The Education of Rita


On a recent flight, I was on the aisle with a clear view of the people going to the restroom. There was a three panel section – the wall, the left side of the folding door and the right side of the folding door. Repeatedly, people would walk up and push on the first panel (the wall panel) to no avail. They would stare at it, tilt their heads and try to pull on the left side of the folding door, again to no avail. Finally, they would actually READ the large blue sign on the right door panel that said “Push Here” and would magically get in to the lavatory.

It reminded me of our customers. Regardless of how informative your web page is, your brochure is, or signs at your shop are, people simply do not read. They assume that they know how things work or how they WANT them to work and just go with that. I always told my employees that part of our job was educating our customers.

I have often wondered why we don’t read anymore, but have been guilty of doing the same thing. Sometimes we walk in with our own assumptions about a person or place and don’t take the time to read or research like we should. As someone who used to do research for a living as an attorney, I should know better! I think we all just get in a hurry. We want to skim the facts, skim the news, skim through life to get to the next thing. (goodness, that could be a whole other blog!)

Think of the customers like toddlers, uninformed, but possible to be trained. Just like when you are trying to teach something to your child, you must be firm, authoritative and clear. You do not negotiate on your policies. Once you change it for one person, you will have to change it constantly. You SHOULD use the old parental standard, “Because I said so!”. This is your bakery. You do not need to justify your reasons. I don’t know how many times a customer would argue with me and try to push me to break my policies. When I refused, they would always demand to know “Why?”. “Because it says Ruth’s on the sign outside”, I would reply.

There cannot be many other industries where people try to push people into changing their business model. Do people tell a cardiologist that he should deliver their baby? Not a chance. But customers will fight with you if you say that you don’t do carved cakes, sheet cakes or whatever. They cannot yet perceive that people focus their bakery business on the areas in which they specialize? It is our job to get them to understand. Maybe we need to start using those words…I specialize in…my bakery business is focused on…things like that.

If you tell a customer your policy, but you seem unsure of your message, you will be pushed into doing work you either do not like or do not know how to do. You have to look them in the eye and be authoritative. You need to be fine with them taking their business elsewhere. Remember, they want something that you do not do. In your head, picture that mom you have seen get pushed around by her child at the grocery store. Keep that image in your head as you talk to your customers so that you know what you do NOT want to become. Do NOT let the customers make you feel guilty about not doing what they want.

If you have been around a toddler, you know that you constantly have to repeat yourself. It is the repetition of your rules that gets your customers to understand. Eventually, they will get it. Of course, then the next customer walks in and the lessons start all over again.

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8 thoughts on “The Education of Rita

  1. I can tell you that I have been helping customers for over 35 years and the saying that the customer is always right should really be that the customer always thinks they are right even when they are wrong.

  2. Through life I had learned that people can only survive through the practice of repetition and trying to make others feel guilty to get what they want.

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