I’ve been reading some of the posts on one of the hi-fi forums regarding aggressive sales people within retailers. Wow, to think that in our little industry run by and for enthusiasts, there could be rude staff who treat the customer with contempt! Surely there’s something wrong here, we can’t possibly have people who deride customers’ choice of music, laugh at their lack of knowledge or have stand up arguments with them in the shop, can we?  Sounds like a sketch from “Not the Nine O’Clock News”!

The renowned management consultant and author, Tom Peters (and many others) proclaimed: “The Customer is King”. Great sentiments on the surface, but what does that actually mean? According to an article in Fortune magazine, 80% of executives think they’re doing an excellent job in the way they serve customers, whilst only 8% of their customers agree! The executive is more often than not obsessed with maximising shareholder value and that leads to short-term measures. Stock the products you think the customer wants, aggressively promote them, go for customer throughput and as a result increase the turnover. Oh, and don’t forget to smile when you serve them, because that’s what the poster in the staff room tells you to do! This customer service stuff is easy! The same article in Fortune magazine states that the average company loses more than half its customers every four years.

The article is really talking about big business but it also applies very much to our industry. What’s going on here is delivery of perceived value (by the business) and not real value (as viewed by the customer). Sure, it will increase the earnings per share for the business, but it’s unsustainable. Focus on the real issues such as the latest products, customer satisfaction and ensuring there is repeat business and the earnings for the shareholders will increase and it will also be sustainable. This means really understanding your customers’ needs and fulfilling them to their satisfaction.

Build up a relationship with your customers, get to know them, what makes them tick, what do they really want to satisfy their needs. Learn how to turn those wants into desires. Spend time with them, be patient, listen to them and if they’re not too sure how to proceed offer them the benefit of your expertise. Treat them the way you would like to be treated when you buy a product you only know a little about. Treat them like valued friends. 

Why not invest in a customer relationship management system? They can greatly enhance your chances of winning repeat business. It’s an old adage, but still true to this day (probably more so) that it costs ten times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep existing ones. A CRM system (and many of the widely used retail information systems include basic CRM functionality) can be a very powerful tool. Use it to store data about your customers’ systems, when they last purchased, how much they spent and what they perhaps expressed an interest in buying next. Track their buying patterns and use this information to promote your business to them. If you can see it’s been 10 years since they bought a stylus then maybe it’s time to give them a call! Why not send them a birthday card each year to remind them of your existence?

Above all else, remember you are a specialist and as such your expert knowledge is a very powerful tool. Don’t misuse it and ridicule the customer’s lack of knowledge, Rowan Atkinson style, instead use it to help your customers. Guide them to the solution that will satisfy their particular needs and use the skills you’ve learned to show them the benefits of the next model up. Sales objectives (i.e. upselling) and good customer service needn’t be mutually exclusive. Handled well you can gain the respect of your customers for having allowed them to discover for themselves the advantages of buying the better product, even though they’ve spent more money than they intended!

We work in a very small industry, with many pressures on consumers to spend money on other things. We simply can’t afford to treat our customers poorly - they are our life blood, so look after them. Get it right and you’ll have a customer for many years, get it wrong and you’ll have to constantly look for replacements.

And, for a bit of light relief and a real lesson in how not to do it take a look at the video.