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How to Deal With Difficult Customers

FirstRead/Retail
By Glen Beres, Contributing Editor
This story appears in the July 2009 issue of JCK magazine
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  1. The Arguer is ready to haggle and looks to establish an adversarial relationship, believing it will help him get the best deal.
    Disarm this customer by remaining calm and professional, listening to him and showing him respect. Do not get into a debate or allow him to make you feel inadequate. One way to deal with the Arguer is to turn him over to the owner or sales manager. “When they know they are working with someone with final authority, it takes the salesperson out of the line of fire and shows them you are giving them respect,” says Shane Decker, president of Ex-Sell-Ence.
    “Some intense arguers respond positively to a perceived higher-level authority when they notice you are recognizing their importance by seeking additional help,” adds David W. Richardson, chief executive officer of Jewelry Sales Training/Richardson Resource Group.

  2. The Hothead is dissatisfied and upset following a previous purchase or sales encounter in your store and is looking for a fight.
    Give this customer your full attention, listen to her problem with respect and empathy, and do all you can to resolve the issue. Seeing that you care and want to help often is enough to calm her down and allow her to interact with you in a positive way, Richardson observes.
    Decker advocates taking the Angry Customer into the office where she can tell her story in private without interruptions. “Once you find out what happened—maybe a repair was messed up or they felt prejudged or disrespected—give them an apology, fix it, give them roses, give them a gift certificate. Do whatever it takes to make them happy, even if it costs you, because you want them to leave bragging about you,” Decker says.
    Leonard Zell, owner of Professional Jewelry Sales Training, notes that going the extra mile to satisfy an unhappy customer can turn her into a loyal one and creates an opportunity to show her something else for her next occasion. “Always try to create a sale out of any situation,” Zell stresses.

  3. The Know It All tries to intimidate the salesperson with product knowledge and is often armed with printouts of online jewelry prices.
    Always validate this customer's knowledge and compliment him on his research. Then, turn his knowledge into a positive by emphasizing your expertise, your reputation, the quality of your merchandise, the superior service you provide, and any other value-added factors that online retailers can't match. “Let them know you respect their knowledge and tell them you assume they came to your store because they know that a picture on a Web page is no comparison to actually seeing and touching a piece of jewelry in person,” says Brad Huisken, owner and founder of IAS Training. “This creates value in buying from your store and plants a seed of doubt in their mind about paying Web prices and getting the unknown.”
    Decker advises letting the Know It All know you have a gemologist or someone else with extensive experience who can help them. This highlights your store's expertise, acknowledges the customer's expertise, and allows you to turn him over to the most knowledgeable person in the store. The biggest mistake salespeople make in dealing with the Know It All is to challenge him and show off their own product knowledge, Zell says. “The only ego that counts is your customer's,” he adds.

  4. The Chatterbox talks about everything but the critical information the salesperson needs to make the sale.
    Some customers are psychologically needy and see a salesperson as their personal sounding board. These customers need to establish a relationship with the salesperson before they will buy. Although some see them as time wasters, Decker believes they can be sold effectively by listening to them without interrupting, making them feel important, waiting for an opening, and then gently redirecting them back to jewelry and the reason they came in. “Impatient salespeople shouldn't be waiting on these types of customers,” he says. Often, the salesperson is to blame for creating a chatty customer, Zell maintains, because they play “can you top this” with the customer and never let her have the last word. “It's the salesperson's ego again,” he says.

  5. The Cynic believes all salespeople have their own agendas and are not interested in what's best for the customer.
    This customer may have developed a bad attitude because of a negative prior experience. He may have waited too long to be served or been prejudged, or perhaps a salesperson didn't ask the right questions or get to know him. Maybe he was pressured to buy something he didn't want or couldn't afford, or he bought something of lesser quality than he was led to believe. “They need to know it is an honor to wait on them and you're really glad they came in,” Decker says. “Disarm them with friendliness and professionalism. Build a relationship with them. Show them you care about them and don't have an agenda. Salespeople should never talk about themselves with this customer. Always make it about them.”
    Win the Cynic's trust by introducing yourself, listening, and talking less than he does, Zell advises. “If they don't know who you are, how can they trust you?”

  6. The Vacillator doesn't know what she wants, how much she wants to spend, or even if she's ready to buy.
    Indecisive customers often are overwhelmed by the number of choices available and can't make a decision without assistance, Richardson says. “You must avoid attempting to read their mind and jumping to conclusions, asking them why they are undecided, confusing them further by offering more choices, or leaving them alone hoping that in due time they will figure it out for themselves,” he says.
    Instead, put her at ease and reassure her that you'll help her find the perfect piece. Find out why she came in, what she or the gift recipient likes, what she's bought before, etc. Richardson suggests asking event-related questions such as “How will you celebrate your anniversary?” or “What will she be doing after graduation?” Focusing on the event rather than the product can narrow the choices and direct her toward a specific purchase.

  7. The Hurrier wants to be serviced immediately regardless of how many customers are in front of him and expects to get in and out quickly.
    Many customers are rushed and have no time to spare. They can be demanding and intimidating as a result. Have enough salespeople to handle store traffic as well as backroom people who are trained to come out and help when needed, Huisken advises. If you can't help a customer immediately, acknowledge him right away and let him know someone will be with him shortly. Sometimes a customer won't wait. In that case, it may be best to take care of him immediately. “If you have a rude or nasty customer, get them out of the store fast so the rest of your customers can relax and enjoy the experience,” Decker says.

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