Customer self-service

To get “with it” in this new age of the internet, and in order to add value for our clients, I decided that I need to record a few videos and display them on YouTube. My three year old famous-brand camera couldn’t seem to connect to my computer, so I popped into the flagship store of the same electronic brand, and purchased new software and hardware worth hundreds of rand because the people at the store told me it would do the trick. I rushed home excitedly and connected everything again – with no result.

I struggled for hours trying to get everything to work, with no success, and, feeling quite stupid, I eventually took the camera, all the new paraphernalia, and my computer to the store. (Remember, this business only sells its branded products.)

The guys at the store, including the manager, were incredibly incompetent and ignorant of the most fundamental aspects of their own products. The owners/managers hadn’t trained them at all, and neither had the mother company done so. After 90 minutes of wasting my time and theirs’, and feeling quite desperate by now, I allowed them to persuade me to buy another R1100 of hardware.

This time, before paying, we unpacked everything at the store, connected it all up… and nothing worked. At this point they shrugged their shoulders in confusion, and physically walked away from me. Needless to say, I left it all lying on the counter.

I reluctantly eventually decided it was time to buy a new video camera, and what an unsettling experience that also turned out to be! The assistant at the first shop spoke at length about the need to have “green screen” technology in order to insert interesting backgrounds on my videos. An interesting point of view, although I am not sure about all that green screening is actually necessary. After all, I don’t want to be the next Steven Spielberg. I moved to the second shop.

“Your camera has got to be HD!” the assistant enthused. “It’s not enough to get a standard grade video on YouTube.” I asked him how often he had watched YouTube and the quality of most videos, and he became rather silent. And then I asked whether it would take longer to download an HD video or a standard grade video, and he was flummoxed. He did make an attempt to ask one of his colleagues, who looked at him as if he’d asked for a miracle. (Asking our clients to sit in front of a computer waiting for long downloads is not quite my style, and this highly individualised approach would certainly add a layer of complexity.)

On to shop number three where the name of their game is “we are the experts”. An intensive coaching session/tutorial updated me to the possibilities (and complexities) of producing videos. I started getting lost when he explained about different formats that I could save in the hard drive built into the camera. I swear he started talking about “real-time links” and “encryption” somewhere in the conversation, while I quietly wondered about whether this was going to be a good idea. He lost me completely at around R7000.

I was so confused. As I sat at the Wimpy drinking coffee, I yearned back to when we would publish quarterly newsletters on paper and post them to our clients, not onto the internet. If you made a video, it was a very big deal, and you copied it onto a VHS tape or a DVD, and put it into a machine – and the quality was a darned sight better than YouTube.

Three days after starting my quest I went to the fourth business, and explained that all our presentations and materials were aimed at practical simplicity, and had to have a simple look-and-feel. “I don’t do complexity,” I said to the assistant, and for once, someone listened. I spent less than R3000, it weighs almost nothing, and he spent 30 minutes teaching me how to film a basic video and load it onto YouTube. He also gave me a free table-top tripod. I wanted to kiss him!

Each of the previous sales assistants fell into one of two categories: the totally incompetent/unhelpful, and those who were deeply enamoured by their own expertise. In the latter group, each was eager to “sell” me on the importance (nay, the necessity!) of implementing their solutions. Though one person did make an attempt to ask me late in the conversation for a list of my “specifications,” none began the conversation with a keen intent to explore what I wanted to achieve with my new camera.

The key learning point here is that sometimes we become so expert in our own professions we forget that customers may be less familiar with the domain. Think about being a patient in a hospital. Don’t you appreciate the effort to explain things and educate you, and to set you at ease as much as the medical care provided? What about a visit to the car mechanic or the accountant? Isn’t having a background of trust and confidence as important as having the right work done?

Invest the time and effort upfront to listen and to build your rapport with prospects and customers on their terms. Don’t just leap in with your bold (and possibly brilliant) recommendations. Explore their needs thoroughly first. Suggest your solutions later. Remember, they are going to buy what they need, not what you want to sell them.

And the speciality store? What became of them? A year later they shut their doors, and right now there is a Samsung flagship store on the same site. (My videos will – hopefully – be launched on YouTube soon.


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