Editor's Blog: Don't leave potential customers stranded

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – New hires and veteran employees should remain on a continuous education path to ensure they keep learning as much as they can about their employer, its products and services. Being “in the know” makes you a reputable spokesperson and gives you credibility for anyone who is seeking information. This, in turn, most certainly could help the never-ending effort to fatten your company’s bottom line. 

 

 Bryan Salvage

This thought often comes to mind when I am doing one of my least-favorite things — shopping. My wife and I have been very fortunate to receive help from many knowledgeable people working at various stores along the way. But there were some glaring exceptions. For example, several years ago I visited a leading national home-repair chain to buy a little can of 3-IN-ONE oil, which I thought would be a product everyone knows. As soon as my wife and I walked into the store, a pleasant man in his early 40’s approached us and asked if he could help me find something. I thanked him and told him what I needed. His confident smile quickly turned into a worried look. He said, “Please wait here for a minute and I’ll go look.”

After waiting about 15 minutes, the flustered man finally sheepishly returned and said, “I’m not sure if we carry it. Ummm, what exactly is 3-IN-ONE oil?” My forced smile at that point probably quickly turned into a look of disbelief. I thanked him for looking. We ultimately wandered off and found it about 30 minutes later on an end cap in front of the store… we paid for the product, left the store — and never went back.

Just this past weekend, we visited our regular supermarket chain, which also has a small liquor department. My wife needed a bottle of dry sherry for a Thanksgiving recipe. This product is usually easy to find because it comes in larger bottles and is normally stocked in easy-to-find-and-retrieve areas. But after 15 minutes of searching up and down the aisles to no avail, I approached a young man who was bent over stocking shelves and asked if they carried dry sherry. He stood up, momentarily stunned and flushed. “Let me check with my supervisor,” he said as he quickly walked off. From a distance, I could see his manager’s face turn red as they talked...and the manager walked over to us and said, “I don’t know, but we’ll look.” After 10 minutes, he said, “I’m sorry; we can’t find it anywhere.”

My wife and I thanked him for trying to help us, but decided to swing up and down the aisles one last time before heading towards the grocery aisles and voila! — we found several brands of dry sherry on the bottom shelf in the dessert wine section.

If someone needs a particular product and the people working at the store don’t know what the product is or if the store carries this product, the hurried shopper will find it elsewhere. Not only is this a one-time lost sale, but it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of whether this dissatisfied customer will ever return to your store in the future.

It would be great if each meat and poultry company published a brief company/business history, along with a regularly updated listing of products and services it offers, that could be distributed to or retrieved by company employees. An up-to-date web site would be an ideal place for your employees to browse through now and then for updates on products and services — and to direct current and potential customers who are in search of a particular product or service. What’s more, you never know when a question will be asked of you by a potential customer during an industry meeting or convention — or even during a social event.

If your employee doesn’t know the answer, he or she should take down contact information so they can get back to the questioner with an answer — or at the very least provide leads on where to find the answer. I’m happy to say most industry folks I’ve interviewed at corporate and in plants over the years knew their company’s history, products and services inside and out. Some of the most pleasant and knowledgeable folks worked in their company’s retail stores connected to the plant. But there were several people along the way who couldn’t answer a question I asked — they always promised they would get back to me with an answer. Most did, but some didn’t. Here’s hoping you and your colleagues continue learning as much as you can about your company, products and services — and never leave a current customer or potential customer stranded.

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