The recession has made life very difficult for businesses. As people draw in their spending they have created a climate where companies have to be incredibly sharp and competitive to earn their money, with incentives such as attractive payment options (as seen in car sales), free fitting/assembly (as offered by a garden centre near me on garden furniture), and even the offer of a cuddly toy from a broker's website for buying something from another company (as seen on a certain Meerkat-centric insurance broker's website)!
Businesses are going all out to attract their customers, and each sale is vital... but is it OK to actually deliberately lose a sale? In horticultural retail the answer maybe yes. There's no doubt that horticultural businesses are feeling the squeeze just the same as every other industry, but we are a bit different. Horticultural retail is a combination of product and advice, whether advice on the label or advice delivered face to face, and the customer is buying both. Customers value good honest advice from people who know a lot about horticulture in general as well as about their products. Sometimes customers enter into lengthy conversations with staff, wanting to know everything there is to know about a plant or a gardening issue important to them, while others just want a brief synoptic answer. But is it appropriate for an employee to actually deliberately lose a sale?
The quality of any horticultural advice is matching the knowledge of the advisor with the needs or problem of the customer. If a customer has heavy soil the advisor will have to be knowledgeable about plants for heavy soils, and if a gardener is trying to grow plants in an exposed coastal garden the advisor will have to understand the problems they face and the plants that will meet their requirements. Giving bad advice is not good.
Let's take a scenario- a customer wants a tree for a specific place. The staff member has a choice of just four trees; one will grow too big, one will grow too small, one won't tolerate the soil conditions and the other won't take the wind. Here the staff member has to make a decision; find the best matching tree to suit the customer's requirements or tell the customer that there are no suitable trees in stock, maybe asking them to come back another time. If the customer is told that the four trees are unsuitable then the staff member has lost the sale and the customer will leave without buying a tree, but what happens with the 'best fit' tree?
|'Crab Apples' are great for many gardens, but not all|
Let's take the other side of the coin. The customer who has left without a tree may be frustrated that they can't get planting right away, but at least they haven't been coaxed into buying the wrong thing. When buying a plant a customer makes a connection with the business they are dealing with; they are relying on that business' integrity and the quality of the advice given, and if they are happy that the advice they are given has been sound then they will think positively about the business in the future.
The customer who has bought their tree but been given bad advice will have a bad impression of the business they bought it from, whereas the customer given good and honest advice without being forced into buying the wrong thing will feel positive about the retailer and is more likely to make another visit. Subsequent visits with good advice and a high quality of care will cement that customer's impression of the business and its employees, making them much more likely to become ambassadors for the business in the future.
Yes, there is a risk that the customer who has left without their tree will buy elsewhere and won't come back again, but the risks of losing a customer through good customer service are much lower than losing a customer through bad service.