Several years ago, I wandered into an art gallery at a Colorado ski resort. I was drawn to the work of a young painter who specialized in wildlife art, and asked the gallery owner how I could contact the artist.
“Why do you want to do that?” the owner demanded, her voice turning icy.
“To see if she has any other paintings,” I stammered.
Here’s the thing you need to know about art galleries: They get paid a commission for each work they sell, so having customers contact artists directly is generally something to be avoided. But this particular gallery owner did not care to enlighten me.
“Get out!” she said, pointing to the door.
Needless to say, I didn’t buy any paintings, and to this day I feel nervous in art galleries. I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and find myself kicked to the curb.
But that got me to thinking. What else should you not say if you want good customer service. Isn’t there a list somewhere?
Well, here’s one to get you started:
1. I know the owner.
You would think this would assure you the best possible service, but it really just makes an employee nervous, or incredulous. Nervous, because who wants to screw up a transaction with the boss’ friend? Incredulous, because in some instances (like walking into a Wal-Mart and claiming to be friends with Sam Walton) it’s highly unlikely. Either way, the service won’t be any better, because an employee will deal with you by the book – no worse, no better – just in case your claims are true.
2. I’m paying cash.
Whether you’re going to apply for credit or not can affect the deal, particularly for a big-ticket item. It’s best to not reveal your payment method until you’ve agreed on a price. But telling an associate that you don’t plan to take advantage of store credit – again, particularly on expensive items – may make you a less important customer, or at least a less profitable one. Don’t show your hand until you must.
3. I only want a low price.
Never tell a company you just want the least expensive product, even if price is your primary consideration. They’ll use your frugality as an excuse to offer the shoddiest product or service and then turn around and blame you for choosing something substandard. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career covering the airline industry, and there is perhaps no better example. Don’t tell a company you want cheap, because you’ll get it – and so much less.
4. I’m not a serious buyer.
Let’s face it, not everyone who walks into a store is there to buy something. Sometimes they’re just window-shopping. But you don’t want to announce your intentions up front. Why? Because if you tell an employee you’re not interested in buying something that day, what incentive do they have to give you the attention you deserve? It’s human nature to help the serious buyer but to ignore the window-shopper. It’s also short-sighted, because a few persuasive words can turn a shopper into a customer. Also, avoid telling an associate you’re just “kicking the tires” but will actually buy the product online. You could get kicked out of a store for that kind of talk.
5. Do you know who I am?
Telling an employee how important you are by emphasizing how many of its products you’ve already purchased, or announcing you’re an elite-level customer, can be a major turn-off. It can also backfire, prompting an associate to offer you a more expensive product (after all, you’re such a good customer). Membership may have its privileges, but you’re better off waiting until you’ve settled on a purchase before whipping out your platinum, frequent-buyer card.
6. Is this all you have?
That, and other disparaging comments about the store inventory, will almost certainly result in less-than-ideal customer service. Keep your comments about the condition of the store to yourself. If you don’t like what you see, it’s better to leave than to give the employees a piece of your mind.
What kinds of things have you said to an employee, that you later regretted?
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.