No thanks, I am just buying

Post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 1/9/2016

Version 2

I was on the road for the company I worked for at the time and after several flight delays had finally landed in Atlanta. If all went well, I had just enough time to get to my appointment with the Atlanta store manager.

As I was stepping off the plane, I hit my arm against a cabinet near the plane’s doorway popping my watch off my wrist. The watch skidded across the floor and fell neatly between the plane and the gangway twenty feet to the tarmac below. In the post 9-11 era, I did not feel it would be worth the time and effort to try to get the inexpensive watch back.

Picking up my luggage and my rental car I quickly headed towards my appointment. Feeling lost without my watch, I checked the dashboard clock and calculated I had just enough time to buy a new watch at the store before my 5 o’clock meeting. I had actually been eyeing a specific watch for sometime.

Once in the store, I headed quickly towards the watch fixture grabbing a sales specialist along the way explaining that I was in a big hurry and asked if they could help me with watches. I once again I told him that my immediate need was speed.

Upon reaching the case, the sales specialist took a deep breath and started his best watch selling spiel.

“How can I help you?” he started.

“I want to buy that watch,” I said pointing to a specific Timex in the case. I figured that would be about as direct a buying signal as I could possibly send.

Apparently oblivious to my not so subtle buying signal he queried, “What are you looking for in a watch?”

Thinking that he had not heard me I repeated, “I want to buy THAT watch” once again pointing into the case as I felt my precious time slipping away.

“Well (the store’s name) carries a variety of watches and I want to make sure that you get the best one for your specific needs.”

“Time. Alarm. Stopwatch. I want THAT watch,” I responded somewhat sternly while again pointing in the case.

“What else besides the stopwatch…” I quickly cut him off.

“Look, I am meeting with your store manager in about 45 seconds to discuss sales training and coaching opportunities here in your store. When I am done I will come out and explain what you are doing wrong. Now will you just get the watch out of the locked case or not?”

Looking a bit put off, he finally unlocked the case and gave me the watch. I was able to pay quickly and make my meeting just in time.

In this situation, my immediate need as a buyer was speed. If I had not needed the sales specialist to open the locked case, I would have avoided the staff. But this sales specialist attempted to use his best qualifying questions to make sure I got the “right” watch. It was misplaced customer service. What I needed was a watch fixture to be unlocked as quickly as possible.

It is this misplaced customer service that makes customers say they are “just looking” when in fact they are buying not looking. They just do not want a sales specialist involved. We need to be flexible enough in our service to recognize and treat customers the way they want to be treated and have staff skilled in adjusting their service quickly to their customers.

Later, I returned to the sales specialist that had helped me and offered some quick coaching. I did not start with a verbal eraser by saying that I appreciated his effort at good service. I explained that I wanted a specific product as quickly and as easily as possible and that he failed to recognize that. I asked him that in the future he should work at recognizing the immediate needs and preferences of his customers better and to adjust his process accordingly.

What are other examples of misplaced customer service that you have experienced?

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