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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

How to handle He Who Seeks Free Knowledge?

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 6:00 PM

I had a pretty typical experience of becoming the World Wide Web showroom a few days ago. I got a phone call that starts off, “I got my bill in the mail. You said it would be $60, and it was $75.”

I want to say, “Hey! You're talking to me all wrong… It's the wrong tone. You do it again and I'll stab you in the face with a soldering iron. Hey, tell me, does your mother sew? BOOM! Get her to sew that!” (Sadly, I think that would only A) sound cool when it is being spoken by Christoper Walken and B) probably just ensure some kind of restraining order and maybe even an assault charge.) Instead, I look through the worksheet from his job and explain that it is $60 an HOUR and that my guy was there for 1.25 hours.

From the tense pause and labored breathing sounds on his end, I can tell that this is giving my man some serious kind of AstraZeneca type fit, so I say, “Fine. Just send a check for $60 and I’ll take care of it.” Really. It’s fifteen frickin’ bucks. Not that big of a deal. I think we’ll manage to stay in business without it and it’s definitely not worth getting all bent out of shape over.

So then after his blood pressure has retreated back into the yellow-zone, he says that while my installer was there – for DEFINITELY no more than one single hour, mind you! – that he went over and discussed several options for upgrading his TV and his receiver. So, my man has been doing some research. Essentially he took all of my installer’s suggestions and then went on line and found the models that he had told him about and – instead of reading about specs or anything – just found the lowest prices he could in the “will ship to US” world. Now he’s wondering if we will match the prices he’s found all over the Interwebs.

Now I’m the one with the agita.

You see, my employee was driving a van that costs me in gas and insurance, on top of him costing me a decent clip per hour along with taxes and insurance and the training I have provided over the past 5 years of his employment.  Total cost of time and training required by the Interwebs to deliver an unmatchable price? Zero.

I tell him that we (begrudgingly) match local pricing from authorized brick-and-mortar – ie: Best Buy – retailers, but not the on-line retailers. Who provide no service or support short of “press click to order” and then having a box show up on your front porch.  I could go on about non-authorized dealers, shady practices (and by shady I mean things like we just bought a bulb from an on-line bulb supplier; the store showed 10 of them in stock, but after they processed the order, they said they didn’t have the bulb to ship and it would be at least a month before they did. I would call that “shady.") and whatnot, but since this guy has already panicked over a $15 charge, I’m pretty sure that it is all going to be so much wasted breath. I can tell that when I said, “No” that he pretty much checked out of the rest and was just in the politely listening phase of our conversation. Probably while Googling pricing.

So then he wants me to start going over the TV and receivers that he has found on line. Giving him the pros and cons of the different models and explaining the technology and comparing them to each other. And I’m thinking, “Really? You’ve all but told me that you’re not going to buy from me, but now you actually want me to HELP YOU in choosing the product to buy elsewhere? Really? Is that what’s happening? Can I help find you the bestest price too? And actually recommend the place where you should buy it? And maybe I can just assist you in actually completing the transaction and arrange the delivery. Maybe I’ll even pop over on a weekend, you know, on my OWN time and help you hook it up for no charge. Cause that would only add to the awesome!”

Sadly, this is not that uncommon an occurrence. In fact, this suckling at the teat of my knowledge is happening more and more, and I’m not really sure how to combat it. As I see it, there are really just a couple of options.

Option 1

Be a total jerk. This is not really as difficult as it may seem, and it has the upside of bringing a quick and certain close to the encounter. In this option I just say, “Look, I’m not in the business of educating people so they can go and buy things elsewhere. If you want to buy something from me, then great; I’ll give you a terrific amount of service and support and answer any question you want and discuss all the technological pros and cons until your head swells and oozes with over information. Otherwise, go do your own research, look up your own comparisons and then I hope the box arrives punched full of holes and dripping with infected needles and medical waste.” While immensely satisfying in the short term, that option *pretty much* GUARANTEES that they won’t buy from me.  Now or ever. And probably won’t be giving out any glowing recs to their friends. And despite what some of the blogs may lead you to believe, I’m not looking for the complete self-immolation destruction…yet. (While there are probably some callous-handed, iron-gripped, straight-shootin'-son-of-a-gun, real-men out there that would say, "Son, I respect your honesty. Respect the crap out of it. Now, come shake my hand and lets us get down to some business" out there, but I'm guessing he has mostly gone the way of John Wayne at this point. And, to my knowledge, John Wayne never had Internet access either.)

Option 2

Use reasoning and logic to try and win them over. This is the middle road of explaining all that we do and all the service and support that we offer and how saving a few bucks now can really cost you down the road (see the Mercedes guy from days ago) and that what might cost a couple of bucks up front is going to be insignificant when valued against the years of on-going support and blah, blah. That’s the kind of thing you can do in person. On the phone it’s a much tougher sell. (Also, please don’t forget Exhibit A; his complaint about the extra $15.) And with a TV and a receiver, that probably won’t require a lot of support. Even still this option eventually backs you into a corner where at some point, you are going to be right back at square 1 – “OK, that all sounds great. So, between Model X and Model Y, which one should I get and why?” – and be presented with the black-and-white issue of: Do I answer this guy’s questions and give him the information he wants, thereby ALSO equipping him to buy elsewhere yet trust/believe/hope that he won’t, or don’t I? And, that’s a toughie. Resistant, unhelpful and borderline confrontational, or possible unwitting rube. Neither is the best outcome. Heads you win, tails I lose. And I *hate* to lose.

Option 3

Hate the game not the player. Just give in and give them the information they want and then hope for the best. This one looks for the kitten-pooping-rainbows in even the most dreadful of situations. An is also the most soul-killing to me, because it requires some actual work on my part – the looking up for the comparing and the explaining and the whatnot – and then just hoping for the best. And in many – MANY – recent experiences, I’ve found that people rarely if ever have that big light bulb moment of, “Wow! You were SO helpful! And knowledgeable! Thank you SO much! I have definitely repented from my evil, soulless Internet shopping ways and will buy everything from you from now on!” Rather they just happily take this information and then run out to run out and Google “Cheapest price in the entire world for Item XXX” and then buy it at lowest price + free shipping.  The “best” (quotes around it cause it really isn’t that good, let alone best) that can usually be hoped for from this encounter is that they *might* call you to install it for them. Then you get to come by and try and clean up the scraps. And talk about swallowing a giant, dead and rotten chunk of your pride. “Oh. Wow. I see that you ended buying exactly what we talked about. I’m just so thrilled that I’m able to come now and hook it all up for you! That’s just so outstanding for me! Just, you know, really glad to be able to be involved in your project in any way. You know, cause I’m so pathetic and lacking in self-respect and what not.” Fortunately, most of these people never call because they realize that doing so is just a giant slap in the face of modern decorum. I try and draw comfort from the fact that they probably hooked it up all wrong, are listening in analog with incorrect bass management and probably at least one channel out of phase. Granted, it’s not much, but that and scotch are getting me through.  

Option 4

Try and reason with them a bit. The old, “Put yourself in my shoes” kind of logic dance. “I’m in the business to sell things, not give out free advice,” you can say. “I want to help you, I really do, but my knowledge is my commodity, and if I give it away, I’m no better than a ten-cent whore.” Well, that might need some polish, but feel free to put your own spin on the exact verbiage. But what you lead up to is that part where you hedge your bets by asking for a “consultation fee.” Knowledge is power, and once you’ve given that away, well then you’re no better than that ten… Well, you’re out of power. But, you can soften the blow by explaining that you provide support for all of your CUSTOMERS and that your consult fee is fully applied towards the purchase of gear (within a reasonable, tick-tock, click is running, amount of time). “Look, for $X, I’ll be happy to talk to you about the different options available. If you decide to buy from me, I’ll apply that money to the purchase. If you decide to buy it elsewhere, you can know that you invested in making a smart purchase decision. And, I can hear you forming this thought inside of your mind; I can literally hearing it crying out in the brain-cell molecular level, so I’m going to just go ahead and answer it. NO, you cannot apply this money to me installing a piece that you go and buy elsewhere. No and double no.” While this sounds totally logical and reasonabl and fair to all parties involved, in practice, I’ve found that it has pretty much the same result as Option 1. And without the short term satisfaction. It often produces an awkward silence followed by the (non)customer saying, “You want…to*charge* me…to tell me..what equipment…I should buy?” This statement is uttered in absolute astonishment and is ripe and heavy with disbelief and is filled with dramatic pauses and emotion that would make The Shat weep in appreciation.

Option 5…

Sadly, I’m not sure what Option 5 is. Exactly what is the best way to handle these people? Tell them in the most straight faced, no-nonsense voice, “Look, you KNOW how disingenuous it is to just ask me for advice while you are fully planning to buy this elsewhere. You DO know that, right?” And then glare deep and hard into their eyes, unblinking, unflinching, looking for any speck or glimmer of dishonesty or untrustworthiness, holding that fierce squinting stare for a full, slow, ticking minute before saying breaking into a giant smile and then saying in the most chipper voice you can muster, “OK, great! Then how can I help you today?”

Categories: August 2011, CTA, Rants

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