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.

The Business of Business

In my line of work, the face the consumer sees is often very different from the reality behind-the-scenes. The client receives calm and unwavering patience, forever a smile, as much romance as they can stomach, and a general sense that the world is full of beautiful things that they (obviously) should want to buy and give and wear.

And why shouldn’t they? The role of consumer in the luxury market is to enjoy everything — service, gracious transaction, the piece itself, admiration from peers — as a complete package. It’s my job to figure out how to deliver that experience in such a way that will impress and retain that client, but also maintain best business practices that allow equal attention to future clients. As my grandmother used to say, it ain’t worth anything if you give it away.

I will confess that I’m far more a novice of business than I am of creating that customer experience. I have been in some form of sales for many years, but have begun to participate in the business side relatively recently. Thanks in large part to the small business environment and wonderful owners of the store, I have been introduced to the inner workings of this industry and am just as hooked on the finer details of number-crunching and term negotiation as I ever was on closing the sale.

To that end, I’ll be diving head first into analysis and data processing, product and vendor assessment, supplier strategies, and a host of other topics in order to assist in balancing performance in the store. Translation: training in business stuff should lead to better business.

On a personal level, I admit to a little apprehension. This is not only a new field of interest but an entirely new facet of the industry, and I’m determined to acquire as much knowledge for practical application as I can get my little paws on. Between this, my already personally-driven sales goals, some additional business courses I’m taking outside of work, and the general day-to-day operations already in place, I feel I’m in for an exciting period of growth. Maybe if spring pokes its nose out from whatever hole it’s hibernating in someday soon, I’ll really feel ready to face it all.