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Customer-service I had the good fortune to meet a smart consumer while out on a carpet inspection recently. For this story she will remain “smart consumer” — or SC.

By the way, this is a consumer with a problem.

The consumer had worked in high-end retail for many years and was in charge of training her salespeople, so for her, customer service was a no brainer. “Just give the customer what they want, period, and be nice to them,” says Ms Smart Consumer.

Apparently five independently owned retail stores didn’t quite get it, so Ms. SC purchased from Home Depot.

Here is a summarization of our conversation:

The customer had a preference for Stainmaster. The product came highly recommended so she went looking for the brand.  Her research showed that everyone had the brand.

Before shopping she went went online to update her carpet knowledge. Having purchased carpet several times before, she knew what to expect of the process.

She asked her friends in the neighborhood where to buy carpet. The Home Depot got good ratings, as did one of the Shop-at-Homes. For some reason, SC eliminated the shop-at-home.

Since SC was new to the neighborhood, she wanted to look around and decided to search a 40 mile radius. According to research this is very typical female shopping behavior—the journey is as important as the final destination. It’s all part of the experience.

Ms SC’s three top priorities were

  1. Customer service
  2. Price
  3. Quality

She wanted nice carpet, but was frugal with her money. She didn’t choose “designer shops” because fashion wasn’t really an issue. She knows she has good taste so why waste time. (After being in her house, I would vouch for this.)

A trip to the nearest Home Depot came up first. Why? Because of their size, Ms SC felt that they would be reliable and dependable. This is an interesting association with the size of the store. Her experience with the Depot and the associates in the carpet department were friendly. If they were not able to answer a question they knew where to get the answer. Basically they were friendly and she liked them. She also found the installation special very appealing.

Next stop, the independent retailers.

I told you that Ms SC had been in charge of training in her last employment. What does she consider most important? Making the customer feel important, acknowledging their presence and making them feel smart. Her experience at the independent store? Not that good. Employees didn’t get out of their chairs to acknowledge her, they asked very few questions and most pointed to the carpet department and said call me if you need anything. She also remarked one of the stores also didn’t smell that good. SC mentioned the smell to her husband but this didn’t seem like a reason not to consider this store.

Bottom line, she wanted someone to talk to her, ask about her project and make her feel important.

Her evaluation: the prices were all similar and everyone had Stainmaster carpet. Where did she buy? 
The Home Depot, because everyone was nice and she liked the installation special. All of the pricing was the same or similar.

Okay, so this is one customer’s experience but it points up some very big issues.
You don’t always have to be super smart, but you do have to be super nice.
Customers want to feel special, if you make them feel special; you have a good possibility of making the sale.

Being reliable and dependable are two important traits. I’m pretty sure that the other stores were also both reliable and dependable but maybe it wasn’t obvious — no customer testimonials or data on customers’ experiences were available.

Customers will travel; in this case, since the customer was new to the area, she was interested in learning more about her area of the country.

How about some blogs? Blogs that welcome new residents to the neighborhood, provide warrantee information, stats on complaints, biographies of the salespeople and more, so that by the time the customer gets to the store the customers feel like they know the salesperson.

This of course is one customer’s experience, a customer with a problem. It does sound like being nice pays off.

In your experience as a customer, all things being equal, how important is an “extra nice salesperson?”

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