Archive for the ‘Sales’ Category

Service of Pass the Buck: Shoddy, Defective Sales Support at Home Depot

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Photo: littleonline.com

Photo: littleonline.com

CC, a friend, was bursting with understandable frustration when she wrote this guest post. The incident she described happened at a NJ Home Depot.

The day she submitted the story the company was in the news. It’s “among the biggest gainers” wrote Ryan Dezember and Corrie Driebusch in “A Rare Bright Light in Retailing.” The Wall Street Journal reporters attributed the rise in stock prices of big boxes in the home improvement sector to booming US house prices and construction. After reading about this transaction, you wonder how this happened: Untrained, unmotivated staff wasted the customers’ time and their own.

CC wrote: “On Sunday we went to Home Depot to order a rug for our kitchen, which meant picking out an office or indoor/outdoor carpet to be bound in a custom size.  Simple, right?  I’ve done it before. This time Home Depot dropped the ball repeatedly.

Mistake 1:  There were two sales people in the carpet department, seated at the desk.  One was busy with a customer. The other was playing with her tape measure. I approached and explained what I wanted and why. She barely looked at me and told me I needed to go to the garden department. I explained that I’d placed a similar order in this department before and that I knew what I wanted was here. She grudgingly got up and gestured toward a rack before resuming playing with her tape measure. This sales clerk did NOT want to help me or make a sale!

Carpet samplesMistake 2:  I found what I wanted and approached the other sales clerk, who was now free. I explained what I wanted and asked him to ballpark price it out.  He instantly tried to talk me into buying a stock item – because, he said, it was cheaper, I wouldn’t have to wait three weeks, etc.  I explained that it wasn’t an issue of price or time but size and style. He grudgingly calculated (with some difficulty) the cost.  This sales clerk wanted an easy sale, not one that made him work.

Mistake 3:  After finalizing the carpet choice, I went back to the second clerk and said I wanted to place the order.  He had started to write it up when a young sales clerk came into the department to start her shift. He instantly insisted that she complete the transaction “to get credit for it.” She said she had no experience with a custom order that involved binding. He insisted and then left.  This guy REALLY didn’t want to work and was willing to let his young colleague struggle to help us.

bored personMistake 4:  Eventually, all three of the clerks got involved in calculating the cost and completing the paperwork. They all seemed so uncertain how to do this, I felt impelled to check their math at each step.  No one was sure about where the order would be shipped, and no one told us that we’d be putting down 90% and then paying a balance on delivery. The order was finalized, we thought, and I paid with a credit card.  The process was far too complicated and the clerks were not properly trained.

Mistake 5: After my card was run, the system would not finalize the deal.  It kept saying we hadn’t paid.

  • The older two clerks insisted we go pay at checkout. 
  • The younger one knew how to check whether our card actually had been charged. It had. 
  • Just then, the store’s assistant manager showed up.  He could see three clerks working with two obviously distressed customers, so he stopped to ask what was wrong.  He did NOT look at or engage with us then or over the next 20 minutes. He sat and played with his cell phone, taking calls, while they went through the whole thing again.
  • Eventually, he had the young clerk call HD’s central tech office in Atlanta.
  • The young clerk, however, was very apologetic and professional as she tried to sort it out.  The assistant manager quite obviously wanted to be anywhere else. Tech couldn’t help, and the young clerk shut down her terminal and tried another one with no luck.  Senior management ignored us and never apologized!

Mistake 6: It had now been at least an hour since I first asked for a price.  Other clerks would buzz by the desk and try to chat up the three clerks we were working with. Finally, another manager came and took things over. The assistant store manager left without a word. When the new manager could get nowhere, she apologized and told us to leave – that they would figure it out and call us by the next morning.  Home Depot wasted more than an hour of our time before cutting us loose.

At that point, I was prepared to cancel the whole thing and go somewhere else – a sentiment I’d expressed to the clerks several times.

What they did right:  The young clerk called me later and again apologized profusely, telling me nothing had been resolved but promising to call me next morning.  When I opened my email the next day, the transaction had gone through.  She called me within minutes to explain what had happened with the computer system and to apologize profusely once more. Her apologies were genuine.  She and the second manager, alone, had behaved professionally.  She told me that the second manager was giving us the carpet ($300) at no charge. Later that day, I got an email update showing that the order had been fast-tracked and would now be completed in a week instead of three.

Will I ever place a custom order again at Home Depot?  No way!  The company finally did the right thing, but all the wrong steps along the way gave us an insight into the company that was extremely unflattering.  I go into Home Depot under duress as it is (my husband practically lives there).  I prefer to go to a hardware store.  Now I will, at every opportunity.

How does a district manager inspire catatonic staff at an individual store to treat each sale with care? When salespeople pass the buck and act uninspired is it because they: 

  • don’t think an order is big enough to bother with
  • are lazy
  • feel there’s nothing in it for them if they work smart and no downside to being sluggish
  • don’t know better
  • are not trained to be effective salespeople 

While Home Depot may be doing well for the moment, the retail landscape is bleak, which portends cutbacks for millions of jobs. How can anyone in retail dare to act blasé and indifferent? Doesn’t an employee want to be chosen to stay in the event of massive layoffs? What happened to personal pride?

Photo: blog.teletracking.com

Photo: blog.teletracking.com

Service of Too Good to be True

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

F rated

David Segal, “The Haggler,” wrote in The New York Times about Lola Backlund’s experience with exorbitant shipping and handling fees—almost $50–after purchasing a $10 bottle of furniture scratch remover featured in a late night TV commercial. She estimated that the box might have cost $12 to wrap and send. While the Tarrytown NY marketer of the product claims it will refund money for its products, customers won’t see a cent back for its sky-high shipping charges.

Segal investigated and learned that the Better Business Bureau gave the marketer, SAS Group, an F rating and posted 169 similar grievances. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office ordered SAS in 2011 “to pay restitution to consumers who said they were overcharged for shipping and handling fees after buying as-seen-on-TV products.” In addition, it “was prohibited from making false and misleading statements in future.” No more promoting a free product when it wasn’t really: Shipping and handling charges count.

SAS returned Ms. Backlund’s money immediately after the Hagglerreturning money intervened. But the point is that they—and others like them—continue to entice gullible viewers with claims of miracle products which may not be [though Ms. Backlund didn’t mention whether the scratches are gone from her furniture] and cheat on the transport charges. By the way, rubbing olive oil into a scratch or stain on wood will often tone down the wound.

We all wish for a phenomenal product that dices and slices, dusts and irons, sews on buttons and makes dinner in 10 minutes for $19.99 and sometimes we fall for the pitch. Have you? Were you sent shipping or other charges that were more than anticipated?

Shipping boxes

Service of Pitch Perfect Marketing

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Hudson, NY

Hudson, NY

We visited Hudson, N.Y. over the holidays, a charming town in Columbia County that gets better every trip. I also had an exemplary retail experience in NYC.

India on the Hudson

We especially like the shops and restaurants on Warren Street and discovered a new one [for us]—Les Indiennes—with alluring merchandising that tempted as it exhibited textiles and ready-made tablecloths, pillow and bed covers, as well as clothing and furniture expertly upholstered in the fabrics also sold by the yard.

Les IndiennesI wish I could sew. Patterns were refreshing, crisp and appealing in a range of colors and the lighting showcased it all to advantage [Photo right]. A testament: My husband despises shopping and usually, regardless of weather, hangs out on the street while I reconnoiter. But he lingered in this shop, even drawn to the back to see what was there.

We also appreciated the smart move the town of Hudson made to encourage visitors and holiday shoppers to feast at the restaurants and patisserie—as well as their eyes: It wrapped parking meters like gifts up and down Warren Street, [Photo at the top.]

In the Pink in NYC

In a different but also heartening instance, I returned a blouse that I had ordered online from Thomas Pink, to the store on Madison Avenue and 53rd Street. I wanted the same blouse in a different size. Gerald, the first sales associate I saw, immediately stopped what he was doing to help me. I didn’t see the women’s section from where I stood and he insisted on dashing up the stairs to make the exchange for me. I’m inured to do-it-yourself-shopping in most stores these days, discount or not, so I was quite taken aback by his efficiency and helpful approach. We chatted while he placed the shirt in a protective sleeve [I passed on a shopping bag as I had a large tote]; he confirmed the amount remaining on my gift card and asked if I wanted water or to visit the ladies’ room. Gold star service from a luxury brand–the exception to the rule I fear and have experienced.

What a joy when a store, retail staff and a chamber of commerce get it so right. Can you share similar examples?

Thomas Pink box

Service of a Country Garage Sale Produced by a City Slicker

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Garage sale signs in trunk

I’ve always thought I’d have enjoyed–and if lucky, might have succeeded at–being in the retail industry. [Promoting new products for clients, which I’ve done for years, is on the cusp of the world of retail and doesn’t count.] So I didn’t reject as nuts my nephew Edward’s suggestion to conduct a garage sale. I didn’t have much time to pull it together—who does? Still I had fun. 

Garage sale kitchenWhat was most surprising?

  •  People came. We live on a quiet country road with microscopic through-traffic–few passers-by ever. The Craigslist posting and Garage Sale signs on the two roads that cap ours were most effective in alerting visitors as far as we could tell. I also wrote copy for a county garage sale site.
  • Edward predicted that people would take free stuff that had been left behind under a deck by a series of tenants, various construction projects and previous owners. He was right. He said folks would drive on the property with their pickups and so they did. Saved us from having to lug away stuff.
  • Garage Sale 2016 DumpsterThere was a dumpster outside the garage with plenty of things I’d rejected for the sale. [At one yard sale I attended I was alarmed by well-used bedroom slippers for sale. Yech. I wanted none of that at my sale.] Nevertheless, visitors jumped in and sorted through the dumpster as well. Some asked before doing so. Others just dove in. “Might I have your slides?” said one woman straddling four boxes from the period I was an Air Force wife living in Turkey. She said “people like travel slides.”
  • One woman buying two $2 wine glasses asked if I could wrap them. [Like everyone else, she arrived in a car with front and back seats to keep them apart and safe; did she think this was a boutique?] I wrapped–but wondered.
  • Hardcovers and paperbacks sold well. I charged $1 and 50 cents respectively. 

Some tips

  •  I was prepared for people to arrive early—David Reich gave me a copy of a New York Times article he’d written, “First Time for a Garage Sale,” where he reported early bargain hunters knocked on his door at 7:15 a.m. for a 10 a.m. sale. My earliest visitors came just before 9 and I let them in. [I posted my street signs at 6 a.m. and was raring to go.]
  • One of my customers told me that I should have saved the towels tossed in the dumpster to give to the local SPCA for the animals. He would have salvaged them, he said, but they were wet. Next time.
  • I was concerned about inviting strangers. What if one had nefarious plans to revisit us after the sale? Edward suggested I buy a “Beware of Dog” sign along with the “Garage Sale” signs. I did.
  • Speaking of signs, I didn’t notice until I wrote the address and time on them that the Garage Sale signs were not printed on both sides so I had to return to the store to get another set. Back-to-back they both fit in the metal braces that stick in the ground.
  • garage sale books turnedI priced cheaply. The idea was to find a home for things, not to make a killing. Several people told me I had priced well for a garage sale so I guess I got that right, though some left empty-handed. I grossed just under $600.
  • I wasn’t selling power tools but there were requests for these; for books about engineering that I didn’t have either and for anything—art or books—about the surrounding area. These I had and sold. Remember where you squirrel things.

Can you share your garage sale experiences as visitor or producer? Any great finds from yard or garage sales you’ve attended?

Garage sale art turned

 

Service of Letting off Steam

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

let off steamcalculatorVisited a friend where she works and she proclaimed that too much winter must be why everyone there was in a bad mood. A post like this helps address the blues. Writing about irritations lets off steam. It’s restorative.  

Don’t make me do the math

In a prominent newspaper I read this sentence: “The company said new technology allows one of the company’s workers to produce about 330 feet of fabric in less than an hour compared with just two meters in the 1990s.” Dear Reporter, Help me: In future convert comparables to all feet or meters please.  

Was I born yesterday?

I still get phone calls at the office that begin, “I’m calling from customer service about the copier in your office.” If legit they’d name the brand of copier. Grump.  

Want to raise my hackles/push my buttons? Say this:

“Nobody asked you to do that,” after I’ve done you a favor or something nice.  

Fat free and tasteless

Fig newtonsMy nephew popped in a gas station store to grab a Fig Newton snack and left annoyed because all they had were the fat free variety. He said that people fool themselves about benefits from eating the less toothsome alternative. “You don’t need to eat the whole box of the classic Fig Newtons,” he suggests.  

What’s that again?

When watching an interview on TV Erica Martell cringes when the interviewer answers the question for the person being interviewed and the interviewee parrots the words.  Example: Q: “You were sorry then?” A: “Yes, very sorry.”  

Media training advises the person being interviewed never to repeat the words of an interviewer. In addition to the fact that it’s irritating and boring, more important it can backfire. Take this instance. Q: “So you scammed the IRS in 2013?” A: “I didn’t scam the IRS in 2013.” A headline might be: JOE ADDRESSED 2013 IRS SCAM. A simple “no” suffices.

Royal Retirementretire in luxury

Bob Gula says he’s tired of hearing about city, state or union employees retiring on zillion dollar pensions in their 40’s with free healthcare. “They never went to college like I did,” he observes. “The greatest insult is I am the one who is paying for this with my taxes. Lesson learned: Do not go to college. Get a city or government job. Work in a job with a union.”  

What gets under your skin? Share and let me know if you feel a teensy bit better after letting off steam.

feel better now

Service of Special Promotions

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Special promotions

I bought a summer skirt from a catalog that came in my Sunday New York Times. I’d never heard of the company—Boden headquartered in the UK—I liked the look of the clothes, the prices were very reasonable and the promotion, for the paper’s readers, included free shipping, for returns too, a discount and a handbag for first time Boden Catalogcustomers. I bought, I liked, the skirt was too big, and I’ve exchanged my purchase for a smaller size. So far so perfect and customer service—I had questions–was helpful and in Pennsylvania.

Recently two friends have not had as much luck and both of them, independent of each other, shared their experiences within a week.

hair salonAt a fundraising auction at her son’s school, one friend won a gift certificate at a hair salon for a wash, cut and blow-dry. She said, “When I got to the salon, and even when I made an appointment, the receptionist was super suspicious. She examined the certificate carefully and announced, ‘it expired last month!’ I told her ‘I just got this,’ and pointed to the expiration date: 2014, not 2013.” My friend added: “Had a good shampoo though!” But who wants to go back to such a place?

SteakAnother friend, Joan Cear, shared her thoughts about what she calls “The Groupon phenomenon.” She explained: “Restaurants actively market a special offer – whether through a promoter such as Groupon, or Restaurant Week or to their own member club database. So many times, I have felt like an untouchable in a restaurant because I either:

“a) Have to ask to get the Restaurant Week menu or the special that the restaurant sent me in an email (it is not offered as an option by the wait staff).  Or

“b) When I hand them my coupon offering at the beginning of the meal I am treated with disdain.”

Joan’s husband, Jim, likes an iconic NYC steakhouse that became a watering hole when they lived in that part of town. “They email us these specials and then make us feel like the great unwanted when they are not included among the menu offerings – print or oral – and I have to ask for them.  It’s the same for restaurant week offerings.  And it happens this way every time – regardless of which branch we go to – so I think the wait staff is trained this way.

“If restaurants can’t instruct their staff to treat every guest graciously, the establishment has no business recruiting diners,” she said.

Bistro 72Joan continued, “Last weekend I had just the opposite experience in Riverhead at Bistro 72. I wanted to give the restaurant a whirl, but was afraid to spend lots of money,” on a test. She jumped at the promotion, through Travelzoo–dinner for two valued at $102 for $45.  

“I kept commending the waitress, Cindy,” said Joan who left her a 22% tip on the full price of the meal.  “It was such a refreshing experience—we ended up enjoying the meal very much and spending an additional $20–that I would go back again and again and ask to be seated in her section.”

Why, in some establishments, is there a disconnect between staff and their employers’ special promotions while others take advantage of the opportunity to transform the discount visitors into loyal customers? Do you think that business owners take advantage of the special promotions to increase traffic and actually train their employees to direct customers to pay full freight?

Wait staff

Service of an Expert Salesman

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Dancing with Fred A

When an improved product and expert salesman mesh, it’s a pleasure to spend money. For a service fanatic, it’s poetry to behold–like dancing with a star.

This happened to us the other week when Barry Lang from Audia Motor Sales in Millbrook, NY called to tell us our lease had expired on our Chevy Malibu. My husband Homer Byington, not a car enthusiast, was impressed by the negotiation. He said, “I knew I had to do something about the lease, and Barry got to me before I reached out to Audia. There was plenty of time to make a decision: Buy the car we’d driven for three years or lease a new one.

Chevy Malibu“He could tell I was technologically illiterate and conducted his sales pitch in language I could understand,” said Homer. “He also priced his offer competitively, not taking advantage of me.” Homer had checked with a family member in a related business who confirmed the lease price was fair.

Meanwhile, while we liked the 2010 Malibu we turned in, it had its faults, every one of which was addressed in the 2013 auto. The designers reduced the size of the side view mirror that previously had been so big that at certain angles I had to practically stand up in my seat while making a left hand turn for fear of running over someone hidden behind the device. The windshield seems bigger and the rear headrests smaller increasing visibility. Chevy also removed a lump that housed a break light at eye level for the cars behind, which took away rear window visibility for the driver. And it added handles above each door as a standard feature and enlarged the glove compartment.

Back to Barry. He was patient with our questions, explaining how the car’s Bluetooth system worked and other features basic for most but unfamiliar to us. We took a week to decide whether to buy or lease again and a car in the color we liked–a blue/gray–was still there on our return. When we noted this Barry said he’d reserved it for us.

snooty car salesmanWe’ve written previously about how friends and family members have been treated dismissively and disrespectfully by showroom staff selling highfalutin brands with hefty price tags. We don’t think Barry could make someone feel diminished; arrogance isn’t his style yet he could sell high end products with equal success.

If you drop in to Audia Motors, my bet is that one of the Audias will be there. One brother, Peter, chatted with us briefly last Saturday before we signed up and this Saturday Bob handed me my permanent NY State registration. During the week someone at Audia had paid for and picked it up at Motor Vehicles.

Can you share a boast about a similar sales experience for any product?

Happy Customer

Service of No

Monday, March 11th, 2013

no

I interviewed a crack salesperson and a busy, flourishing actor to discover how they seem to be unaffected when they hear “no” in the course of their day.

If, like me, you consider the hardest part of the new business search the dusting oneself off from a harsh “no,” you, too will also be interested in learning how they motivate themselves to do what I consider the second hardest part—the follow up after the initial outreach.

A Good Deal

“I used to take ‘no’ personally,” Vicki Noble** told me, “but I don’t anymore.” [**This is not her real name.]

buttonsShe’s been in the fashion business for 30 years selling embellishments, such as buttons, buckles and labels—even distinctive packaging that she designs–to manufacturers and retailers. The companies she represents are part of a team that a designer assembles to distinguish lingerie, shirts, dresses, sweaters—you name it. “Details are a critical part of a brand,” she’ll tell you.

“Most often,” said Noble, “the reasons people don’t want to give me a hearing and my sample books a viewing has nothing to do with me. Some are happy with the status quo and their current vendors. I understand loyalty. Yet they don’t realize that they owe it to their brand to see what’s new and out there. Others don’t want to rock the boat in this shaky economy. You can’t blame them; it’s not a good time for risk-taking.”

Do you go back if someone says ‘no?’

buttons2“You always go back because a manufacturer or retailer might suddenly be unhappy with their current supplier. You don’t want to be so annoying that a potential client sees your email and hits ‘delete.’

“I communicated with a woman who works for a major brand who asked if I represented any company that made ornamentation in Bangladesh. I didn’t at the time. I recently followed up to tell her about a company that was setting up there and she invited me in for a meeting.”

How many times do you follow up after hearing “no?” “You never give up.”

Are you by nature a hopeful person? “Yes. You have to be hopeful in life. If you’re not, what is there?  Don’t get me wrong, I get discouraged, but it only lasts for so long.”

How do you get yourself to pick up the phone to follow up when you are not in the mood? “A lot of communication is done via email rather than by phone these days so if you don’t hear back, which happens most of the time, no harm done and if the answer is “no,” an email often muffles a rejection. Everyone is so busy but people do read emails. Have you noticed how people never put down their phones?”

The Show Goes On With or Without You

MoniqueSanchez1Next I spoke with Monique Sanchez, an actor.

When you hear “no” what makes you go on?  “In terms of acting, you don’t hear ‘no’ very often; you just don’t hear anything. It’s not personal. If they are not interested in you they have decided well before you open your mouth. It has little to do with your talent.

“I grew up in a Cuban family with two brothers. My entire life my parents told me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. Basically when you tell me ‘no,’ I take it as ‘You want to bet?’ I’ve learned early on, not only can I do it, I have to do it better than the boys.”

If a director and/or casting director has previously rejected you, are you reluctant to return for an audition? “Usually it’s not a problem unless something has happened to make it one, such as if they go out of their way to be nasty.

“I had an audition for Dracula. When I walked in the director made a comment about my height which I’ve learned means I’m not a contender. Ten seconds into the monologue he interrupted me and asked me to tell a joke, which I had to come up with on the fly. Then he asked me to recite movie quotes from memory. I knew he wasn’t’ going to hire me, he just wanted me to entertain him. I won’t return for an audition if that person is involved.

“However if a director gives me good feedback, I’ll surely go back.”

Monique Sanchez2Do actors follow up? “You are supposed to follow up because directors meet so many actors daily. Actors have the narcissism to think they are special and that they stand out but you need to follow up. It’s important to show that others want you –the people you consistently reach out to will want you too.

“Following up is time-consuming, like another job. Most directors don’t want to get email; they want a postcard which includes a headshot with info like ‘This is what I’m working on….I’d love to come and read to you sometime.’ They prefer that you don’t call unless they establish that you can.”

Are you an optimistic person? “Normally yes, though too many unfortunate things have happened to me in the last five months.”

In sales and acting, following up by telephone seems to be largely off the table while it’s part of what I must do with media a business prospects.

Do you prefer to be emailed or called in follow-up? What do you think is the most effective way to sell yourself, a product or service–phone, email or direct mail? How is it in your industry? Have you developed techniques that help you accept “no” gracefully so you can move on right away?

follow up

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