Selling from complaints

Resident columnist Leonard Zell explains how jewellers can still make a sale from customers who have complaints

Complaining customers can be your biggest boosters if they are looked at as a customer ready to buy, instead of a complainer bringing trouble.

It all starts with how all customers should be greeted regardless of their attitude.  However, your attitude is also important and you should greet all customers as soon as you see them with a smile and enthusiasm as you would if they were a good friend. This will calm down any complainer because no one can fight a smile.

Unfortunately, customers rarely see this. How do I know?  Because I have been asking this question throughout my forty years of speaking at conventions. “When can you remember walking into any retail store and were greeted by a salesperson with a big smile and enthusiasm?”  I only saw a few hands raised. If you think your store is the exception, think again.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine you are a customer that was given an expensive mechanical watch like a Rolex from your wife on your birthday because you always dreamed of having one. You couldn’t wait to show it to your friends, but then you had trouble. You brought it back three times and it still wouldn’t keep time.


When you complained about your watch, the salesman said: “Let me see what I can do about it, but you will be without it for a while.” How would you feel being without your watch for the third time?  Would you buy anything from this jeweller again? Poor service stories travel fast. Remember, one negative story reaches nine customers. Can you afford that?

Most owners would instruct their salespeople to repair it at no charge and  make sure it works right. They look at it as a no charge repair that keeps the customer happy.  However, the professional salesperson looks at every complaint as a selling opportunity. They are thinking how to create a sale and a repeat customer.

This is how a jeweler whom I knew handled a similar situation. He greeted the customer with a big smile and spoke with enthusiasm as if he was his friend. This caught the customer off guard and he smiled right back and this is how the dialogue began:

Owner: “Good afternoon!” (With a smile and an up tick in his voice.)

Customer: “I have this gold Rolex watch I have always wanted which my wife gave me on my birthday and no matter how many times I bring it back it keeps lousy time.  I am very disappointed in your store. I have bought jewelry here for years and so have my family. Every time I leave it I am without it for a week.”

Owner: “This never should have happened to you and I would have been equally disappointed  if it happened to me. By the way, my name is Harry Smith.”

Customer: “Hi Harry, my name is Ben Larson.” (Not their real names.)

Harry: “Ben, I want to apologise to you and give the repair of your Rolex my personal attention. However, I am sure you depend on your watch in your business and I don’t want you to be without one.”

Ben: “That’s OK Harry, I think I have an old one at home I can wear.”

Harry: “I would rather you have a watch you can wear today that you can rely on. (He takes
Ben to the men’s watch counter and picks a new dress watch and puts it on his wrist.)

Ben: “Harry, that’s a new watch!  You don’t have to do that, any old clunker will do. I only need the time.”

Harry: “Ben, I don’t think your wife would want to see an old clunker on your wrist after she gave you such a fine timepiece. Wear this my compliments.”

Ben: “Thank you. I never expected that.”

Harry: “You’re  welcome I am happy to do it. By the way Ben, chances are you must have an occasion coming up.”

Ben: “As a matter of fact I do but our anniversary is not for three months and I have time.
Harry: I understand, however the more in advance you buy her a gift, the more it means to her.

Ben: “You know Harry, you may have something there. What have you got?  I was thinking of getting her what she admired on one her friends, a pair of diamond earrings. ”

Harry showed  him the diamond earrings for $1,000 (In 1952 $$) and an add on of a diamond necklace that he had one of the sales ladies model.  Ben bought the earrings only and Harry said that the necklace would be a great Christmas surprise. Ben asked Harry to save it for him.

How do I know about this story?  I was there and witnessed it back in 1952 when I began selling. The salesman’s real name was Harry Zell.  He was my father and mentor. He had an unparalleled following. He could turn almost any negative customer into a selling opportunity and become their friend as well.

I asked my father why he used a brand new watch? He said: “Leonard, I bought a customer for $150. I could spend thousands on an advertisement and never get that return.”  He was right. That customer told that story to many of his friends and they came back to us many times with compliments. Word of mouth advertising is so powerful and nothing can equal it.  From then on I was handing out loaner watches all the time and customers were completely surprised and couldn’t thank me enough.

By introducing myself, which is rarely done in any retail store, we started addressing each other by our first names and became friends, just like my father did.  Isn’t that what selling is all about, creating friends of customers before we sell them, or do they have to wait for them to come in for the third time until we are comfortable enough to introduce ourselves?

I began emulating my father and said: “There must be an occasion coming up.”  Of course there always was and because the customer was wearing that new watch I loaned him he was in the mood for me to show him something for his wife.  Not only would I sell him, but he became a repeat customer. I learned that service is more than what jewellers think it is. It is only, when you exceed your customer’s expectations.

There are many lessons to be learned from this story. One of them is that jewellery is the most personal gift of any. Therefore it stands to reason it should always be sold in a personal way, especially when creating sales from a negative situation. I learned this from a master salesman and now you can learn it from me.

By Leonard Zell. This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Jewellery Focus

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