AKRON (June 10, 2002)—Want a quick, cheap way to improve word-of-mouth advertising about your tire dealership? Try wiping out indifferent attitudes among your work force.
I sometimes find pearls among the pages of What´s IN STORE, the quarterly magazine produced by Bridgestone/Firestone Retail and Commercial Operations L.L.C.
The most recent issue cites a government study that found that 68 percent of people who stop patronizing a retailer do so because of employee or business indifference. So whether it was the retailer as a whole or one of its employees, the cardinal sin of indifference cost them customers.
Bravo, BFS, your emphasis is music to my ears! I have said it many times before in this column and I´ll repeat it again: Attitude is everything. If your workers care or even do an adequate job of pretending to care about customers´ concerns, you´re already ahead of the competition.
But hold the phone, readers. Did we truly need a government-sponsored survey to teach us this? I don´t think so.
If you´re aware, you can learn the importance of employee attitude at your church league´s luncheon, your bowling team´s dinner, your poker night, or the block party in your neighborhood. As I´ve explained in previous columns, I travel a great deal and I hear about it from seatmates on airplanes all the time.
I´m talking about common people recognizing the difference between positive employee attitudes and basic indifference. If you´re listening at any of these social encounters, what do you hear people discussing? They´re talking about their experiences with retailers who give a damn vs. those who don´t. These folks are teaching you that they sense indifference the way sharks smell blood.
They won´t be fooled and aren´t fooled by the flashy displays and big talk of major retailers. If the retailer and/or its staff behave indifferently, the discount prices and clever promotions all go for naught. When these common folk link up with family, friends and neighbors, they report the following kinds of situations. First, when they entered the retail business, they weren´t greeted in a cheerful or timely way. Maybe they weren´t greeted at all.
For that matter, how many times have you heard the complaint that they couldn´t find a sales or service associate at this retail joint, let alone one who would or could answer questions? How important is being the low-cost provider when your staff is hopelessly ignorant?
Next, the retailer´s employee showed indifference by failing to get to know the buyer and learning what his or her specific needs are. Instead, this employee has been indoctrinated to push certain kinds of products in specified kinds of ways. Identifying and meeting the prospect´s needs are definitely not on this employee´s radar screen!
Worse yet, the retailer´s worker appears to identify needs only to ignore them a moment later. Instead of attempting to meet needs, he or she simply pushes the product or services they were trained to push. If this isn´t indifference, I don´t know what is.
If the hapless consumer does spend money, the indifferent retailer appears thankless, acting as if he or she did the customer a favor selling them something. None of their words or actions conveys the message of, ``Thanks for coming in-we´re grateful for your business!´´
By no means am I minimizing the timeliness of the BFS magazine´s item on indifference. Rather, I´m agreeing with its emphasis by reminding you that if your ears are open, you´ll hear how unhappy consumers are with many retailers´ indifferent behavior.
Indifferent attitudes are so common that a variety of retailers (tire dealers, fast-food franchise operators, appliance store managers, optical shop operators etc.) have told me that you don´t need to be superstars to succeed today.
Instead, just be competent and act like you really give a damn that these people walked through your door. Time and time again, these retailers remind me that consumers will remember your staff´s enthusiasm and caring attitudes.
They say customers will even remember that your sales people made eye contact and maintained it during the transaction.
Last but not least, look at fighting indifference this way: It´s the cheapest thing you´ll ever do to exceed buyer expectations. Can you live with that?