Mike Twomey continues his monthly look at the hifi and audio business from the perspective of the dealer. This month he focuses on that all important, but oft’ forgotten aspect of the business that is customer service and why it is so important to the industry

People open an AV business for a multitude of reasons. These include love of music and cinema and a love of the gear that makes all of this happen. Seldom do I hear my fellow dealers say “I want to help people.” And there is the rub. These articles I’ve written are usually outwardly focused; meaning they’re addressed at the customer. This article talks about something that every one of us have experienced in some form or fashion; customer service. People are quick to tell you about their latest horror story of dealing with some vendor. Furthermore, their experiences are topped with another terrible example of poor service by those listening. I would love to tell you that AV dealers are among the best at serving the customer. But that’s not the case I’m afraid. The dealer network needs to take a long hard look at how we are treating our customers and how we can change and innovate.

People ask me what’s the latest breaking technology that we are selling. I pause and say our bi-monthly training classes. That always gets a quizzical look. We view free training classes as a customer service technology. Because…the customer is or should be the most important focus in this business. Without happy and curious customers, technology matters little. Dealers (and this includes my little dealership) should remember this everyday as we open our doors.  I think that this has been forgotten in the AV business. Here are thoughts that dealers should remember and enact daily.

Remember the Dealer’s Role…

The dealer is the customers’ first point of contact for the AV industry. Like it or not we have great influence in how the customer views the AV business as a whole. So that said we need to take care to thank the customer for coming in and actually listen to the customer. Listening is a key part of making sales. Our role is to represent the lines we sell and to educate the customer while making sure that the customer’s visit is an enjoyable one. Our role is not to tell the manufacturers how to make their products. Rather our role is knowing what our customers like, how they spend their time and their hard earned money and how we can fit into this puzzle.

Walk a Mile in Your Customers Shoe…

Dealers are selling equipment of all ranges of complexity to a wide range of customers that may or may not have the skill set to understand or use these products. The customers are experts in their field not ours. They rely on us to explain the equipment we sell and how to enjoy it all. Our little shop is located near a large medical complex. We’re fortunate to have a number of doctors as customers. I was working with a neurosurgeon last week who was looking at Digital to Analogue Converters (DACs) as he wanted to start doing computer based audio.  Here was a man who spent 4 years in college, 4 years in medical school, 3 years in surgical residency and then two more years learning neurosurgery specific procedures. Clearly this is a highly intelligent man. We spent over two hours with him explaining how computer based audio works. Then we set up a system in his home to try. Will we make a sale? I hope so but perhaps not. Regardless I think that this our obligation to help him in every way possible.

When Products Fail.

If you’ve been in this business for any length of time you will have firsthand experience in handling defective products and dealing with angry owners. This is where dealers need to show their true value to the customer.  We think it’s important to understand fully what’s wrong, how the error happened and most importantly to acknowledge the customers frustration.  There are too many situations in everyone’s lives where companies provide shoddy customer service and view defective returns as an incredible nuisance. A good dealer has strong relationships with the manufacturers whose lines we sell. This is the subject of a different article perhaps but the point is this, if a dealer has a strong relationship with the manufacturer getting problems solved is significantly easier. Returns done well can show a dealers value-add and enhance the reputation of the manufacturer. When possible we offer loaner products while the customer’s defective product is being repaired. If a dealer doesn’t want customers shopping on the internet, this is one of the ways to prevent it; true value add and focused customer service.

Taking the High Road…

There are times when being an AV dealer is not pleasant. My suspicion is that your job has similar moments. At least a few times each month we have customers who attempt to return items not purchased at our store or the product has been abused. Thankfully in our case these instances are rare but they do they occur.  I think it’s important to take great care in dealing with this customer. To this end I think listening is more important than speaking. Usually we get unloaded on. I let the customer vent and then turn the conversation towards fixing the issue. I ask the customer if they purchased the product here. If the answer is no or no answer is given, I try to get the support number of the manufacturer so that the customer will have an avenue to get the product repaired. Sometimes a customer will demand a refund without a receipt. I ask if they recall who they worked with here and on what date. I then do a query of our sales in that corresponding period giving the customer the benefit of the doubt. If the search comes up empty I reluctantly state that our policy on returns for cash is based on the customer having a receipt and within our standard return period. But I also offer to call other retailers who may have dealt with this customer. Once a year or so we get an abusive customer who raises his voice at me or our staff and is completely unreasonable and out of line. I have an obligation to protect my employees from abusive situations like this. I will ask this type of customer to leave. I can count on one hand the number of times that this has occurred in 14 years of business. There are some customers you just cannot help. Recognizing this customer and working with him or her takes time and challenges your own patience and sense of humor. But it also makes me appreciate the vast majority of our customers who are great to work with.

The Value of Two Words …Thank You

If you want to change how people view your business, say thank you as much you can.  Nordstrom is an American high end retail chain that views being polite to the customer as marketing tool. If you have ever been in a Nordstrom store, you will know what I mean. You’re greeted enthusiastically everywhere you go in the store. AV dealers need to adopt this customer service model. Again we sell complex gear. It’s up to the dealer to explain how the gear works and to answer fully any customer questions. Saying thank you to a customer and inviting them to return are keys in how the customer views his experience at our store.

Changing the Culture…It’s about Music and Film

Customers who take time out of their day to come here are almost always enthusiastic music and cinema lovers. Yes they like the gear that makes it all happen but enhancing music is usually their goal. So I always ask the customers what they are listening to and make a list. We publish this list in our newsletters of what people are listening to (of course not what Stuart Smith is listening to but that’s a given). People like this and will add their own recommendations. It’s about the music….don’t forget that Mr. Dealer!

Teaching Customer Service….Setting the Tone

If dealers want to change the tone of the business to be more customer focused we have to get the team together and talk about how we treat our customers and what we want to be known for. We can have the best products made but if we’re indifferent to our customers we will fail. It’s important to lead by example. I judge myself and everyone who works here on how we treat our customers. Our team knows this.

So thank you for taking the time to read this. I wish you a happy, prosperous new year where your AV dealer treats you superbly.

Mike Twomey owns Big Kids Toys AV in Greensboro NC.

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