Giving advice to customers

Do you know the pitfalls of not recognising what advice your customers need from you and when they need it? There are so many products on the market and often several choices for a consumer. When someone enters your store, or shops online with your company, there will be some occasions where they need your help.

This help can take several forms and knowing your way around them can make their shopping experience much better as well as lead to that all important sale for you. I have found that the understanding where your products fit will formulate a strategy to get either; a) your team better at their advice or b) your detail right around your specific product you have on the market. Knowing the difference between what a buyer wants and needs from you is crucial and their questions and feedback will guide if you listen to them.

Product advice – This can be online, on package, in person or via a wholesaler or distributor. This is the short burst of information which helps a customer decide if your product is the one that they wish to purchase. This advice will likely not require your intervention by your sales team, will be covered by the blurb on the back or may have attracted them via an advert. Most products are straightforward in this respect. Dog toys, beds, simple leads and collars, food bowls and treats to name a few examples. Pick the design and colour you want and that’s it. Sold!

Specialist advice – What makes the people in the pet industry so special and so much more than retailers alone is the huge wealth of knowledge they need in order to advise customers. Consider that treatments for a fish tank, fitting pet harnesses or dealing with a flea infestation or buying a pet for the family all require additional information to get it right. These are more specific areas of pet care that usually require more assistance and knowledge from your team. This is also an area where a store can get tripped up for suggesting products can cure or solve problems that a vet should look at. If you own a shop and deal with the sale of live animals then this is also a section of specialist knowledge.

What happens if you get this wrong or sell specialist products or pets without the correct information? At best you will lose a customer who vows never to return. At worst it could cost the life of an animal you have sold to their care. In my experience people are just doing their best to help customers. That is why training on these specialist subjects and products is so vital to success within our industry. Invest the time and resource and you will be rewarded with a loyal customer base and improved cash flow. One major pitfall with selling in the pet industry is the sales prevention person. They have a great level of knowledge but either consciously or not, seem to block potential sales.

When not to give advice? – We have all been there when a customer comes in with a picture of a dog they just rescued: “Can you sell me something to treat this ear infection please?” and shows you a picture of a glowing red oozing ear! That is certainly the time to advise that they seek a vet appointment ASAP. Be careful around suggesting that foods or supplements can “cure” ailments that customers come for advice on. They can certainly support a pet’s health but not specifically cure. Finally, certain products require a specially qualified person to dispense wormers and flea treatments. Keeping these qualifications up to date with the relevant seminars is crucial to offering the correct advice.

Follow up advice – This could be in relation to the use of a product or the effectiveness of one. These kinds of enquiries can lead to complaints. Generally if a customer is coming back then something is not working as they expected.

A quick note on follow up advice. I have dealt with many product, service and pet complaints during my career and they normally all boil down to not setting up to succeed in the first place. For example: a customer was not given a household spray with their flea spot on so they think the product has not worked. The follow up is where complaints can brew. It can also make a shop or business look a bit incompetent if the customer has been wrongly advised. Make sure you treat every request for follow up information as an opportunity to improve your original advice offering. 

Nicola has spent the last 13 years working in the pet retail industry and is the founder of Ravensford Consultancy Ltd. A company dedicated to helping business in the pet trade. Nicola helps independent retailers with a fresh pair of eyes to ensure they are maximising their profit and service opportunities. Nicola@ravensfordconsultancy.com

This feature was first published in the November 2018 issue of Pet Gazette

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