I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend (we’ll call him Dave) during which he described his experience at a well-known coffee shop drive-through window. He is a repeat customer, waiting in line at the beginning of his daily commute 4 to 5 mornings a week. Being very much a creature of habit and routine, he orders the same thing at almost the same time every day.
Dave recounted how he waited patiently in line last Tuesday and as soon as he reached the coveted spot by the menu and speaker to place his order, a chipper voice said, “How about trying a delicious double chocolate, iced pound cake with macadamia nuts and caramel sauce?” While this may seem innocuous enough, in Dave’s view, this approach was completely inappropriate. Here is an abbreviated version of his argument: Had the friendly voice at the drive-through window known that Dave was a diabetic on a strict, doctor ordered diet, and was in line for coffee with artificial sweetener only, she would wisely have chosen a very different greeting. The fact that she didn’t take time to understand anything about Dave and just pitched their promo-offer-of-the-day demonstrated a lack of interest in Dave as an individual.
Ok, my friend and I are complete sales geeks, so yes, the conversation turned to sales methodology in a retail environment. Now please don’t get me wrong here, I have no problem with this coffee shop per se. They have great products. Their competition is fragmented. They own the market and I am fairly confident people won’t stop drinking their coffee simply because they pitch specials that are of no interest to many of their customers. So what’s the problem?
Retail Product Pushers
Unfortunately, not every retailer owns their market. Not every establishment can get away with what this company can. The challenge for many retailers comes when their sales associates become product “pushers.” We’ve seen numerous cases where a company introduces a product, trains their people extensively on everything it is and does, then unleashes them on every customer they meet. It doesn’t matter what the customer wants or needs. It doesn’t matter whether or not the customer is interested in what’s new or whether or not the product fits – they are going to hear the pitch.
Who are we serving here? I submit that if we are pitching a product before we understand anything about the customer, we are attempting to serve our own interest in moving a particular product and potentially not serving the customer’s interest at all. That’s exactly the type of thing that can drive down your Net Promoter Scores very quickly.
In today’s environment, most retailers can’t assume everyone passing through the door cares about your latest product or promotion. There are times when customers enter a retail establishment with a clear understanding of what they want. Still others are unclear about what they want or even what options they should consider. For an associate to ignore this reality and immediately rush forward with a presentation on their latest and greatest offering is a disservice to the customer and your company. Yes, you may snag a few customers for whom that product is well suited, but you run the risk of turning off many others. In retail, we want EVERYONE leaving our establishment as a promoter.
A Better Way to Engage Retail Customers
The better approach is to quickly determine what brought the buyer to your establishment and how you can best assist him/her BEFORE trying to sell them anything. If you want to expose them to a new product or service offering, ask a few qualifying questions to determine the value it can bring this buyer BEFORE launching into a full blown presentation. That way you are certain to assist each buyer in the way in which they expect.
Trust me, until you become the Seattle based coffee company of your market segment, it is better to focus first and foremost on understanding your buyer and bringing them value instead of pushing your latest product. By doing this consistently, retailers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by virtue of this engagement rather than in spite of it – and in some cases this may be the very advantage that brings the customers back for more.