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Patrons or Customers

Solve the Problem Instead of Making the Sale

Hopefully, you have training sessions for all of your employees on a regular basis. Have you ever asked your employees what it is they do for your customers?

Surely, one of the first answers given is that you sell Bibles, candles, books, tapes, cards, and other Christian related products. Your business may also sell some secular products. What do you do? "I sell Christian supplies", is the generic answer.

While "selling Christian supplies" is the description that most people would give initially, we think that this answer warrants further investigation. Hopefully, your employees feel that "selling Christian supplies" is what is done in other stores. Perhaps, in looking at this answer, you will spend some time in your staff meetings discussing what you are doing instead of just selling Christian supplies.

From one retailer, their answer would sometimes comes from their written job descriptions which they have for each employee. In the job descriptions, they outline the duties of positions such as salesperson, cashier and floor supervisor. They also have job specifications which spell out how to perform each of these jobs. Some of their staff meetings are dedicated to discussions on how to improve their operating procedures so they can handle their jobs more efficiently. Handling requests for customers such as writing special orders and resolving defective merchandise problems are important to this store. Understandably, as these hours of staff meetings continue, the employees learn to feel confident about their skills in customer relations.

In addition to working on these skills, some of the staff meetings are spent discussing product knowledge and practicing the various tasks that are shown by the more experienced employees and shown to the newer employees. Product knowledge should include everything from knowing the Christian seasons of the year, to being able to explain passage differences in the various versions of the Bible when asked by a customer.

Again, we are asking the question of what these employees do. Not surprisingly, the answer has grown into their philosophy. They are problem solvers. Granted that most often problem solving involves a sale of some of the items in the store, but the employees feel there are several things they do better than just push merchandise out the front door and waiting for another customer.

Perhaps the $17.55 difference will go home in the pocket of the customer. But maybe, with the help of an attractive feature end cap, it will be spent at Skyway Hardware today. It is a gamble, but we are willing to take that chance.

Not every situation lends itself to a solution such as this. Many times the only solution is the sale of the product the customer first asked for. But in those situations that will allow employees to make suggestions for a solution, these employees use a five question process to help determine if they can, in fact, solve the problem instead of making a sale.

The first question is to ask the customer if a money or time saving suggestion would be acceptable. Surprisingly enough, sometimes the answer is no. It's "Sell me what I asked for, I'm not interested."

The second question is our checking to see if the customer has the skills and knowledge necessary to attempt a solution. After all, it is hard to explain the workings of a three way switch to a person that does not have the knowledge or skill to work with electricity.

The third deals with the customer having the necessary tools. Showing a "trick of the trade" is of little value if we save the customer $5.00 only after he has spent $9.00 for a specialized tool.

The fourth question deals with the customer having the necessary time to effect the solution, while the fifth questions the quality of work desired. After all, not everyone wants or needs a first class repair or replacement.

If we have been able to create a money or time saving solution, it is important to have the customer know what savings we have caused. Our team members are trained to point out this savings to the customer. After all, the customer that was ready to spend $19.95 received help from an expert that solved the problem for only $2.40. We can't help but think he will be impressed.

When he came into the store for the stem, he came as a customer. Customers come to our store because of selection, proximity of the store to their home, store hours or in response to an advertisement which most frequently promotes price and item.

With situations such as the faucet stem, the customer can become a patron. Patrons, in contrast to customers, come to our store because we solve their problems, with respect to their skills and knowledge, the quality of product desired, and consideration for their wallet.

Perhaps our price for the item might not be the lowest, but it is a reasonable price. It's our responsibility to make sure of that because our patrons trust our team members, their solutions, and our prices. Fortunately, they tell other people and the process of turning customers into patrons begins again. It has been a while since we have added a new team member. But during the orientation of a new member, that member seems to always be impressed by our philosophy towards developing patrons. And when they have the opportunity to save $17.55 for a patron, they have a smile that is as big as the smile of the appreciative patron.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179