Look who’s talking


March, 2017—

Your customers. They’re bragging about the deals and service they get. Give them something to talk about.

I recently walked into the pharmacy I’ve done business with for more than 30 years and asked the clerk at the counter if I could speak with one of the three pharmacists who own the business.

During our conversation, the pharmacist made a comment that suggested I frequently asked questions during my visits. He was right. I like to understand what medications I’m taking, and want to be sure the pharmacist and the doctor have both checked for reactions to any other medication I take.

Our conversation made me think about how we as independent businesses see our customers. It’s true I frequently ask my pharmacist questions.

It’s also true that regardless of the size of your community, the majority of residents in your community have never asked you any questions because they have never done business with you.

With larger communities, it’s even more likely that most people have never even heard of your business, no matter how much you advertise.

The average person doing business with you is pretty unique just by their walking through your doors. They are even more special if they spend money with you because the overwhelming majority of people in your city or town will never do so.

I wonder how many retailers think about the customers who ask a lot of questions and always want to talk. From my years of study and observation, there are far too many businesses that take the “if this person doesn’t buy, the next person will” attitude.

My expectation is that these people don’t become talkative only when they come into this particular business; they’re in full chat mode all the time. They are social with friends and family, in the stands watching a youth football game or when shopping for furniture. Depending on their favorite styles of communication, they would likely be talkative on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. That’s just the way they’re wired.

While my pharmacist and other business owners may see talkative customers as a part of the job, I wonder if these talkative people are seen as an opportunity.

Borrowing an example from the medical profession, think about someone who’s spreading germs. They do so because of their contact and interaction with other individuals; touching door knobs, faucet handles, other people, coughing and sneezing. These people are spreading germs.

These talkative people could be spreading the message about your business. Of course, the message they spread needs to be positive. And for that message to be most effective, we need it to be strong and correct.

An important part of this example is that the message spreaders are people whose message is well-received by others. In other words, people need to respect the message spreader’s opinion and feel confident that the information they’re sharing is accurate.

Research shows when people make purchasing decisions, the recommendation from another individual far outweighs any advertising the business or product manufacturer might do. They even listen more to a friend than a spouse! (I’m not going to touch that one.)

Who has the opportunity/responsibility to make sure the information and experience this message spreader is sharing is accurate and positive? You do.

When you add a new line to your store, try hosting a preview party for existing customers only. Perhaps you could offer an incentive if they brought a friend who’s not currently a customer. You could also have VIP-only events for your regular customers the night before you launch a sale—anniversary, birthday, clearance—or celebrations the community as a whole is having. With each of these examples, wouldn’t you expect your existing customers to talk about your business? Which of your customers are the message spreaders? Who’s the most talkative? Who’s the most active on social media. These are the people you need on your VIP list.

We once spoke with a retailer from Georgia who calculated that he often spent $2,000 to advertise for any given store event. Then he added up how much the discounts and markdowns were from these same events. The total was approximately $500. Between the markdowns and advertising, spent $2,500 for many of the events designed to drive customers into his business.

As an experiment he decided to reverse the numbers and add a new ingredient. Now he would spend $500 on advertising and make the markdowns on merchandise even greater than before so the total of the markdowns approached $2,000. The new ingredient he added to the equation was store decorations and refreshments, which added festivity and excitement to his sales event.

The result? Increased sales. Why? Because no one talks about how much money a store spends on advertising. However, customers will talk about how much they saved and the great deals they snagged at a store. The existing customers drive more customers into the store for you.

Give your customers something good to talk about and watch your bottom line grow.

About the Author

Tom Shay
Tom Shay has more than 25 years of experience in retail. Subscribe to Tom’s e-ret@iler, a free monthly newsletter packed with tips for improving the profitability of your store, at profitsplus.org.