New customers are the lifeblood of any business, but only if they stick around long enough to become old customers. A one-time buyer is welcome, but the ones who put money in the bank are those who come back again and again.
One breed of new customer that’s tricky to develop is the neophyte, the guy or gal who is new to the world your business inhabits. Maybe they are a first-time home buyer or a young couple setting up a college fund for their newborn. The way you and your staff respond to that newbie can make or break your relationship with them. Treat them like an idiot the first time and you’ll never see them again. Treat them right, and you’ll create a customer for life.
It’s tough, though. A newbie doesn’t know what questions to ask. He doesn’t know what’s do-able and what violates the laws of physics and/or the local building code. She may have seen a TV show where some lucky stiff’s family room went from wreck to magazine-spread-worthy in thirty minutes and expect you to do the same. What’s worse, she’s going to take up way more of your valuable time than this measly little job is worth.
The next time a newbie walks through your door, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Remember what it was like when you went onto the field for your very first Little League tryout? If you were like most of us, the experience was a little intimidating. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing, but you weren’t sure. You wanted to make the team, but the single most important goal was to avoid making a fool of yourself.
That’s what the newbie is feeling when he comes into your business for the first time. He or she may not admit it—and may try to bluff their way through—but they are nervous about sounding dumb when they talk to the experts in the field.
Your first job, then, is to make the customer comfortable. Don’t draw attention to his ignorance by telling him it’s all right to be stupid. Instead, listen to his ideas in a non-judgmental way and ask him questions about what he needs at a level he can understand. Try to avoid using terms the customer may not have heard before, or, if you have to, explain them without being condescending.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.