The joy of the holidays is fun, laughter and much excitement. That joy is multiplied manyfold when one has an exciting and positive customer experience when purchasing an item and a positive interaction with a store sales associate.
Many years ago, as a graduate student at Texas A&M University, I belonged to the Noon Lions Club in College Station. For the two years that I was a club member, I was our Lions Club’s top Christmas tree salesman.
When someone began browsing for a Christmas tree, I began by asking them questions. My first question was always, “Where is the tree going to be placed?”
The answer was usually the living room or the family room, though I also heard bedroom or even the kitchen from time to time. In each case, knowing that piece of information made it an easy next step for me to guide the customer toward a particular section of the lot that I told them was our “living room section,” where there were trees ideally suited their needs.
Arriving in the living room section of the Christmas tree lot inspired the next inquiry about the “conformation” of the Christmas tree: how this is this tree shaped and how will it conform to a setting in the customer’s home? I borrowed from the cattle business that deals daily with the conformation of livestock, looking at shape and structure much as one might judge aspects of a cow or bull.
Frequently, my customer was delighted with my apparent knowledge of the trees and quickly decided to purchase one that we jointly selected. If not one particular tree, we soon found another in the same section of the lot. Of course, Christmas tree lots are not sectioned off by room type, but by size of the tree. What I did was help customers imagine the trees in place in their homes by creating a mental picture and context relevant to them. Through imagination and close identification with the customers’ actual needs, I helped make the simple act of buying a tree an enjoyable experience, all about them.
If the goal was to clear out the lot, we made the sale and God blessed us, every one! This was especially true as we got closer to Christmas day. We wanted every tree sold before Dec. 22. By 6 p.m. on Dec. 24, the perishable quality of a Christmas tree often meant that any trees left remaining would be discarded or very deeply discounted. We lost money if trees remained on Christmas Eve.
Losing money is not the path to a successful business. If we are in a successful business, we are all in sales and customer service – every one of us. We can drive success by asking simple questions that take into consideration use of the product, context and anticipated customer experience. In this way, we become problem solvers. Customers further identify with us and what we are selling when something is meaningful in their lives. You help them envision expectations fulfilled. Fulfilling those expectations brings joy and excitement to the customer.
Turn each customer’s experience of any purchase into a relevant, even fun journey. Ask initial fact-finding questions. Help develop a positive mental image of a purchase in use.
Armed with that information, you can fill the customer’s needs. The goal at the end of the experience is to have the customer depart with a smile, fulfilled, and leave you with the sale in hand, even if it’s something less festive than a Christmas tree. You will have reached your goals: customer sold and customer served.
Joseph B. Michels is a principal with Solomon Bruce Consulting LLC in Fort Worth. www.solomonbruce.com