Why Not: The Rhetorical Question

Like every other (good) retailer, we aim to please. From goods to services, providing the very best we can to every customer is what keeps us in business.

Go ahead, say it. Duh. Of course that’s what keeps the doors open!

But what happens when we can’t — for whatever reason — satisfy a customer?

It seems to me that in an increasingly instant-gratification-focused consumer world, the inability to meet an immediate demand is an automatic black mark. Regardless of how difficult, unrealistic, or downright impossible the request may be, the potential provider’s perceived lack of ability becomes an issue.

It so happens that occasionally a customer comes in and asks for something we don’t have. We’ve never had it. It’s possible — though unlikely — we’ve never even heard of it. We can probably get it, or our fabulous designer/goldsmith can make it, but none of that is going to happen in the next 10 to 15 seconds. The customer huffs something to the effect of “Everywhere I go, they say the same thing. You don’t have it. Well, why not?”

There’s a brief pause, and a moment of silent mutual understanding arrives: they already know the answer. We know the answer, and they know we know. We don’t have it because the buyer(s) for the store didn’t buy it. The reasoning behind that decision is moot, because it won’t change the status of this customer’s elusive desire.

I was totally bewildered by my first Rhetorical Encounter. Did that customer really just get upset that I couldn’t show those white gold earrings in yellow, rose, and two-tone? Is she seriously asking for a reason why we don’t carry her favorite XYZ designer?

I’ve learned a few things since then, thank goodness. I learned that sometimes a customer has an objection or just wants an easy “out” of the sale or store, and isn’t capable of saying “no, thank you.” I had to learn that a customer insisting on one specific item is well aware that we won’t have it, and they really want some alternatives. I also figured out that some customers take pleasure in name-dropping to employees of stores that aren’t Big Names, either as a test (yes, we’ve heard of that Big Name) or to impress (yes, your Big Name watch is lovely).

I used to feel like a failure when I couldn’t produce, magician-like**, the exact white (gold) rabbit each customer wanted. Thankfully, through careful observation and a deeper understanding of the consumer, I have managed to overcome that feeling and learned to confidently represent the products and capabilities we do have. It’s a necessary skill in an on-demand world, and one I’m happy to say only improves with every Rhetorical Encounter I have.

** Okay, occasionally we’re like real magicians, coming up with brilliant plans with perfect execution for last-minute, do-or-die situations. That’s called… hard work and getting lucky.

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