a stutterer. We know how we react to those fast talkers. Then how do we think our customers react to us when our presentation sounds hurried and canned with those tell-tale expressions like "naturally" and "of course" and "to be perfectly honest" as though one could be imperfectly honest. Every salesperson should ask a friend to listen to his normal sales presentation and to comment on the tone, volume and speed of his voice, not to mention his diction. Each salesperson should ask, "Do my tone, volume, speed and diction leave my customer feeling glad or mad, sad or scared?"

Some time ago I told our salespeople at a Saturday meeting not to say "Lay down" but "Lie down" on a mattress. One of the salespeople called me up that very morning from his store; "Did you send a customer into the store?" he asked. "I don't know what you mean," I said. "Well Peter," he continued, "after this morning's meeting I thought that you had finally flipped your lid. I thought, "Customers don't care if we use lay or lie." But guess what happened?" This salesperson went on to tell me how a middle aged woman reacted when he told here "Please lie down on this mattress." She replied, "Young man, it's refreshing to find someone who knows how to speak English correctly. I'm a high school teacher." She went on to buy a queen sleepset, gladly I might add, and I'll bet that's one customer he'll keep for life.

Finally, what courtesies do we extend to one another? Do we build up our company and it's employees in the minds of our customers by telling them things like: "You're going to love shopping in our store"? When customers tell us this is the first store they've been to, do we let them feel great about that choice? We might say, "A lot of customers make us their first and their last store. wait 'til you see what a great display of furniture we have. Our merchandisers are the greatest."

Recently I took a phone call from a woman who said she would be in that weekend. "Will you he there, Peter?" I told her that I had already been assigned elsewhere but added; "Joe'll be there. You're going to love working with Joe. He knows his products inside out and he's wonderful to work with." She went on to thank me and noted how much she appreciated my support of a fellow worker. "You don't find that happening in many companies," she said. She ended up buying a queen premium set of bedding from Joe.

At least a decade ago Karl Albrecht, the guru of customer service, noted that no company can hope to treat its customers better than the employees treat one another. I felt glad when I read that. I'll bet our customers feel the same way when they see Albrecht's words being practiced. Remember, glad they buy, mad, sad, scared they don't. You can take that to the bank.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.