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How Do You Handle Know-It-All Customers in Your Store?

When a regular customer openly criticizes Mike's food suggestion to a new one, he must decide how to handle this know-it-all and others.

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MIKE OWNS A pet supply store that sells all types of food for dogs and cats, from kibble and canned to raw and slightly cooked. He even works with a local butcher to provide his customers with marrow bones. Mike prides himself on being able to serve all customers, no matter their budget or how they feed their pets.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

A new customer named James came in one day with a newly adopted dog, Benny. Mike asked if he needed any help, and James said, “Yes, actually, do you know anything about this brand?” He went on to explain that his veterinarian said Benny was allergic to certain ingredients. Mike said, “Actually this brand over here has a few different varieties that don’t have those ingredients.”

In the meantime, another customer, Steve, came in. “I’ll be right with you,” Mike said. Steve is a regular customer and raw feeder very much against anything he wouldn’t feed his own dogs.

After chatting with James, Mike, said, “Why don’t you try this for a bit. Be sure to gradually change Benny’s food, increase this more each day and see how he does on it. We have a few customers with dogs with similar food allergies, and they do well on it.”

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James said, “Thank you. I will try the smaller bag first and see how he does. I have never had a dog with allergies before, and it’s been about a decade since I have had a dog, and there is so much to choose from now. It’s a bit overwhelming.”

As they walked to the register, Mike nodded and said, “Yes, I totally agree. But congrats on Benny. He is a handsome boy.”

Steve said hello to Benny, and then said to James with a laugh, “Oh you’re not going to feed your dog that are you? You should really do raw. There is nothing better than raw. Your dog is going to have the runs on that crap.”

Mike was looking at Steve, thinking to himself: I knew you were going to say something. Can’t you keep your know-it-all mouth shut?

James said, “Really? Raw food, like not cooked at all? Is that safe for a dog? I don’t know.”

Mike interrupted, “Steve, I appreciate how much you love feeding raw, but don’t scare James. He just adopted this handsome boy. James, like I said, try this and let me know how he is doing in a week or two on it. Here’s my card. Please call with any questions. Oh, and if you would like to sign up Benny for our rewards program, you can do so here.”

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“OK. I’ll take this for now,” James said, obviously unsure about his purchase. He thanked Mike without signing up for the rewards program and walked out the door quickly.

Mike smiled and looked at Steve, “Did you find everything you need?”

“Yes, you know I know where everything is in this store. I am your best customer,” Steve said proudly. Mike rang up his order and said, “Thanks, Steve. See you in a couple of weeks. Have a great day!”

Mike’s blood was boiling. Yes he was a good customer, but he was so arrogant and had scared other customers out of the store in the past.

The Big Questions

  • What should Mike do to make sure Steve stops scaring off customers?
  • How can Mike handle know-it-all customers, in general, who act this way?
  • What can Mike do to get James back to the store to become a regular customer?
Shane S.
MILL CREEK, WA

Mike has a duty to ensure all customers feel respected and heard, and not be made to feel guilty about their food choices. Mike needs to tell Steve that while he values his business a great deal and thinks he’s feeding his dog a great diet, that doesn’t mean it’s the right diet for everyone. Just as Steve is entitled to choose how to feed his pet, other customers need to be granted the same courtesy, and that going forward Steve needs to keep his opinions to himself and not attempt to “educate” other customers. Any other customers like him should be informed the same, and future “violations” should result in them being asked to shop elsewhere, as it’s detrimental to Mike’s business. If Mike has James’ phone number, I’d suggest he call in three to five days to check in on Benny, apologize for Steve’s rudeness, offer to swap the food out if it’s not working, and let him know he has a “special treat” for Benny next time they come by.

Tori R.
SAN DIEGO, CA

This happens in our stores all the time. Raw feeders are excited to share their success stories. Many times it plants the seed for the other customer, but sometimes it is confusing for a new customer. Mike handled it perfectly. It’s important for a new customer to get comfortable and trust your advice before into jumping into raw. Plus, what does the new customer want to do and what works for their budget?

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Ramie G.
EVANSTON, IL

Ask James if he’d mind waiting a moment while you ring up Steve, thanking Steve for his input. If he feels he’s heard, he might leave happily with his purchase. Then you can apologize to James for the interruption, mention you appreciate how enthusiastic Steve is, so as to not insult another customer, and spend more time discussing the food options available, listening to James describe his ideal food. Don’t assume James isn’t interested in learning more about raw food and mention toppers, freeze-dried and supplements like raw goat milk. Emphasize that there are quality options at all price points in your store so anyone can feel good about their purchase, and when they are interested can move up in quality. It’s frustrating when a know-it-all interrupts you, but assume the best of intentions and you can keep both customers.

Michelle M.
OSPREY, FL

I probably would have allowed James to voice his concerns about raw feeding instead of cutting off Steve. This may have presented an educational opportunity, too, if Benny did indeed have allergies. I know Mike was trying to do damage control, but sometimes customers can plant seeds in each other’s minds. I would have also mentioned that there are a variety of ways to feed and that while raw feeding isn’t for everyone, it may be something to consider in the future. I probably also would not have pushed signing up for a reward program at that moment… too much else going on in James’ head. I’m not sure I would have brought up anything to Steve. I suppose it would depend on whether I had a chance to do so politely or not.

Debbie B.
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO

Most clients want to know that YOU know what’s really happening with food. As the owner or manager, you would be well served to have a certification of some sort that was displayed and shared with your new client. This will make what you say credible and will help reassure all clients that you are a knowledgeable expert. Food discussions are always welcome, and letting each know that different folks have different goals in food types when serving their pets, especially pets new to the family. Trust is the key to long-term commitment of your clients. You become educated, informed and valuable to your clients by doing those simple things.

Brett F.
OWEGO, NY

Mike needs to pull Steve aside and tell him to leave his personal crusade at home. While he appreciates Steve business, no single customer should carry so much weight that you can’t survive without them. He needs to inform Steve that he’s entitled to his opinions, but that he must not under any circumstances push them on any customers in the store. Remind him that all customers are his best customers. I don’t know how to get Jerry back if you haven’t gotten any contact info, but if there is you can call or email and apologize, offer an incentive and invite back. That’s all you can do. Know-it-all customers are part of the deal when you own any business. They tend to be outspoken and pushy. The key is reminding them that you appreciate them, but don’t need them if they decide to push an agenda on other customers. Raw is not for everyone. Go back to your own Facebook or other social media and preach all day. Just not here.

Wendy M.
EMERALD ISLE, NC

First I would acknowledge Steve’s enthusiasm for the subject. Some people just need to be heard. Schedule a time when you can sit down with him and spend time listening to what his opinions are. If he is one of your best customers, then that will be time well spent. He may have some knowledge that others might find useful. If so, try to channel his willingness to share that knowledge in a more effective way. Maybe you can host a class and have him be the guest speaker. Or, in the time of Covid, you can have him do a video presentation (pre-recorded, of course!). It boils down to Steve needing his ego stroked. We are in the business of meeting people’s reasonable needs, and if you can find a way to do that with Steve, you’ll likely have a lifetime fan.

Stephanie S.
AMARILLO, TX

As soon as the customer made the comment about the food causing diarrhea, I would have chimed in with, “Yes, it’s very true a dog can get diarrhea from a food if we don’t switch over at a reasonable rate. Based on the conversation I had before you came in, we feel this is a good starting point for his dog with allergies. We do appreciate you expressing your opinion, and we are glad that you have knowledge and experience feeding your dogs what is best for them, but all dogs are different, just like people. Keto works for some, and carbs work for others.” I would then have given the new customer an additional small gift and coupon for future purchases and asked him to call the store in three to four days to give us an update on the food switch.

Adrian A.
COCONUT CREEK, FL

I would let Steve say his piece because the goal is to get customers to raw, so his comment will help in the long-run. Plus, we set it up so everyone wins. To save the interaction with Mike, I always teach my team to control the convo and build rapport and trust by delivering pertinent info and doing it primarily through stories. So I would say, “James, just so you know, Steve has been feeding raw for years, and his pup has benefited greatly from it. Our hope is to reach a point where your dog can benefit from raw feeding, too. We will give you some freeze-dried raw samples to use as a topper once we get your dog’s health inline. However, in our experience, we should start with another plan. Don’t mind Steve. He is just passionate about his dog’s health. We love it. So this is what we recommend.”

Holly L.
HYANNIS, MA

I’ve had this happen a few times, and I’m always flabbergasted. I never handle it correctly in the moment, it seems. I’d like to think having a rational but private conversation with Steve at some point about how Mike appreciates his enthusiasm but he can’t afford to have him undermining his recommendations, and how he needs every customer he can get in these uncertain times would remedy the situation. Sometimes people don’t know they’re being the opposite of helpful.

April M.
CRESTVIEW, FL

I would say, “I agree with Mike that raw feeding is the best for most dogs, however, James asked me for kibble. I prefer to transition dogs and customers on a much slower basis. I’m sure, Mike, that James and I will have a future conversation about raw feeding. Or adding toppers. A few dogs I’ve worked with haven’t adjusted right away to an entirely new way of eating. By the way, James, I’d like you to do a taste test with your dog first. Let me provide you with some samples, and let the dog decide which one he likes. When you narrow down to which one he likes, come back and let me know. This will be fun for you and the dog. All of the foods I carry are nutritious, wholesome and delicious to most dogs, but if he doesn’t like any of them, come back and we will try more.”

Yani W.
SEATTLE, WA

Looking at Steve: “Raw feeding is great…” Then turning to James: “…but let’s get your new pup stable in your home and with a comfortable diet, and if down the road you want to learn more about raw feeding, I’d be happy to tell you all about it!” Looking back at Steve with a smile: “Baby steps!” We have had this happen from both sides, kibble shaming and raw food shaming. I have a stock response for the “no it all,” misspelled on purpose: “Thanks for your opinion. We are helping Mrs. Johnson make informed choices for her pets! Is there anything else I can help you with?” We are blessed with clients that will support a client’s purchase by saying things like, “We love that product! Our pets do great on it!” Or we say “Mary here had a similar situation and had great results with XYZ!” We love having clients support other clients! Call, mail or email the discouraged client to come back in, and invite them to voice any and all concerns they may have over the interaction they had with “no it all.”

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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