6 MORE Critical Lessons Bike Shopping Taught Me About Customer Service
Last month, we began a conversation about customer service—the actual core of your marketing efforts. When we think of marketing, we focus primarily on websites, sponsorships, social media, brochures, and ads. However, as we learned earlier, if your customer service is subpar, no amount of marketing can change that.
When I went bike shopping, I began to take notes. Critical customer service lessons became very clear. I already shared the first six. Now, onto the remaining lessons.
7. First impressions really are everything.
This isn’t a cliché. A customer can tell from one conversation whether or not they want to do business with you. That first encounter can make or break the sale. For example, after Super Whack got under my skin (we’ll discuss that in a minute), I called Bogus Business to get a quote. My conversation went exactly as follows:
Me: Hello, I need a [blah blah]. Can you tell me whether or not you provide this service and if so, what the cost would be?
Me: [awkward pause]…Okay…is there someone else who can?
Lady: You have to talk to Jim.
Me: [awkward pause]…Okay…is Jim available?
Me: [awkward pause]…Um…when should I call back to speak to him then?
As you can see, this is not the best way to deal with a customer, and I had no intention of calling back. This one conversation let me know that I had no interest in doing business with this establishment. This leads me to critical lesson #8.
8. ALL (not some) of your employees need to be trained to serve.
It is easy to see when an establishment is just filled with bodies, or when it’s filled with knowledgeable, trained staff. It is obvious that the lady at Bogus Business and the estimator at Super Whack (whom we’ll discuss in #9) were not properly trained. As the first line of defense, these are arguably the most important people on the team, and not training them will cost you customers.
During my research phase, I made several trips to Awesome Shop, and worked with different staff on each day. Every single salesperson I encountered knew their stuff and was helpful, and none contradicted the other. This shows that the owner has taken the time to hire and train knowledgeable people. Even when I called, I never had to be put on hold constantly like at Super Whack. Every question I asked, I had to sit on hold for 2 minutes while she went to ask Dave. This should never happen.
9. The customer should never pay for your mistake.
Although this sits in the #9 spot for sequence’s sake, this is THE most CRITICAL lesson of them all. No matter what it costs, if you or your staff makes a serious error, the customer should NEVER have to pay for it.
I received an estimate from Super Whack for a hitch installation. At the end of the day, another person called back to inform me that the job would end up being more than double what I was originally quoted. She assured me the part had been ordered to keep us on schedule but if I wanted to cancel just call her back. Okay, fine.
I was completely flabbergasted when Dave from Super Whack told me after his estimator made such an egregious error that he would not even come close to the original price because “Well, I have to pay [blah blah] and we can’t lose money.” He offered to take off $100, which came nowhere close to covering the deficit. And did so with an attitude, saying, “I mean I’m trying to work with you, I’m taking off $100 but that’s all I can do” as if he were doing me a favor and I wasn’t appreciative of it.
Can’t lose money? Newsflash: Yes you can. For example, if I had a printer who printed and shipped last year’s annual report to my client because I sent them the wrong file, I would never call my client and say, “Well, we will reprint it but you still have to pay for both because we can’t lose money.” The bottom line is this: your mistake, you eat it. If that affects your bottom line, then train your people not to make such costly errors.
If you’re a business owner, don’t ever act like you’re doing the customer a favor. You aren’t. The truth is, you need the customer, they don’t need you.
10. The customer’s budget should not dictate the level of service they receive.
Be attentive. Focus on the current customer, not every one that walks past you. That’s why you have multiple salespeople. This also applies to service businesses. Give your $1k client the same respect and attention that you give your $100k client.
At Lamewad Wheels, this practice was blatantly obvious. All the saleswoman cared about was are you here to buy a bike right now or not. I was asking questions, and all she could say was “this one’s good…so is this one…they cost $X.” That was the extent of her assistance…that is, when I could keep her attention for more than 20 consecutive seconds. I ended up spending over an hour in this shop because she would leave me on hold to assist every person who came through the door except me. If the store is fully-staffed, why would this be necessary?
11. Listen to the customer, and sell the solution (not the product) that’s best for them, regardless of cost.
What does it mean to sell the solution and not the product? Most of the time, your product is not as unique as you think it is. The customer can likely find the same product somewhere else, probably at a lower cost. Customers don’t buy products—they buy solutions. What sets you apart from your competitor is your knowledge and ability to create the right solution that meets their need.
The right solution is not always the most expensive one. Have you ever purchased the most expensive version of a product, thinking it would be the best simply because it cost more, only to find out that you ended up returning it and purchasing the discount model that outperformed it?
Have you ever been forced to deal with a salesman whose mission was to sell you the entire store? You came for one item with a fixed budget in mind. But they completely disregarded it, trying to sell you more than you need and could afford?
When I visited Lamewad Wheels last winter in search of a riding jacket, I worked with a gentleman whose mission seemed to be to sell me the entire store. I came for a jacket, and he was trying to sell me bibs, gloves, socks, hats, shoes, and anything else he could get his hands on. When we finally looked at jackets, he had no regard for my fixed budget whatsoever. We looked at a jacket that I liked and could afford, and he would interject with “now I know you said you can only spend $X, but I want to show you this jacket. It’s absolutely amazing and totally worth the money because [blah blah].” When I stopped him mid-sentence to ask what it cost, it was literally three times my original budget. Why were we even discussing it?
Not every product is right for every customer. Unless you’re a discount store or a high-end store, you probably find yourself catering to a wide variety of budgets. Let’s say you manage a car dealership that sells Subarus and Mercedes. The fact that a customer can’t afford the Mercedes doesn’t devalue it. It simply means that it’s not the right car for that customer. Don’t try to sell a Mercedes to a customer who only has a Subaru budget, and don’t get offended when they tell you, “No!”
12. Customers reward those who go the extra mile for them.
One day I was in Awesome Shop and the time elapsed past closing. Myself and 2 other customers were still in the store, but the staff acted like nothing was wrong. They never rushed us out or hovered by the door with a key in their hand. In fact, at least 30 minutes after closing I made a comment to the woman fitting me saying “I hope this isn’t taking too long, you guys are closed right? I can come back another day.” And her response was “Oh no, don’t worry about it. My husband will let the dog out :)” In addition, when I asked about putting a deposit on the bike, she said to me “we usually require 20% but whatever you can do is fine. We can just do $X.”
In addition, I ended up ordering my rack online because it was nearly $100 cheaper. Still, when I brought it with me and told the salesman I had trouble mounting the base, he happily came out to my car (in the rain) and mounted that piece for me and helped me safely install the rack. In the rain. (Did I mention it was raining?)
Going the extra mile for your customers makes you stand out because you’re probably the only one doing it. I’m sure you can guess by now that I did indeed put a deposit down on my bike at Awesome Shop and picked it up a week later, along with several other items. I’ve been riding happily ever since, and I recommend this shop to everyone I meet on the trail.
All of these events took place over about 2 weeks, but that extra effort that Awesome Shop showed me during this process was the reason it won my business. The 12 critical lessons I’ve mentioned not only apply to a bike shop. They apply to ANY product or service business. So while you’re investing in shiny brochures and business cards and fancy new websites, you’d better make sure you’re investing just as much in training your staff (and yourself) on providing a knock-their-socks-off customer experience. This level of customer service will sell more and generates more buzz than any other marketing effort. Likewise, a pretty face won’t cover a rotten heart for long. Get your inner workings in order before promoting yourself outwardly.
What are your thoughts? Have you had a particularly memorable (positive or negative) customer experience? How did you react to it? What was your response afterwards? Tell me about it in the comments.
Missed the beginning of the story? Check out the first 6 critical lessons that started the discussion.