Thursday, October 2, 2008

How to irritate a retail customer: make her play 20 questions

I needed to get a quart of paint which matches the other front doors in the row of townhouse condos. I have the specific brand (rhymes with herman millions), type of paint, and color code. I'm a dream sale: I know exactly what I want and don't need advice on complimentary colors or the type of paint for the surface I'm working with.

Easy sale, right? Here's how it actually went down.

Customer enters the storefront in Sodo. A chime alerts a worker in the warehouse.

Worker: (enters) Hi.

Me: Hi. I'd like to get a quart of this paint. (Shows page with specific paint type and color code.)

Worker: (Looks at the information.) I don't think we have that.

Me: Oh. What don't you have? The quart size, or this type of paint?

Worker: I don't think we stock that.

Me: Ok. What do you suggest? (Starting to get irritated.)

Worker: I can check if we have any. (Types on computer.) Nope, we don't have any of that in stock.

Me: What do you mean by that? Do you still make it? May I order it? Or is it discontinued?

Worker: I guess I can check to see if another store has it.

Me: Ok.

Worker: (Types on computer.) Ballard has it.

Me: Great, thanks. Where is the store located in Ballard?

Worker: Do you know the Ballard Bridge?

Me: Yes.

Worker: (silence)

Me: Do you have an address or a phone number?

Worker: It is at NE corner of Leary and 15th.

Me: Ok, thanks. (exit)

How could this have gone better? Start by incorporating three principles into customer interactions:

  • Anticipate the customer's questions

  • Offer options

  • Help solve the customer's problem or need
Here's an alternate-universe version of the interaction, where these three service principles were incorporated:

Worker: Hi, can I help you?

Me: Hi, I'd like to get a quart of this paint.

Worker: I don't think we have that in stock. Let me check. (Types on computer.) I'm sorry, we don't have it at this store. Would you like me to check another location?

Me: Yes, thank you.

Worker: Looks like the Ballard store has it in stock, or I can order it for you to be delivered here.

Me: The Ballard store is fine. Where is it located?

Worker: The store is on the NE corner of 15th and Leary. They are open until 5 pm today. Do you need the address or phone number?

Me: No thanks, I know the cross streeets. Thanks for your help.

Worker: Thanks for coming in. Have a good day.

Notice how much shorter this exchange is? Not only am I more satisfied as a customer, the worker is more efficient as well and can go back to whatever he was doing. Probably picking dried paint off his nails.

some of which has been used

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