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Birding Business

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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

Birding Business - September 2013 - Turning Problems into Pluses

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

The adage “the customer is always right” is attributed to Marshall Field, a legendary Chicago retailer.  It is also attributed to a few others as well.  The exact source really isn’t important.  It’s the thought that counts.

When my store was new, I cringed whenever I saw a customer walk into the store carrying a bird feeder.  That could only mean an unhappy customer.  Their feeder was broken.  It doesn’t work.  Birds don’t like it.  It doesn’t work the way we said it would.  Squirrels defeated or destroyed it.   I would be facing an unhappy, maybe angry, customer and my job was to make them happy again.

An old marketing truism says ‘never look at an unhappy customer as a problem, consider it an opportunity’.  It is your chance to be a hero, solve the problem, and gain a loyal customer for life. 

The last thing you want is to make them more angry and upset, causing them to storm out of the store.  Statistics show that when a customer is unhappy with a store they will tell 10 to 20 others about their unsatisfactory experience.  (Surprisingly, if they have a truly great retail experience they only tell 3 or 4 others) 

Remember a happy feeder customer is likely to continue buying seed for the next five or ten years.  And the value of that seed will far exceed the original cost of the feeder.  So it is important to resolve the situation, both to prevent adverse publicity and to protect future sales.

Most importantly give that customer your undivided attention.  Listen carefully as she explains the problem.  Remember, the situation annoyed her enough that she made a special trip to your store.  Recognize the effort she has made.  Don’t let herm feel you are ignoring her or consider her problem trivial.

Realize she may be somewhat anxious, and be sympathetic.  Listen fully and add comments.  “That shouldn’t be.”  “That must be annoying.”  “That’s not good.”   Let her know you understand and are concerned about the problem.

Most often, if it a simple mechanical problem or a product defect you will recognize the solution immediately.  But do not underplay the problem or make flippant comments such as “oh, that happens all the time.”  You don’t want to leave the impression that you sold an inferior product that is problem prone.

I stock the most common replacement parts for all my best selling feeders.  (The manufacturer can provide a list of the most used parts)  If customer traffic is slow and the fix is quick, I may do it while the customer waits.  It is gratifying to see them walk in unhappy and leave with smile.  If I cannot fix it immediately, I ask them to leave the feeder (always get a name and phone number) and promise to fix it quickly.  And always do what you promise, because the customer will have to make another visit to the store and may buy something on the return visit.

If I do not stock the needed part, I phone the customer service department of the manufacturer (on week days), order the parts and ask how long it will take to get them.  I do this while the customer is standing there, so the customer recognizes I do take the problem seriously and react immediately. Also, I can give them a good estimate of when the parts will be available and when I can have the feeder working again. 

Sometimes there may be nothing really wrong with the feeder, the customer is just unhappy with it for some reason and simply wishes they had purchased a different feeder.  This situation requires a little more tact.  You realize the customer will purchase hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of seed over the years.  But you can’t afford to take back a feeder just because they don’t like it.  

In this case I use a magic phrase I learned long ago. Ask your customer “what can I do that will make you happier about this situation?”  It shows that you are concerned, and sometimes the answer may surprise you.  I recall one situation where I was considering giving the customer a full refund (the feeder was almost brand new) but the customer responded “I really want that other, more expensive feeder, and feel you should give me a nice discount, say 20%”.  So I did.  He was happy, I was happy, and I didn’t have to give a full refund.

Today, when a customer walks in the store carrying a feeder, I realize it is an opportunity, not a confrontation.  I understand that they may be somewhat nervous.   In fact, I try to make the situation less tense by greeting them in a jovial voice and saying something like “oh, you’re bringing us a feeder.  Now nice.  But no thanks.  I have plenty of them” as I point to all my feeders.   Then I listen intently as the customer describes the feeder problem.

The result of the visit will be a win-win solution.  Happy customer… happy retailer.