This article originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Canadian Music Trade magazine.
By Michael Raine
There are all kind of reasons people may walk into a retail store and make a point of never coming back. The vast majority of those people won’t complain; they will simply leave. But even more crucially, they’re likely to tell others about their bad impression of the store. That means the retailer doesn’t even know how much potential business walked out the door.
According to Tim Pratt, co-owner and president of Dietze Music’s four locations in Omaha, NE, 96 per cent of unhappy customers don’t complain and, of those, 91 per cent leave and never come back. About 85 per cent of those think the store’s employees and management simply don’t care.
“So much of our value of purchasing goes into what friends say. Even if they’re not experts, if a friend tells me, ‘I don’t go there because of this,’ well I am probably not going to go there because I value his opinion even more than a bunch of online reviews of people I don’t know or a great advertisement or whatever. Winning those people back is an almost insurmountable task. Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” emphasizes Pratt.
And so, for his NAMM U session in January 2019, Pratt compiled his top 10 reasons people don’t return to MI stores.
“The apathetic person is the person who is just kind of there – a space filler and warm body,” says Pratt. Anybody who has ever shopped, which is everybody, knows what the apathetic employee looks like; it’s pretty clear when you approach them that they don’t care.
“If I’m just phoning it in and a customer comes in and I don’t even want to get off the chair to help them, I don’t want to ask any questions about their needs, I don’t want to know more about my customer, then, to me, that falls under this whole category of: ‘I am just here, I’m going to collect my pay cheque, and do the minimum to get by,’” he adds. “That is still the relevance, in my mind, of brick and mortar stores in that we can offer some expertise where we can help somebody. If we choose not to do that, we march them out forever.”
This is kind of the opposite of the apathetic employee, but it causes the same outcome – a customer who feels they don’t matter. The too-busy employee may be well intentioned, but they’re so focused on their current task – making the schedule, doing inventory, whatever – that the customer in front of them is treated as an annoyance that is distracting them from their job.
“What we need to understand is that our customers are on a schedule, too,” says Pratt, adding as an example: “This guy is the manager who puts a lot of pressure on himself to finish his task, but unfortunately, the customer service goes by the wayside.”
The complainer is the person who, when asked the universally rhetorical question of, “How’s it going?” uses it as a green light to unleash their frustrations. “You feel awkward and then you want to get out because you don’t want to listen anymore,” says Pratt. As an example, Pratt says it could be something like a customer asking for an item that isn’t in stock and the complainer rants about the buyers not doing their job correctly.
“Those negative vibes, to me, that’s a big one for us. I really like our staff to laugh and have fun and to get to know their customers. When you get that negative stuff going on, the customer can feel that tension a mile away.”
While the previous three employee types are pretty universal in the retail industry, the performer is quite specific to MI and you probably know exactly who it’s referring to.
“A customer would come in and look at a guitar and they would take it down and he would help them get it plugged in and then they would play a couple chords. But then he would take it away from them and he would show them songs. Like, ‘Here’s something I play all the time!’ I saw this happen on so many occasions as a young salesman,” recalls Pratt. “This guy was older than me and I’m looking at him like, ‘What are you doing?!’ I mean, you should let the kid play and leave the room so you don’t embarrass him, but instead, you’re showing him all this music that you’ve written and this kid does not care. The poor kid is just sitting there going, ‘I just know G and C and I just wanted to get a new guitar.’”
Salespeople should be well informed about the products they’re selling, of course. That said, a good salesperson knows what information is pertinent to the customer’s needs. “You get somebody in and they maybe want to buy an interface for recording and so you give them the history of Mac computers and how we got into recording in the first place and how we used to use tape and on and on,” says Pratt. “These are all things that don’t need to be said and what we’re doing is we’re letting everybody know how much we know and that is not necessary.”
The Angry One
This person is obviously related to the complainer, but with more angst towards the customer. Pratt gives the example of a customer returning a product and Mr. Angry starts grilling them on what they did to it, why they bought it in the first place, etc. “We can’t be like that,” he says. “Being angry doesn’t win anybody ever. You push those bounds and the customer leaves and goes, ‘You know, I could get yelled at anywhere.’”
“It does go along with information overload. It’s like, ‘Well, that is not what you need because I know better than you and if your idea was good, I would’ve already had it,’” says Pratt. “The bottom line is lack of communication and not asking enough questions and getting to know your customer… So, that is the deal. We have to make sure that we understand that our customers aren’t stupid; they’re better informed than any previous customer in any previous generation.”
Talk You Out of It
“I always tell my staff, ‘It’s not up to you to decide. If somebody wants to buy a $4,000 guitar for their first guitar, then just understand that they are probably at a different place than you are in life.’ Or maybe they’re not, but maybe that is all they want to do is learn to play and so they’re going to spend whatever it is they want to put into it and that is not up to you to decide,” Pratt explains. “Maybe you’re mad because you can’t afford that guitar, and I’ve seen that before because I’ve heard the comment, ‘They don’t deserve that.’ I am like, ‘Well, did they give you the money?’ They’re like, ‘Well, yeah,’ and so then they deserve it. They deserve to buy whatever they want. It is not your choice.”
That said, if there is a legitimately better option for the customer’s needs, then suggest it. But that can only be done by asking questions and establishing a relationship. Ultimately, the customer decides what they want.
Clutter & Mess
“We’re not immune to this problem where you go to the back room to find something and you can’t find it. With us, it’s usually guitar cases. It’s like, ‘Well, this guitar comes with a case, so where is it?’ and you go to the back room and your heart just starts to beat faster immediately because we’re disorganized and we don’t have all the Martin guitar cases together and all the Gibson guitar cases together like we should and nobody has cleaned the back room for a while. This spirals out of control,” admits Pratt. Speaking for the customer, he adds, “My time is valuable and if it’s not valuable to anybody else, it’s valuable to me. If you’re going to hunt for my keyboard adapter that I may or may not need immediately, and you can’t find it because you’ve got too much junk in the way and no system in place, then we’ve got a problem and I am probably not coming back.”
As well, when a store is stocked to the ceiling with stacks of products and there is stuff everywhere you look, it can make people feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed. They think, “I don’t know where to start and if I do, I’ll be here all day, so I better just not.”
No One’s Home
Ever have a question or need assistance and can’t find anyone working in the store? Or go up to the cash register and there is no one around? It’s annoying, and a little awkward. It’s simple: have enough staff for the size and traffic of your store.
Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Music Trade.