Paul Evans, market manager, BMC, Texas

I was on my way to lunch the other day with a colleague and he asked me to stop at the local big box store so he could run in and return a product. I went in with him and, while he made his transaction, I decided to watch from a safe distance to see what would occur.

When my colleague reached the counter, the customer service rep asked: “What do you need?” (Those were her words, by the way.) My colleague said he would like to return an item that he bought.  Without saying a word, the big box staffer took the item and—never looking at at—put it in a basket for, I guess, re-stocking. She rang up the return and had my colleague sign a receipt. He said thanks and waved at me that he was ready to get back on the road.

That rep was awful, first for what she said and then for what she didn’t say and didn’t do. Here's why:

  • She didn’t act courteous at all.
  • She didn’t know (or probably wasn’t trained) on what to say when it came to good customer service. She should have at the least been polite and asked a few more questions.
  • She could have at least looked in the box to make sure that what she thought was being brought back actually was being brought back.
  • Most important, she should have asked what was wrong with the original purchase. Not what was wrong with the product, but with the purchase itself.

Sterile Service
After we got back into the truck to head to lunch, I asked my buddy what he thought of the customer service. He felt it was okay but a bit sterile. But what he really liked was that this big box store would take anything back, no questions asked. 

Well, I have a couple of issues with “no questions asked:”

  1. Where were the questioning skills here—Not only at the point of the return, but at the point of sale itself? Why did my buddy not get what he wanted in the first place? The big box stores have always been lacking on customer service. We as pro dealers we cannot let ourselves get caught up in poor customer service.
  2. Ask enough questions at the point of sale to make sure the product is correct for the need of the customer. This should occur even when the customer walks up to your counter and tells your sales staff what they are looking for. Ask the question with a statement, “Yes we have that product, but can I ask what you are using it for?” Just that quick question makes the customer think about what they are using the product for and will give the sales rep enough information to make sure the customer is getting what they need.

This process is very important these days with all the information overload that customers have at their fingertips. They feel they know what they need and just ask for that one product instead of talking through the situation and getting what they really need.
Questions Now Help Avoid Returns Later
You may be saying to yourself “Why should we go to all of that trouble asking these questions when the customer knows what he wants?” Because these questions may alleviate a return. More important, it will result in a customer that really feels that you care about his or her purchase and that you care enough to make sure they get what they need the first time. If you do that, they will recognize that by coming to your place of business, their business is appreciated.

We in the world of pro sales cannot lose sight of this process as we labor to get the order and move to the next customer. We need to be the real pros in our industry. Take a minute upfront and make sure customers get what they need as opposed to what they think they want. Remember to employ communication skills at all transactions to make sure customer get what they need. Also remember that great communications include being a great listener. Listening is the key to making sure you understand the customer and understand where the customer is coming from.

Lastly, let’s review return procedures. You still need to use that same communication skill when a customer brings something back or asks for a pick-up or return. You need to understand where the issue lies; you need to figure out why that product is coming back.

You will always have returns in this business, but with great communication skills you can try to avert the return altogether or at least find out what made it necessary so you can avert future returns. You will never know if you don’t ask.

We as pro dealers need to understand the value in communication to make sure the customer gets what he or she needs at all times, be it with the product, in a takeoff, or in a code issue. The questions you ask upfront show the customer that getting what he or she needs is the top priority for you and your company. This shows value in the services you offer and why customers should always look to you for their product needs. Because you are not just selling product, you are selling your pro customer service as well.