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Remember What Your Mother Always Said: ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers!’ How to Successfully Navigate Three Tricky Interactions Where the Customer is His or Her Own Worst Enemy

by Menzie Pittman • in
  • Small Business Matters
• Created: July 10, 2017

After my manager Jerry Hammack and I had several discussions about particularly odd behaviors we saw from some of our “loyal” customers, Jerry suggested implementing a “CMC rescue mission.”

We truly believed these behaviors didn’t serve our customers’ needs and actually worked against what they were ultimately hoping to accomplish.

The initiative was born from a moment when a longtime customer was on vacation and bought an impulse product while visiting a music store. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with shopping in another store. We already understand that we can’t possibly have everything at our customers’ fingertips or at their beck and call. However, we pride ourselves on being able to help people meet their needs, and at the best pricing possible. But there is no doubt that as an independent music retailer, you probably have experienced some very similar scenarios:

Scenario #1 ~ The ‘I can’t stop you, but…’:

A call from a longtime customer: “I want it, they have it, it’s really cool, and it sounds and plays great. It’s a floor model, and it’s really cheap.”

Me: “Awesome. That’s an unusual pick for you. How does it sound through the amp, and what amp are you playing through?”

LC: “I’m not playing though an amp.”

Me: “But it’s an electric.”

LC: “The sales guy seems nice, and he said it will sound great in almost any amp.”

Me: “Does he know you’re a bass player with a bass amp?”

LC: “No, he didn’t ask me anything about my playing or my gear, but he told me all about his band, and I just love this guitar.”

Me: “Do they have a refund policy?”

LC: “No… It’s a floor model, so not on this guitar.”

Me: “The choice is ultimately up to you, but if I can help you, let me know.”

Thus, the birth of Contemporary Music Center’s ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ Rescue Mission:

The idea is simple: customers have the right to shop anywhere they want; you have to earn their business every time. The difference we see in today’s customers and sellers is that it’s more about instant gratification and quick turns, so we are trying to slow the game down and give customers time to think about what they are doing. We already know that we are not the only choice. We want to rescue them from bad choices that don’t serve them well. We want them to talk to us!

Scenario #2 ~ The ‘But my teacher said __________, and he’s been playing for three years’:

A young musician comes into your store to participate in your nationally recognized program. You are excited because you learn your facility was recommended to this family, and this young student has nice potential to become a good musician. But you soon discover that the student has been studying with a naïve instructor at a generic franchise elsewhere, and you can see questionable techniques in the student’s playing. You learn that he or she studies with someone who is giving him or her unproductive suggestions. That is when you ponder why anyone would make the choice to study at a generic box and the warning light goes off in your head: Remember to be careful of what you say! It is truly less than graceful to ask the parents how they have arrived at selecting and settling for the less- than-average choice, especially when you witness a better-than-average ability in the student. At the same time, remember, your store has a reputation for delivering top-level education and personalized service.

In the back of your mind you remember the ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ Rescue Mission, and you almost find yourself shouting the mantra. However, this time you are the stranger, so now comes the ultimate challenge: without recruiting – which is against our policy – you have to demonstrate in a matter of a few hours the qualities in education that you pride yourself on. In that short time, you have to show that your input to the student is so helpful that the student and family can see you are no stranger to teaching, and therefore, their friend.

Scenario #3 ~ The ‘Yes, but it’s cheaper, and if they all look the same then surely they sound the same!’

We see Scenario #3 a lot.

A customer brings in an instrument for repair. This savvy shopper has gone online to save money and purchased this instrument which now needs repair. I don’t have to type another word because any other MI retailers likely already knows the rest of the story. Now your job becomes finding the right ways to develop a rapport as well as trust with the customer. They need your help because they were just burned; however, they won’t trust so easily. We start by talking with them and reminding them of what our mother always told us: “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”


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