Be a Better Customer


I will admit straight off that this post is somewhat of a rant, but I am tired of bad customers. The customer, despite claims to the contrary, is not always right.

My wife does a lot of marketing work for everything from Comic Con to auto shows to demonstrating espresso machines. She is amazing at it, as she is very personable and extremely smart (not to mention beautiful).

On Saturday, she had someone come up to her in the store she was working at and inquire about an espresso machine. She asked about his coffee preferences, showed him different models and even gave him tips on preheating porcelain cups to keep the drinks hot longer. After 30 minutes of interaction, he decided to buy a machine from the retailer she was at.

On Sunday, the man returned and approached her with the machine in hand. Let me first say that she isn’t actually employed at the store and doesn’t work the register or facilitate returns, so the only reason he approached her was to say the following.

“Money doesn’t matter to me. I mean, I drop $200 on a bottle of wine easily as I’m very well off, but I found this machine cheaper on Amazon and you didn’t tell me it was cheaper there so I’m returning it.”  

Then he went to the counter and proceeded to tell the retailer he was returning the machine as it was “misrepresented.” Of course upon hearing that, my wife approached him and related that she was employed to represent the brand inside the retailer, so of course she wouldn’t send someone somewhere else to make a purchase. She said that she understood he found it cheaper and it was his responsibility to do his due diligence as a customer to research that before making a purchase. His response?

“Do you feel better now that you said that to me?”  

Let’s just say it’s a good thing I wasn’t standing there at that time. But what’s the bigger picture? How does this relate to our businesses in AV as well as our profitability?

We’ve all heard people rail against companies like Wal-Mart for destroying small business. In fact, I’d bet the man my wife encountered has a great speech on Wal-Mart being the devil of modern commerce. But then, hypocrisy knowing no bounds, these same people go into a retail store, try a product, take the paid time of an employee to answer questions, allay concerns and educate them on the product, and then turn around, leave the store and go buy from the cheapest online bidder.

google itWe have a Better Business Bureau to report businesses that engage in unscrupulous activity so I thought it was about time we create a Better Customer Bureau (BCB) to start tracking customers who do the same. To my surprise, there actually IS one that helps match vendors to customers who prefer to pay for work well done. Check it out here.

I think they should go a step further and create a rating system. Come into a store, and before you get the undivided attention of a paid employee, you get your driver’s license scanned and your BCB score pops up, letting the store know how much time to invest in you.

This happens to us in the AV space ALL THE TIME. We do an evaluation of the customer’s needs, we do a preliminary system design, a bid that details the equipment, and then they turn around and take it out to bid, or even worse, share our numbers with competitors to get a better price. Of course there will be someone to do it cheaper, especially now that all the design labor has been done by someone else.

The customer comes back to us with pages of search results showing where all the hardware can be procured cheaper online, asking us to match those prices. Never mind potential warranty concerns, delivery, etc. Of course they don’t consider that their purchasing manager, who makes $40 an hour, just spent 20 hours researching and compiling all this. That cost isn’t even a thought, nor is the cost the original firm incurred in doing all the specification work in the first place.

If it wasn’t for your firm, the customer never would have known what to look for on Amazon in the first place!

If we want to get better customers, we have to BE better customers. We can’t complain that customers are shopping our designs online if we ourselves go down to Best Buy, spend two hours comparing TVs and talking to their employees and then go home and order it from Amazon.

People’s time and knowledge come at a price. We get more value from a product when we are properly educated and can experience it first, even if it costs a little more to buy it from the store or from an AV integrator than Amazon.

Sure, if you already know what you want and need, and you don’t need coaching or education, then by all means go shop online. I buy books on Kindle, I buy vitamins on Amazon or toys my kids ask for from TV commercials. I’m not saying there is not a role for online shopping.

Certain products and services still require a value added delivery model that a dealer or retailer provides. This is why I never buy clothes online. I need to make sure they are a fit. If I spend time and energy ordering and returning items until I get the right one, the added savings mean nothing.

Sucking all the value out of the retailer or dealer like a consumer vampire without ever purchasing only assures that eventually those people you rely upon for hands on experience or their expertise will be out of business.

We need to be better customers, especially if our own businesses rely on value added delivery models to exist. Otherwise our own consumer behavior eventually kills the very business model we rely upon to survive and we end up with customer service like in the cartoon above.

So the next time you think about going somewhere else to save 5 percent, ask how much time and energy someone else may have spent in guiding your decision and making sure it is a good one. Then ask yourself if your company had made that same investment in that time and information, if you’d be upset if the potential customer went elsewhere and purchase to save a little.

Be a better customer and you may get better customers in return.