The Customer is Always Bright

by Chris Howard Nov 23, 2005

Customer service - do sales folk know much about it? We’d all argue that it’s long been a problem but now it is getting harder for them to fake being smart, as the customers are getting better informed.

There seems to be a rule that the knowledgeability of staff is directly inverse to the size of the store. i.e. the bigger the store, the dumber the staff. Although this is a generalization, it is a reasonable one and yes I acknowledge there are many exceptional sales assistants out there in larger stores. But I contend that they are the exception.

The other day I over heard the following conversation in one of our largest electrical goods chain stores down here in Australia.

Customer: “Hi. Do you have the new iPods?”

Salesman #1: pauses… “The nano?”

Customer: “No, the big one.”

Salesman #1: “Ah, the 20GB one. No not at the moment, we’ve been trying to get them in.”

Customer: “They come in 30GB and 60GB now. The video enabled one.”

Salesman #1: “Oh ok, didn’t know. We’ve got them on backorder.”

Hmmm. What have we learnt so far? Customer is informed, salesman is not.

Enter salesman #2 who bounds down from the other end of the store, like a T-Rex pouncing on it’s prey, strong on bite, but weak on brain power.

Salesman #2: “You don’t want to get an iPod. What you should get is a Toshiba Gigabeat”. (I also believe the salesman may have also slipped in some derogatory generalization about the iPod’s reliability)

Customer: “Oh, ok then… tell me more…”

Salesman #2 is clearly not as bright as the customer, not spotting the trap the customer is laying and starts to ramble on about how the Gigabeat matches up with the iPod.

Customer having lead the T-Rex to the precipice, goes for the kill and starts asking about accessories.

Salesman #2: “Well, yes, the iPod has heaps more accessories, but the Gigabeat does have one too…” (I didn’t catch what it was but it was clear he was clutching at straws.)

Now, we’re not here to argue the merits of the Gigabeat - which is an acceptable player - versus the iPod, what we’re on about is sales staff with their own agenda who are treating the customer with contempt.

Thus, in the meantime I was seeing red and wanted to walk over and deck the salesman with a few choice lines of my own like:

“Did you ever THINK to ask WHY the customer wants an iPod?”
“You get much better commissions on the Gigabeat don’t you?”
“I run a website that collates reviews of portable entertainment players from around the web… what lies are you telling them about the iPod?”

But instead I left as I didn’t know if I could talk rationally I was so mad.

As I crossed the road I looked back and saw the customer leave the store - empty handed of course which is never a good sign for a salesman - and probably going home to look up Toshiba Gigabeat on the internet.

And therein lies the moral of the story. Customers are better informed than in the past because they are using the internet to research the products they’re interested in and then going in forearmed. If you’re a sales assistant in a shop selling anything that can be researched on the internet, you’ve got to lift your game. No longer can you treat the customer as dumb, with trite answers made up on the spot or expect to weasel them towards the product with the better commissions.

The internet is educating people. It is a fantastic research tool - especially for buyers. Consequently, it’s more likely now, that the customer is always bright.


  • The internet has been exceptional in providing customers with more information than a lot of salesmen want us to have.  From cars to computers to cameras we can get informed reviews about products, read owner’s comments and make a very good decision.

    The other big problem for stores is that we can also check pricing to see who gives the best deal.  While Apple is excluded from this side to a large degree the rest of the shopping experience isn’t.  Want a new digital camera and know which one you want?  Pricing on the internet is generally far better than the stores, leaving the salesman looking for the best commission without even a chance to work on you.

    MacKen had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 88
  • The same thing is playing out in the new and used car field. Customers shopping for a car should know how the proces are running in the local market. And yet every time I go to a real world car dealer they treat me like I’m an idiot. I hate shopping for a car.

    planetmike had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 23
  • I was at Target the other day looking for a remote for my iPod (the Griffin one) when I overheard a couple of ladies asking the salesperson about the iPod and accessories for it. They mentioned something about cases and I couldn’t help but cut-in and mention how many third party cases are available for the iPod and that they’d have no problem finding accessories on the internet. The salesperson walked away. I left the aisle and returned a few minutes later and the ladies were still there. They asked me a whole bunch of questions about the iPod, third party accessories, etc. They explained that the person they were buying it for is disabled and they were unsure if the iPod would be a good option for her. I took out my iPod and let them play with it and they determined that she’d be able to use it. I told them about getting a dock, remote, and hooking the iPod up to her existing stereo. I told them about They thanked me profusely and told me that I should work for Apple. They walked out with an iPod. Target should be paying me for this.

    Kristen had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 9
  • I just noticed that it has been a while since I have made a non-grocery purchase in a brick & mortar store. It rarely happens anymore, only if I need to test the product first hand (say stereo components, clothing) or I just need it *right now*.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 371
  • I don’t listen to many salespeople. Very rarely will I walk into an electronics store and see that the sales staff knows more than I do. I’m a electronics junky. Normally I’m quiet and it takes a bit before I levvy a tech beatdown.

    The reality is the really smart people eventually move up the chain and all that are left are the people that have to prove they have what it takes to move on up.

    Sales people need to be careful about suggesting other competitive items. Sales is all about features and benefits.  If you suggest something new you better be able to rattle off why and those benefits better be relevant to the potential customer or you’re dead in the water. Doing sales “right” isn’t easy.

    hmurchison had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 145
  • Chris, something about your overheard conversation reminds me very much of stuff I hear on this and other Apple sites.

    “You don’t want to get a Dell. What you should get is an iMac”.

    “Well, yes, the Dell has heaps more accessories, but the iMac does have one too…”

    “Did you ever THINK to ask WHY the customer wants a PC?”

    So we all have our agendas, eh?  At least the salesman is motivated by a commission.

    But I agree with the overall point.  Going into any big electronics store these days, including Apple stores, means doing your job as a consumer to get informed.  The salespeople are largely useless and it’s probably beyond the point now to expect any more from them in terms of knowledge of products.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • Thanks Beeb - I did think about including a similiar analogy. Trying to sell a significantly less popular product (Mac, Gigabeat) when you could sell the market dominator (Windows, iPod), is fraught with danger. This is one reason I’m reluctant to push Macs on people. I present it as an option, but leave the decision to them.

    An unhappy user is one who buys something that was pushed upon them. And they will slag off the product, the shop and anyone who told them to buy it.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • I’ve had my share of dumb in the superstores, but I think we have to point the finger at the corporate megastore approach that pays $9/hr to anyone who’ll take it out of sheer need, and the insideous marketing schemes that try to dump boatloads of mediocre products on us with “associate” commissions and the like.  Basically, CompUSABestBuyCircuitCityFrysWalmartTarget is a good place for the customer who’s always bright to say ‘no, just looking’ before going back to their online shopping carts, product reviews and spec sheets.

    eyehop had this to say on Nov 23, 2005 Posts: 19
  • I consider myself quite up on my tech, but a few times I’ve been told some quite interesting stuff from salespersons.

    I always feel a little guilty afterwards to go home and buy the product online raspberry

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Nov 24, 2005 Posts: 299
  • I think the reason I can’t get a job at an Apple Store here in San Francisco is because I know too much*. Seriously. Considering that more than 75% of the customers that go into the Apple Stores are apparently dumb as rocks (or, at the very least, misinformed), they make sure their employees are too. Maybe if I make my resume read like, “Uh, me is Matt. Me want job. You would good to hire Matt.” Then maybe I could finally get out of my current job. This is, of course, assuming they’ll at least match my current pay…

    (* This is a sad assumption because I’m not a very intelligent individual. I just try to stay on top of all things Mac.)

    Waa had this to say on Nov 26, 2005 Posts: 110
  • Page 1 of 1 pages
You need log in, or register, in order to comment