Monday, November 1, 2010

The Helpful Customer

With the holidays fast approaching, I've been thinking about all the great help I get from our customer base in initiating new players into games. Sometimes this even involves help on the sales floor. Some store owners will glare at those who get between them and their customer during a sale. "Come not between the Nazgul and his prey!" they seem to hiss. My approach is a bit more philosophical. With over 6,000 items in my store, and about 20,000 available, there is a really good chance you, the customer, know more about some things than me. I am happy to defer questions to the knowledgeable customer. However, it's better if I have an idea of how that interaction will go down. Sometimes I find myself rescuing the customer from a well meaning volunteer. Here are some guidelines for being helpful in any store:

  • Keep it Positive. The tendency is to denigrate a product or game system to elevate what you're trying to emphasize. "D&D 4 sucks; play Pathfinder." There's no need to do this and what happens is you permanently shut the door on what might be of interest later, possibly later in the conversation. As you get older, you realize the "nevers" of your youth might have been a little extreme at the time. Going back to something once you've declared it sucks is really hard. However, you can declare something unsuitable for a customer's needs based on the criteria they've given you. That's changeable.
  • Ask Questions. You need three bits of information at the very least: What do they like? What is their capacity to play the game (usually age)? and Who will play with them? Price is not an issue yet. What we're trying to do is determine, in a perfect world, exactly what would be best for the customer. If someones son wants to play a war game, that leaves about 50 games on our shelves. If the recipient is 8-year old Johnny, we now have just a handful. If he's playing only with his uninterested mom, that narrows it down to one or two. Price might play a role then.
  • Include the Sales Person. Integrate your discussion with the sales person and you've gained an ally in the sale (and otherwise) and have impressed upon the customer that everyone is working towards their best interest. "Gary is right that Sentinels are mostly for casual play, but in an army themed around fast attack, they do very well." (I don't like Sentinels, you do, and we've agreed the product is fine but might not be suitable). 
  • Keep it Simple. It's the sales person's job to suggest accessories and up-sell useful items. Try not to burden the new customer with too much information or the fact that a serious player will spend hundreds of dollars beyond the initial purchase. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Want to start 40K? Try a starter set. The sales person will likely recommend some glue, clippers and a paint set. However, if you suggest all this plus a couple hundred dollars in models to make your ideal army, the customer will flee.
  • Know When to Stop. If you find the sales person getting irritated or in some way wishing your interaction to stop, get the hint. Sometimes there are factors you don't know, like the age of the shopper, their budget, the list you didn't notice in their hand, the fact they're a return customer, or a bewildering number of other factors. Be helpful, but not intrusive. Know when to hand off the customer to the sales person.
 That's about it. Thanks for the help!

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