It was a gorgeous day in the medieval port city of Bonafacio on the French island of Corsica. The sun was warm on our backs as we wandered aimless and happy through the maze of tiny cobblestone streets in the ancient hill town. I was feeling so blessed and grateful that I couldn't have been more disposed to spending some money if I had had $1,000 in my pocket. I was the perfect customer. When I saw the cute little shop filled with amazing Corsica inspired clothing, I rushed in to pick out some gifts for my plethora of nieces and nephews back in the US. The clothes all looked gorgeous, folded up neatly and lying in stacks on the rows of shelves from floor to ceiling. I saw a dress that would be lovely on my twin nieces and I reached out to unfold it to have a better look.
There, on the stack of dresses was a hand-written sign in 3 languages:
"Do not touch! Do not unfold the clothing!"
What? I looked around the shop and there was that same little hand-written sign on top of every stack of clothes. I looked at the shop owner. She had followed us in to the store from the street and was hovering anxiously over our shoulders.
I turned around... and walked out.
Even though I was eager to buy gifts. Even though I was eager to spend my money. Even though she had a customer in the palm of her hand.
She lost me.
I am a huge supporter of relationship selling. In relationship selling we spend a lot of time showing our customer why they can trust us. If your customers do not trust you, they will never buy from you. But this relationship goes both ways. Mutual trust is essential for the relationship to work.
In Italy, at the market or at a fruit stand, I can't select my own fruit. I have to tell the owner what I want and he puts on plastic gloves and picks it out for me. He makes a big show of how the fruit is "untouched" so therefore you can trust that his fruit is the best fruit there is.
(Note - The plastic glove thing makes no sense - you can wash fruit when you get it home but you can't wash the foccacia that they pick up with their bare hands and rip chunks off for you.)
"Don't touch the fruit" is a hard and fast rule. I once got a harsh verbal hand-slap from a stall owner in the market for picking up a nectarine. It will come as no surprise that every piece of fruit a stall owner picked was either over-ripe or bruised. Whereas every piece I picked out myself in the supermarket was fine. It doesn't take Sherlock to figure out that the "no touching" rule is all a big ruse supporting the fruit stand union's "no fruit left behind" campaign.
The point is, campaign or no, I don't boycott the market/fruit shop because I am concerned about the quality of the fruit. I boycott the market/fruit shop because they make me feel like they don't trust me. They make me feel as though they believe I am going to ruin their fruit by selecting the product that I am about to pay for.
So… do you trust your customers? Or do you have policies in place that make your customers believe that you don't trust them? Take a close look at policies implemented to save on costs at the expense of mutual trust. Whatever you are saving… it's not worth it.
We sell flat-packed doll furniture from our store. It is very easy to put together but some people just aren't good at putting things together - and they break it. As soon as they break it they call us and tell us one of the following… it arrived broken, it was missing a piece, it is defective. They know that if they broke the furniture during assembly we have no legal obligation to help them. We could save a lot of money if we challenged them by asking for returns or photos. But, we always trust that their problem was the one they told us it was, and we go out of our way to fix it.
Yes, the Corsica shop owner saves herself some time and bother by having her little signs. Yes, the fruit stand owners get rid of some of their bad fruit with their "no touching" policy. Yes, we could save money by questioning every customer about the true reason for their furniture problem. But, in all of these cases we are showing the customer that we don't trust them.
And we all know that relationships with trust issues just don't work out.
*Photo by me - Mark on the ancient bridge to the old town of Bonafacio.