Companies have a vested interest in ensuring customers have the best possible experience with their product and their brand. For this reason, good sales personnel work very hard to match the customer with the product that best suits their needs based on the information a customer provides. When a customer shares a piece of their story and asks for a particular product, it may appear the requested product will not be the best match for the customer. You might look at their order history, in an attempt to provide the best service possible, and suggest that the widget being requested might not be the best fit. Let’s face it, if the customer purchases the wrong item and has a poor experience, the customer associates that experience with the company.
When the customer takes your advice, things go smoothly. But, what should you do if you are faced with a customer that does not accept your advice and insists on leaving the conversation with the merchandise or service they have in mind? For a good salesperson, this can cause inner conflict. On the one hand, you want your customer happy. On the other hand, you know based on evidence in front of you that the item requested won’t provide the best experience. What should you do? Is the customer truly always right?
Let me share a scenario with you.
A customer walks into an upscale shoe store and peruses the latest styles on display. The salesman, who is seasoned and has an eye for detail, can see that she probably wears a size 8 shoe. The woman glances his way and he comes over with a smile, thinking this will be a quick sale before his lunch break. They chat briefly about the weather and this morning’s traffic. The woman, clearly charmed with the small talk and the salesperson’s demeanor, points at a certain shoe and asks whether the man has that shoe in a size 6. The salesman thinks “oh no, she’s one of those…she thinks her feet are smaller than they are and this will take forever stuffing her foot into the shoe. She’ll be embarrassed and won’t buy anything, and I’ll be late to lunch.”
Now this isn’t the salesman’s first customer by far. He knows a thing or two. So he smiles and says “hang on, I’ll be back in a sec,” and heads for the stock room. A moment later he returns, shoe box in hand. The woman’s brow furrows as she sees the size 8 on the box. “I think you’ve picked up the wrong box,” she says. “Oh no, trust me, this is the size you want.” He begins to open the box, sure that she’ll be more pleased with the fit. But the woman is clearly becoming frustrated and he thinks “oh no, here it comes.” The woman says “Sir, I’m sorry, but I asked for an 8 and that’s what I want.” The salesman’s smile disappears and he says with all the patience he can muster, “ma’am, I’m sure that you think you want a 6, but I can see from the size of your foot that you will need an 8. I fit ladies in shoes all day and I’m certain that I know what you need.” The woman, now upset with being patronized by the sales clerk, responds by saying “I’m glad that you can tell the size of my foot. But I asked for a 6. The shoes are not for me, but for my daughter. Since you are so smart, I’m sure you can tell by my feet that I’ll also be leaving the store now.”
Sometimes, for whatever reason, customers choose not to freely share all the pertinent details that would allow us to see the entire picture. I recommend you start by asking questions to get a better picture. If the customer is reluctant or uncomfortable providing that surrounding data, it might be best not to pry, but to give your product recommendations based on the evidence you have at hand. Then, perhaps point out once, twice at most, the items that could make the product requested by the customer a less appealing choice than what you are suggesting. If the customer is still determined, and the requested product will not cause imminent danger or physical harm, I recommend allowing the customer the freedom to make their own choice. Customers want to feel like you hear them, and that you understand them, and they don’t want to feel like it is challenging to do business with you.
So, the next time you find yourself in this situation, feel free to give my recommendation a try. And rest easy knowing that you did your best to provide all the contextual information for the customer to make his or her own informed choice about your product set.