September 28, 2016

Service improves sales


I have been spending time this past spring and summer with my long-time friend, Don Rae. I have previously written about him in this column. Don started selling when he was 16 years old for Audio Warehouse, an independent electronics store in Regina. Don has been selling for over 40 years and he is one of the very best. Good is not a term that you would use to describe the man. Good is an insult. He is incredible! 

After all these years of selling and offering the highest level of service, he no longer really sells. He just takes orders. Customers, myself included, phone Don up and say, “I need a new television set.” He brings one over, hooks it up and hands you the remote along with the bill. 

To get to that stage in life where his customer base trusts him, without reservation, is not where he began his career. As with the rest of us, he started at the bottom, unloading trucks and putting product on display. He tap danced for his first sales. Fortunately for Don, as for many of us, he had an older person who guided his career from its infancy. The older man was his boss, Gordy Hammond. Gordy preached from the mountaintop, “Don’t be afraid of customer problems. That’s how we win them over, with service.”

Truer words have never been spoken, yet how often have we seen salespeople, including managers and owners, hide from a customer who has an issue? In essence, they are telling that customer, “Do not shop here ever again. We are only here to sell you product, not to ensure the product meets your needs.” 

After having purchased five new vehicles from a local dealership over a 30-year period, I had a problem with the fifth. No one from the dealership would help me and the vehicle was only a week old. Do you think I will ever grace that dealership for the purchase of my sixth vehicle? They were not there for me when I needed them.

When Don and I get together our wives roll their eyes. In the background, we hear this demanding voice: “Don’t spend the next two hours yakking to Rod (or Don).” We are not yakking. We are collaborating, exchanging wisdom-based experiences on how to improve our sales abilities. 

Hustlers do that, they share their experiences. I am a hustler and so is Don. My wife hates that term. To her, the word hustler conjures up images of the aluminum siding salesman, going door-to-door, praying he can find a confused senior citizen. I often explain there are ‘good act hustlers’ and ‘bad act hustlers.’ To me, a hustler is nothing more than someone who takes whatever God-given talents they have and parlays those talents to their maximum. Hustlers want the best in life and they are willing to do the work to reap the rewards. 

Don and I were talking about the service part of health care. I had just returned from The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I told him how astounded I was by the level of service I had received at The Mayo. Now, before I go on, I fully recognize I was paying top dollar for my medical care in Rochester. I was treated exceptionally well at each and every turn. From the person who registered me, to the lab tech, the nurses, the receptionists in the different specialties and the doctors. 

I never had to wait. A 3 p.m. appointment was exactly that. I was not rushed during my appointments and I was treated as if I were a person, not something to be processed. I am proud of Canadian Medicare. I was 10 years old when it had its controversial beginnings in Regina in 1962. Every politician, today, promises to improve upon its performance.

Even though I am a strong supporter of Canadian Medicare, I am tired of being seen at 1 p.m. for a 10 a.m. appointment. I want to shout, “My time has value as well!” I am tired of rude receptionists. At a local lab, I watched the receptionist create conflict with the next six people when no conflict existed. I understand, fully, that working with the public can be a challenge, but there is no need to create problems for yourself or others. Some people make it a habit to aggravate those around them. When I observe this behaviour, anywhere, I think, “not a commissioned salesperson, is he/she?” 

Few of us complain when we are treated poorly by a health system employee. We know that if we do, nothing is apt to happen and we only make things worse for ourselves. It is next to impossible to have a staff member reprimanded, let alone removed. The slightest complaint can have us labelled as trouble makers. We are never allowed to be dissatisfied customers because we are never seen as customers. If I am not a customer, then why do our taxes pay for the system? Oh right. We are not customers, we are clients. 

Yet, when one of our employees from the green trades treat someone poorly, there are consequences. I had a customer complain about poor treatment from an employee. Her complaint was valid. I called her back; I apologized and I asked what I could do to rectify the situation. She told me that she appreciated I had called back to apologize, but she would never return to my store again. That one experience had left a sour taste in her mouth and I understand. If you want to increase your sales, ticking off customers should not be on the agenda. 

Several years ago, a customer in Don’s store was not getting along with the salespeople who waited on him. Don stepped in to see if he could resolve the situation. Don, as with all good sales people, listens. He realized the customer was most knowledgeable when it came to sound systems, an audiophile. As the salesstaff suggested each product, the customer would point out the shortcomings of that product. “This one has a good high end but its middle is terrible,” and so on. Nothing satisfied him. Don recognized the customer was not being intentionally difficult. He was exceptionally knowledgeable about all of the product lines, reading the magazines, ratings and reviews. Rather than continue along the same path, Don admired the customer’s product knowledge. Then he asked the customer to pick out some products that would meet his needs, and that made the audiophile happy. Tom Sawyer sails again.

Some customers do not need our help. I had many customers who were true experts when it came to peonies, roses or water gardens. Instead of making suggestions, I asked questions and they were glad to provide the answers. Once I became acquainted with my keenest gardeners, I would ask which varieties I should carry to set myself apart. They would come back with lists and I appreciated their assistance. Those people helped me to be successful. You should never stand in the way of letting a customer shop. 

In my last column, I referred to that nugget, ABC, always be closing. There is another nugget along similar lines, ABB, always be building. One customer is not one sale. Rather, one customer taken care of is a lifetime relationship. One customer has friends and relatives, and a happy customer talks. I do that and so do you. I am so pleased with my local credit union, that whenever a friend starts complaining about a bank experience, I take him or her over to my local branch for an introduction. I have taken quite a few people and each has been pleased with the experience. As salespeople, owners and managers, that is what we want. We want people bringing friends and relatives to our place. 

Don and I were talking about building a business and a repeatable customer base. Don shared that he has third-generation families buying from him these days. He also told me how proud he is that from dealing with one customer many years ago, he now has 12 branches of that customer’s family as customers. 

Repeat sales are what we want. Satisfied customers are what we want. Satisfied customers bringing their friends are what we want. These are the backbone to every successful business and business person. It takes a lot of work to get there. There are times when the service you provide is greater than the sale, but those times are a part of the road to success.

Years ago, I had a customer who kept going back and forth between a Nova Scotia balsam Christmas tree and a white pine. He liked the white pine better but the balsam had sentimental value, as he had grown up in the Maritimes. This went on for an hour. Finally, he chose and we went into the store to ring up the sale. He looked at the largest and most expensive poinsettia I had and said, “I’ll take that.” Half the sale took an hour and the second half occurred within a moment. That is your life when you sell.

The road to success is built, never randomly bestowed. Stay on it by building your customer base. 

Rod McDonald owned and operated Lakeview Gardens, a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask., for 28 years. He now works full-time in the world of fine arts, writing, acting and producing in film, television and stage.
Published in the September 2016 issue of Landscape Trades