Are You Winning the Battle and Losing the War?

The relationship between the retailer and their customers is special, important and . . . sometimes confrontational. 

Often, I have witnessed heated arguments between store personnel and a customer who feels he, or she, has been wronged by the retailer or otherwise mistreated by the store. In some cases the customer thinks the store advertising was misleading. The way in which the retailer resolves such consumer complaints can have very unexpected and damaging results for the merchant.

In a word, it is far better to lose the battle than lose the war.

Having been in retailing all of my life, I have seen store personnel heatedly trying to resolve a consumer complaint by stating “It’s the company’s policy that  . . .” or “we can’t” or “we won’t” or “you should have . . .”, etc. etc. In these cases, the store is missing the point, which is the customer, rightly or wrongly, is unhappy, upset and likely to terminate his patronage unless his issue is resolved.

One of the cardinal rules of retailing is, if you are going to ultimately satisfy the customer regarding their complaint (real, imagined or wrong), then do it immediately with both a smile and an apology. The cost of doing anything less, is huge and provides the consumer with strong negative talking points, which will be shared by both friends and family.

It is far better to lose the battle than lose the war.

I have seen customers and store staff arguing over the basis of some returned item. The store representative saying “we can’t or won’t or it’s our policy,” etc. and the customer storms out of the store as a result. Wrong move for the store! Think about it: would you rather lose the cost value of a returned item or the future value of all that customer’s future purchasing power?

The same rationale applies to meeting prices of internet sellers like Amazon or Wal-Mart. I personally wanted to purchase an item in a store that I had previously seen on the internet. I asked if the store matches internet competition and the salesman said: “You will have to talk with our store manager.” The store manager said:

  • “We will only match Amazon prices”
  • “The item must match exactly and have the same model #”
  • “The packaging for the item must be exactly the same as our store item”
  • “You will have to provide us with a picture of the item in question.”

To wit, I said thanks anyway, “I’ll just buy it from Amazon.”

I haven’t returned to the store since. The store won the battle but lost me, the customer. Bad policy.

It has been said many times, it is far cheaper to keep a current customer than to attract a new customer. The smart retailer effectively says, “The answer is yes, now what’s the problem?” Every merchant should review their customer problem resolution policy and make it simple, fast, painless and reassuring to the consumer that “the store appreciates your patronage and please come see us real soon.”

So you may lose a few battles and a few bucks, but you will ultimately win the consumers’ perpetual allegiance and enjoy their potential purchasing dollars. Make it so!