Customer Experience

Small-Business Owners Who Aren't Experts in Their Fields Will End Up Paying a Hefty Price

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While doing a little afternoon shopping on a recent weekend, I stepped into an independent retailer who specializes in tabletop wares -- fine china, cutlery, and all the accessories you need to make your home dining table fabulous -- especially when you have friends and family over. While I’m not a cook, I am definitely into table decoration. Tabletop is my thing and it should beautifully compliment the food you have prepared. The dishes should work with the dishes, if you follow me.

Long story short, I fell in love with a china pattern that I just had to have. The holidays are coming and we do a lot of entertaining so I could already start to picture how I would incorporate this new pattern into some festive combinations for the dining-room table.

Related: The 2-Step Process for Excellent Customer Service

It was love at first sight, and I wanted to buy a set, but of course in a specialty place like this I had to check the price first. I was prepared to be disappointed with it being out of my price range but I received a different level of disappointment that caught me by surprise, particularly in a specialty shop like this.

The sales associate couldn’t tell me the price!

She went through notebook after notebook, and even searched the store’s website. She couldn’t find the price -- not even a ballpark price! Nor could she tell me if the pattern was dishwasher safe, the origin of the manufacturer or if the quality would stand the test of time. She said that the owner was away and she really couldn’t get in touch with her.

Odd, given that I’m standing in a retailer that specializes in tabletop. Odd that the sales associate wouldn’t be prepared with basic information to make a sale. Odd that here is a willing customer and no way to fulfill a need.

Worse yet, she let me walk out of the store without any follow up. She didn’t offer to research it for me, call me back or do anything to help close the sale. I probably could have been convinced to be patient and wait for the information in a day or two, but she offered me no such option.

All she could say was that she didn’t know. Shocking.

Related: 4 Ways to Look Like an Expert When You're Just Starting Out

This experience got me thinking. Aren’t there some minimum requirements that a small-business owner should meet in order to stay in business? If you’re going to claim expertise in a field, shouldn’t you be able to meet the minimum requirements of such a field?

Like in the case of retail products, basic information on pricing, ingredients, specifications and proper care of the line you’re selling would seem like basic minimum requirements to know and be able to communicate. In fact, I would think that a small-business owner would be able to go far beyond the minimum requirements to compete and differentiate from big-brand competition, where the basics often are not met.

Shouldn’t a small-business owner be an expert in their field, being able to answer questions even beyond the basic minimum requirements?

Said differently, what’s the price when you can’t help your customers? What’s the price of not meeting the minimum requirements?

In my case, it was a lost sale and a lost customer. Why would I go back? Even worse, I’ve told many people about my bad experience.

That’s a hefty price to pay.

Note to self: Train your employees to act on your behalf while you are away!

Related: Right or Wrong, You're Not Going to Win the Argument With the Customer