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Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do?
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I was talking to a friend of mine, discussing our sales process. I noticed we have two kinds of customers, or they can be broken down into two groups:

1. Customer comes in and says: "I'm thinking of doing/am doing triathlons and would like to get measured and buy the bike you determine is optimal for me based on your measurements, techniques and expereince."
-OR-
2. Customer comes in and says: "I underatand you are good at selling triathlon bikes, I want a 53cm Brand X with 700c wheels please."

Now clearly, both customers are "good" customers, but I always have the sense the first customer (open minded and trusting) has a better chance of getting the optimal bike than the guy who has "done his research" and is no longer open to new ideas (closed minded and opinionated- the guy who says "I want 700c wheels no matter what!"). I have my own thoughts on serving both these customers, and we do serve both, but what are your thoughts on how the second customer should be handled? Do we just "knock 'em where they lean"? We have never done that, but we sometimes wonder if we are being rude or disrespectful if we ask "May I ask why this bike is of interest to you?"

Tom Demerly
The Tri Shop.com
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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I would respond to customer #2 by saying, "Let's fit you up here and we'll see what we have just for you." I would think customer #2 would appreciate that. Then, you could try to get him/her the correct-fitting bike and sell them on why 650c would be better than 700c, etc.

Bear in mind that I was a customer #2, even after having been a mechanic and working in a bike shop. I eventually got burned a few times too many and had to have a custom-built bike that taught me a lesson. I ended up having to ask for help further when I could not fit myself to a bike properly (as I came from the days of "What's your inseam?"). This is where I learned the intricacies of proper bike fitting for myself.

Now, sometimes, a customer who wants 700c has very specific needs in mind. One would be the ability to get neutral support in a road race (many times, not a good enough reason, esp. in tri). Another would be the misconception that wheels, tires, tubes, etc., are easier to get. That is true, but the selection of 650c stuff has grown, even in the middle of nowhere (where I live). Another is the odd-ball gearing, and that's a somewhat valid point.

If they're too short for 700c wheels, then be specific as to why you don't think they should have 700c wheels. Tell them that you would be uncomfortable knowing that they will not get their proper, low position, etc.. Also say that your experience in fitting people over the years comes into play as to why they should not use 700c wheels.

I would think that you, Mr. Demmerly, have enough knowlege and the fact that your reviews on your website are respected enough that a customer #2 would listen to you.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [bunnyman] [ In reply to ]
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I agree with what you are saying, and basically that is the tack we take. One thing that frightens me is when a customer is very resolved about their decision, and it is appropriate for us to respect that, and their decision turns out to be a bad one- then we are held accountable for that. I feel like saying "Well, sir, that bike was your choice- NOT our recommendation. I wish you would have taken our recommendation." I want to tell them if they make the decision on what bike to buy, they will be responsible for the ownership expereince- but if I make the decision for them, I will take full responsibility for the quality of their ownership expereince.

Tom Demerly
The Tri Shop.com
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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If a person chooses a bike that you don't recommend you should have them sign a disclosure waiver, saying that although you don't recommend the bike for this person this is the bike they wanted in full knowledge that this may not be the best bike for them. It might make them think twice, I certainly would.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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The problem is that the customer is always right!--yea sure.



The problem with a service business is that we as the owner/salesman are rich because we own our own business. So we are suspect at first glance. No matter how much experience or how much we care, to most customers we are suspect. We put are blood and sweat into service for people but the problem is that these customers were burned by someone else in our industry and so they think we are all inherently bad. I wish that it wasn't so. I guess you can just be honest and treat each customer as though they were your grandmother and give them your un divided attention for the short time you are dealing with them. Give them your honest and educatated opinion and hope they listen. And that is what keeps us in the business of service--the one customer out of ten who listens.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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Tom, I have no problem hearing this as a customer, as long as it is said correctly. That is the delicate part. I can handle hearing it, some may not. BUT, if someone comes in and blames you for their decisions, you should NOT have to take it. The customer is not always right...especially in this case...

I am type 2 customer, BUT most are still open to some listening, especially if there is objective data that can be presented to them in a way that is understandable. For me, speaking in terms of angles, and measurements won't work for me. Telling me that on my 50 mile ride I will experience pain because of XX reason, that is what I understand.
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For cust #2 I think ... [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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that you should say: "Do you mind if we ask you some questions that MIGHT, based upon our experience, help you to end up with AN EVEN BETTER bike for your needs within your cost parameters?" By that question, you are reassuring him that he has done a good job picking the bike he did (even if you think he didn't), but also reassuring him that you are not going to just try to sell him a more expensive bike. If the customer declines, sell him the bike.

--------------
Frank,
An original Ironman and the Inventor of PowerCranks
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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It seems to me like a good answer, because it absolves you of "blame" and offers the customer something without offending, would be:

"If you're positive that's what you want, we have that available in Brand X, Y or Z. However, sizes and geometries are not uniform across triathlon bikes, and one of the areas in which we feel we offer true customer service is in sizing people and help them select the optimum size and brand. We charge $_____ for this service, but if you end up buying from us, we credit the cost of the fitting against the purchase price."
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [mr. mike] [ In reply to ]
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Tom,

I used to sell cars and we had the same issue. I found that the best way to deal with it, if the bike X was definately the wrong thing then slowly educate them on the benefits of a proper fit. With patience and good knowledge of your product (which from this forum I see you definately have) you can slowly change their mind. They key is knowing what they want. If they want bike X simply because it is cool - there is nothing you can do. If they want bike X because it will make them faster - show them how bike Y might be faster for them. If they want bike X because it will be more comfortable - show them how bike Y will prevent injuries and make them more comfortable in the long run. To take this approach you must go slowly and carefully (you don't want to insult them or tell them that they are wrong) eventually they will think that they should try the other bike. The nice thing is that once you have finished the process (and it my experience it usually meant a smaller sale upfront) these people become your loyal disciples for ever more and will always come to you first in the future.

____________________________________________

"which is like watching one of your buddies announce that he's quitting booze and cigarettes, switching to a Vegan diet and training for triathalons ... but he's going to keep snorting heroin." Bill Simmons, ESPN
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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To me, customer #2, while more problematic and difficult to work with, can be a "better" customer than customer #1. The guy who has "done his research" and perhaps come up with an erroneous conclusion, does really want to pick the absolute best bike for him. Your job is to (politely, patiently and tactfully) work through the logic he's used (if any) and see where the gaps are. He will appreciate it, no question. But statements like "you are better on 650c, because I say so, and you are wrong" will not work with this customer type. No one likes to be told that they are wrong, or that the work they've put in has gone to waste. Statements along the lines of "650 is a better choice for you in these models, because of x, y, z. If you are set on 700c, then these models would be a better choice, because of x, y, z" will be appreciated.

One of the assumptions people are making is that "low" = "better". It doesn't work for everyone. Some of the fastest guys I know set up the armrests only a cm or 2 below the bar. Could they be more aero by going lower? probably. Would they be faster in the lower position? Much more questionable.

If a bike really is not going to work, perhaps even dangerous for the individual to ride, you always have the option of refusing to sell them the machine.

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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [jasonk] [ In reply to ]
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damned brain freeze, I meant a cm or 2 below the seat.

Swimming Workout of the Day: http://forum.slowtwitch.com/...ost=5784860#5784860;
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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I've been customer #2 before, and my LBS handled me quite well. I was SURE I was a 57cm, I was SURE on the size wheels, I was SURE on a lot of things. They just flat out told me that they would sell me whatever I wanted, but I wouldn't be happy with what I was asking for. They went on to explain that, even though the charts showed it, I was in fact a 59cm rider, etc.



I wasn't put off at all, and I've been happy with my bike ever since. I prefer sales people be honest with me even if it spites me a bit.



If the customer is just plain thick-headed, sell them what they want and remind them you advise against it and make no claims they'll be happy with it.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [jasonk] [ In reply to ]
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Tom, I am a type 2 extreme. I research the hell out of everything I do in life. I "know" all the facts and figures concerning anything I am embarking on. I'm right about 90-95% of the time. In my younger days I just assumed it was 100% and nothing you could say would change my mind. If you couldn't produce facts and figures that countered my position effectively, then I went with what I "knew" was "right."

Curiously, when I was taught to go with the "70%" solution in tactics, that only reinforced my position, since at 70% solution, I was indeed 100% correct!

FORTUNATELY, I've learned that the 5-10% that I'm wrong has significant value. I was dead set on a P3 recently, but was convinced otherwise by a knowlegeable fitter. I'm on a Saber and I couldn't be happier. I poo-pooed my wife's hiring a Pilates coach. Now she's in the best shape of her life and loves to work out. I couldn't help her there with swim/bike/run!

Bottom line is, you can't try to win with someone like #2. Present your well reasoned approach and arguments for or against certain gear/setups and let the customer decide. The customer is right in that he/she has the right to the final decision.....AND the consequences. Just don't ever compromise with such a character by entertaining their whining about their purchase. Even in my most resolute days I respected someone if they held a counter viewpoint AND STUCK TO IT.

P.S. The real reason I'm reformed is that I now assume I'm wrong most of the time, no matter how many facts I "know." That way I'm LISTENING to the other person. :>
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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I appreciate your reponses guys. I think you are, in general, a somewhat more sophisticated group than we typically get on a Saturday morning one week after the season started and a lot of prospective new customers are beginning to emerge. If only we had a super-race of customers like you guys.

Tom Demerly
The Tri Shop.com
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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As a newbie triathlete, I'm the customer that's stuck right in the middle of customer #1 and #2. I'm bitten by the Tri-Bug, probably have an entry level raod bike that doesn't fit correctly, have researched the hell out of every review, webpage, online store, and forum, but lack the confidence or experience to make my optimal selection.

As this hybrid customer, I really don't have any business dictating what I know to be the best bike for me. I believe a feeling of trust is required between the customer and bike shop employee. Purchasing anything over $1k is a scary proposition. Compound the newbie's feeling of intimidation and you've got one scared customer. As with any finance decision risk is involved. Information and trust help a customer believe that he/she has minimized the risk involved and maximized the potential return on their investment.

If I trust you, I'll spend the extra $$$ for a P3 or spend less for a Cervelo One and believe my interest are being met rather than believing I helped you make your sales week or am simply clearing out slow moving stock.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [texicans] [ In reply to ]
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Trust is so important, and trying to earn and maintain that is our most important job and our most valuable asset once we do earn it.

Tom Demerly
The Tri Shop.com
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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In a former life, I managed a ski shop. In that role, I actually liked getting Type 2 Customers. We always called them "Tech Heads" but they were informed, active buyers. Most of the time, you could explain, in fairly technical terms, why they might want to consider a specific model and normally they would listen. When they didn't listen and went ahead and bought their chosen product, they tended to be happy with it anyway because they had chosen it. Even when it wasn't the best decision for them, it was their decision and that empowerment seemed to make a lot of difference.

I definitely think that it is your role to offer suggestions on product, but I would definitely stay away from "correcting" them, unless the issue is fit. When it comes to 700 vs. 650 or 57 vs. 59, I think that it is your responsibility to make sure that they are as comfortable and safe on their chosen product as possible.

Litherland
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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I would never be insulted by a knowledgable person asking me why I want a particular bike or component. The questions you ask me about my choices and preferences actually help me qualify your expertise. If I walked in and you asked me the right questions regarding why I wanted a specific bike, your credibility goes up and I would be even more inclined to listen to your advice.

I think the best you can do is offer your experienced opinion to the closed minded type 2 customer as tactfully as possible. If the customer isnt willing to listen to you after seeking you out because of your expertise in selling triathlon bikes, and then comes back to complain about it, they would have complained about something anyway. Its a personality trait/belief system that you are not going to change.

Its a similar belief system that causes people (particularly in this country) to be overly litigious. Many are not willing to accept responsibility for their own actions, in this case ignoring your expert opinion (which they sought out specifically) for their own "educated" opinion.

Its a tough situation to deal with, and from reading some of your other posts your interests seem to truly lie in doing right by your customer (a rare and dying breed you are, at least in this part of the country, NYC).

I wouldnt waste energy worrying about the folks you tried to help, but were too closed minded to listen to your advice.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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I have a marketing firm... we also have two types of customers.

A) We want you to help us sovle a problem. Can you help us market x? These folks are usually looking for help with strategy. We like these folks a lot. They allow us to do great and highly effective work.

B) Can you build us a website... or a brochure? These folks are looking for tactical implementation. We like these folks also. They allow us to do great work.

We no longer try and sell strategy to tacticians. It only serves to frustrate them and often sends them to our competitors. Over time, by giving them what they want... we earn there trust and can better help them think through what they are doing.

Granted these are different markets and very business' - take from it what you can.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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Ah...Tom. The question you have asked is simular to the immortal question, "What is the meaning of life." I guess the answer to that is as variable as the number of people whom try and answer the question. In fact, it more of a riddle than a question. So, to answer your question, (IMHO) there is two sides.

1) ...those that know the answer.

2) ...those that think they know the answer.

In sales, the quandary becomes this problem, "which side should you let the customer think he is on - 1)knows the answer or 2)thinks they know the answer". My answer is simple... allow the customer to be right but wrong at the same time. That requires good listening skills, not talking skills. I requires understanding the customer. It also requires relationship building skills.

Lets face it, most people buy what they want - NOT what they need. On the other hand, if they get what they want, is that not what they they percieve as their need? The the answer to solving the need vs. want dilemma is changing there perception. This is accomplished through experience. Problem is, they have less (or none) and you have more. They will either accept your value or they don't. Some buyers see little value in experience (their usually looking at the price-only). Some buyers see value in experience (their usually looking at the service).

What your asking is how do you solve the delimma between the price buyer and service buyer. Simply put, you don't. But, you don't have to solve the problem. If you define your business as a service driven business then that won't change. If you see a customer whom is a price driven customer then that won't change either. The only hope you have is attempting to provide service through knowledge and experience. If their not willing to accept that, then just remember this mantra -

Typically, people buy what they want, not what they need. It's less about the customer always being right. Customers are always right until they are proven wrong. By the same token, they could be right - the expert doesn't always have all the right answers. Yes, on some occasions, you can actually learn from a customer. That's why listening such a crucial step in successfully creating a relationship. Expert listing skills is much more valuable than expert bike skills.

By doing what they want, you've committed no sin, ...it's O.K. to give them what they want. However, to change that equation you must change the customers perception of your value. To do that, requires establishing a relationship with the customer. That requires time and listening skills. So, when you said,

"2) Customer comes in and says: "I underatand you are good at selling triathlon bikes, I want a 53cm Brand X with 700c wheels please."

That's not relationship building ... that's price oriented sells.

In contrast, when you said,

1)"I'm thinking of doing/am doing triathlons and would like to get measured and buy the bike you determine is optimal for me based on your measurements, techniques and expereince."

That's relationship building.... that's service oriented sells.

Every service oriented business likes relationship building customers. They are why small businesses exist. The small business that become a successful business are those that take the price oriented customer and turns them into a service oriented customer. And, that takes time.

FWIW Joe Moya

btw, only exception the rule above is when their decisions would result in negative financial or medical consequences. But, then again that's another story.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Joe M] [ In reply to ]
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Joe, Thank you for your answer, a number of of excellent thoughts in there. I made two of thr guys working here read your post (and the entire thread for that matter). I'm glad I posted this thread.

Tom Demerly
The Tri Shop.com
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Its disrespectful if you don't ask [ In reply to ]
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May I ask why this bike is of interest to you? Ans. Because I'm doing a tri on Saturday and my buddy has one.


I would guess that most of the people who walk in your door either have no idea what bike to buy, or are basing their views on what their friend (or Lance) is riding, along with a couple of hours of reading bike reviews on the web. IMHO, asking customers to qualify why they want "Bike X" is part of the service you are providing.

As for the experts, most will probably enjoy going in depth about the pros and cons of their selection. If at the end the customer does not agree with you, that's his choice, not yours, and you should have no problems with selling the bike. As a Michigan bike store owner has said; "You take the risk, you reap the rewards or you suffer the consequences" :)
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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Last time in a bike store I told the guys that I wanted a Cervelo P2K. I told them the size and what wheels I wanted. I let the guys measure my inseam and dang, I was right about the size. They asked me about another type of wheel and I responded with a firm "no". At one point they even asked me if I had also thought about brand XX bike, to which I responded firmly, "I'm here to buy a P2K.

The customer may not be always right,but if I walk into your store, in my mind I AM RIGHT, at least unless you can show me to my satisfaction a logical reason as to why my choice isn't the bestfor me. Of course I don't make purchases unless Ive done a lot of research before hand. But I am willing to listen to what you say. You'd probably be very frustrated with me as a customer becaus I would take your options, go and research them and then come back with more questions. It would probably mean four more visits to your store plus comparison shopping before I made up my mind when you could have just sold me the P2K in the first place like I asked.

I know where you're coming from though. There must be lots of people who are set in their choice and aren't aware that there may be better options for them.

On the other hand, I don't really understand the first type of customer who puts blind faith in the sales personnel. In your case they're lucky because you know what you're doing, but that may not necesarily be the case at the shop around the corner.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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I agree with the common thread here of be willingly to sell him what he wants but gently offer to give him a fitting first.

The problem is that I don't trust anyone at any LBS to help me with anything tri related. (I'm in the Houston area) I end up going to Bike Barn, telling them exactly what I want, and getting great service. These guys know how to setup a road bike, they appear to be great mechanics, and they have wonderful customer service. Unfortunately, they don't know a thing about tri. I've tried the local tri specific LBS and I wouldn't trust them to tune up my bike let alone fit me for one.

I've been burned enough to be wary of any LBS. You may well find customers that just aren't going to trust you until you've proven yourself to them.
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Re: Two kinds of customers: What do think we should do? [Tom Demerly] [ In reply to ]
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Its no wonder retailers like the "open minded" customers; they are easy to deal with and generally feed our egos by affirming our status as an expert. These customers are a joy. On the other hand when those tech-weenie, spoke sniffing, know it alls come through our door and make our lives difficult by requesting every little thing they saw on the internet, retailers eyes roll back in their heads and they reluctantly go an service them. Do the names sound harsh? well every retailer has used them, we all know who we are. No matter how great the customer service, how experienced or mature the staff, there seems to be something irksome about the know-it-all customer. It is not surprising that this happens. When people who dedicate their lives to serving people in a sport, becoming experts in a field are made to feel that their knowledge is unnecessary they get bummed out. How a retailer deals with the situation separates the professionals from the amateurs.

The first thing to do is to stop making assumptions. For instance the original taxonomy of customers is loaded with them, as dichotomies typically are. Lets take customer 1, we assume that they a)open minded, b)easy to fit. Just because a customer asked you for your opinion doesn’t mean that they automatically value it. How many times have you walked into a shop and played "dumb" to evaluate the staff. You might give them your suggestions, and they may politely say they'll think about it and then go and buy it at another shop. People get second opinions from doctors all the time, they do it with bikes too. Many times the 'easy' type 1 customers don't voluntarily offer all the information necessary to make a satisfied customer. In my experience fitting hockey skates, there are always those customers who just won't tell you if they don't like the skate. Just because a customer listened to you does not mean that they will be satisfied. More often customer satisfaction is based on how well the retailer listens to the customer. They type two customer comes in the same varieties as type 1, they just aren't asking your opinion. They might know nothing, and they might know more than you. They might have had a fit somewhere else, they might assume that you are going to fit them. The only way you find out is to ask.

The only real difference between those two types of customers, beside how they make you feel, is what they are asking you to do. It is incredibly important that you always do what they ask. If the person asks to be fitted to a bike you don't start by selling them clothing, you start by fitting them to a bike. If someone comes in and asks you to order something, you start the sales process with an order. First rule of retail is if the customer makes a request, you fulfill it. A customers request for an order should always be followed by an order, not a questioning of the customers choice. This might mean that you only pull out the order form, all you need to do is demonstrate that you are listening to their request. At that point you are free to ask the customer any questions you like as long as they don't begin with why. Questions like, "would you like to be fitted to this bike before I order it?" "This is a great bike, have you had a chance to ride it?" or the bike shop standby of "Where do you like to ride?" All of the previous questions get you valuable information without questioning the customers choice. Essentially you are interrupting the order process with the initial stage of the sales process. Once you think you have enough information you ask permission to present a different product. If the customer says yes, which they almost always will, go on and let your stores service shine.

This is of course assuming that the type 2 customer in question was looking for the wrong bike. Heck that 6'4" customer looking for the 54cm bike, may have been replacing his brothers bike that he ran over with his suburban. If you listen to him and treat him respectfully he may come back and get a bike for himself
Last edited by: cjeder: Jan 17, 03 13:21
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