IN THE 1920s, the saying “The customer is always right” was perpetrated by American and European retailers and hoteliers. And it has gone on to become one of the most commonly quoted phrases in sales and customer service.
Its intent nearly a century ago was correct — to have staff recognise the value of the customer.
In today’s sales environment, however, focusing on “the customer is always right” is not just misleading — it can be downright dangerous.
Nowadays, customers are often wrong and the salesperson who helps them to recognise this earns a special respect in their eyes. But it has to be done the right way.
In today’s buyer-driven market, customers can progress much further through the buying cycle before they need to speak to a salesperson. They use the Internet to do their initial research of the product and price comparison.
They may only talk to a salesperson at the very end of the process — and, then, only to check the price and availability of their chosen product. This is, of course, if they haven’t already been enticed to buy the product online.
If you are talking to a customer at this end of the buying cycle, then it is likely all he wants from you is the answer to three questions:
“How much is it?”
“Can you offer a better price?”
“When can I get it?”
And if you limit yourself to answering these questions for the client, then you have reduced yourself to a commodity salesperson.
And commodity salespeople will soon be replaced by a website and an online shop. In some industries, it has already happened.
There is always the opportunity to rise above this. This is because of the same factor that allowed the buyer to become dominant in the first place — the Internet.
In 1970, a visionary author called Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock. In this book, he introduced the term “information overload”. Some 44 years later, we see the impact of this.
Ironically, today, customers may have more information, but they are less well-informed.
This is because in a state of information overload, their filtering systems fail and they lose the ability to distinguish good information from bad information.
This means that your customer’s research probably included a mix of good and bad information — causing them to make errors of judgment. In short, they are wrong.
Now, while your customer is not always right, but if you make them feel wrong, you won’t have them as a customer for long.
Correct the wrong assumptions
You have to find a respectful and non-confrontational way of challenging their incorrect assumptions.
Help them to realise this and two things will happen:
• You will achieve a special place of trust because you are helping them to make better decisions.
• They will come to you sooner next time — involving you earlier in the buying cycle because you save them time.
So, how do you do this? Here are three suggestions:
1 Tell them a story
Author Kathryn Schulz says, “When it comes to our stories, we love being wrong.”
Anyone who has ever read an Agatha Christie mystery or watched her detective Hercule Poirot in action on television knows the pleasure that comes when in the final pages or moments the murderer is revealed — and we never saw it coming.
Our brains have been trained to accept being wrong in stories — and this can work for salespeople who are explaining how a customer can err in the selection process.
2 Use social proof
Researcher Robert Cialdini says that if people are aware of others — whom they see as being like them or who they aspire to be like — doing something, then they are more likely to do this themselves.
If you know of others like them who have made the same incorrect assumptions, then it can be powerful to mention this.
3 Use humour
While this is sometimes not possible or appropriate, humour can be an incredibly powerful mind-changer. Like stories, humour is a time when the brain is rewarded for being wrong.
You listen to the set-up of a joke; then when the punch line comes (which you didn’t foresee), your brain is rewarded with the rush of endorphins that comes with laughter.
So, in this way, you have made the customer realise he is wrong; but you have also made him feel right because you helped him to correct the situation before he bought.
Doing this doesn’t just get you the sale, it also earns you a special place in the customer’s world and means that he is more likely to become a loyal client — perhaps, even, an advocate. All this for telling him he is wrong!
Article by Kevin Ryan, managing director of Training Edge Australia and author of TILT — Selling to Today’s Buyer (second edition with additional material by Looi Qin En) out now. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com