When I was just a young retail sapling, a customer by the name of John entered the store. His clean shaven scalp gleamed as brightly in the light as the Calcite orbs he found himself entranced by. “I want one that’s black and white checkered,” he would say while adjusting his polo collar. Calcite is a stone, made form Earth, their designs are destined by mother nature and the selection offered by my store were imported from some warehouse in Elsewhere, Brazil that I would most likely never receive the opportunity to step foot into.
The kid they left in my charge, was bitter and hated his job and his company almost as much as he hated this customer. “That’s stupid,” he would tell me, “He’s an ass hole with allot of money. But he spends money, he spends allot. We cannot control the design of our stones, and he’s a pain in the ass.”
This broke my heart, absolutely, and left me feeling like my job had some sort of dirty and in-genuine facade. What he meant and did not realize I figured was that our customer John was ‘ignorant’, which should not hold the negative stigma it has been offered. John did not understand our inventory practices, as John perhaps never worked for our company. John didn’t know where our stones were from, perhaps because we as his associates had not kindly educated him in it.
After that manager found himself fed up with retail politics and called it quits I called all over the company and found a few orbs that could be shipped between stores. I presented each heavy boulder to him. The orbs were about the size and weight of a bowling ball, as I managed to present each one in a personal showing to John himself across the counter. Each unique orb was not exactly what he wanted and it could become discouraging and frustrating at times. For one he did not understand how expensive and difficult it was to ship these stones from store to store; even more so, he did not understand how it placed me in the possession in far more Calcite orbs than I could ever imagine selling (two would be two too many). He would sometimes throw hissy fits in the store, “Why can’t I find what I saw in that one store?!!”
I loved John though, for as unique a reason as I loved all of my customers. He was a man who had a dream, and wanted to achieve it, and there was something I admired in that. Overtime, as I climbed the corporate ladder John began making other purchases, feeling the genuine human connection our store held for him. I trained my staff to see the customers for the unique experiences and gifts they offered. John was a welcomed experience, we saw him at face value, and knew what he would bring to the table: a dedicated and devoted patron.
He brought in friends, he urged clients to take a visit when in town on business. I made sure to send him customer appreciation cards in the mail, or Holiday Cards. When I was extra giving I would share my annual friends and family discount card his way. Despite his rugged exterior, and his kick butt and take down names attitude; his devotion to the store was understood, at least to me.
He was my first difficult customer. I see the image of a difficult customer more as a challenge rather than a roadblock. They are not hopeless; I would like to think no one is a hopeless cause. No instead I just have to find how to reach out to them.
What is it our customers are missing, or desiring that they are struggling to discover or articulate? How can I satisfy the need?
I worked to please difficult customers, even if it was through shaken tears I was still trying to discover a way to achieve happiness, because who wouldn’t rather be surrounded by positive experiences? The customer doesn’t always have to be right, but when they leave I’d like to believe I did everything I could to assure their satisfaction.
So while two incredibly large muscular individuals tower over me while screaming out personal slanders in my direction, I have to remember that I would feel similar if the sheepish associate, who happened to be cowering behind me, had promised them an unlimited time frame on returns and then were met with a manager who was attempting to meet them with an exchange because they were a month over due on the return deadline.
It takes a strong will power to not offer all control of our emotions up to a difficult customer on a silver platter. It takes innovation to work around the challenges they bring to the table. And it takes empathy to achieve effective communication in any customer relation scenario.
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