Dealing With “That Customer”

Here’s how to turn unpleasant interactions into satisfied customers.

Dealing With “That Customer”

If you have worked in retail, you have undoubtedly had a run in with a customer who is more than just upset — they are downright fiery. Having worked in mom-and-pop sporting goods for 10 years dealing with everything from leaking boots to broken compound bow limbs, I can feel your pain. While sometimes the best medicine is to just smile and take it in stride, quick thinking and a change of course can go a long way to not only remedying the situation, but also gaining a loyal customer. 

The Broken Scope

Working in gun sales in Pennsylvania, the days leading up to deer season can be downright crazy. From customers wanting to bore-sight their rifle, after dark, the day before the opener, to customers needing a box of ammunition when they are an hour away and the store closes in 10 minutes, it requires a lot of patience to get through the day.

One such memorable interaction occurred with a customer who came into the store two days before the deer season opener. The customer had purchased his rifle and scope package online and was there to pick it up. While we were waiting for the background check to complete, he began loudly clamoring on about how he had saved a whopping 25 dollars purchasing it online, compared to our price. I ignored his comments and just smiled as I finished the paperwork. When completed, he asked to have the scope mounted and bore sighted, so we moved to the optics mounting bench. After looking over the in-stock options for rings/bases and finding out we didn’t have what he wanted, we settled on a different setup, despite his displeasure with the selection. After all, who knew we would be out of 700 Leupold bases two days before the opener… 

Before starting to mount up the scope, I informed him of the charges to mount and bore-sight. The expletives and unwarranted complaints started immediately. Apparently, when we had quoted him on the entire package, he forgot that we included mounting and bore-sighting for free, and now his online “deal” had cost him an extra 10 dollars. I kindly showed him the chart above the counter that said mounting and bore-sighting was free with purchase of scope, smiling a little inside.

In any event, he clearly had no other choice, and I had no time to discuss, as we were three deep at the counter. He finally succumbed to reality, with his ego tarnished but not hurt, and I began to mount the scope. When I attempted to bore-site the scope, the crosshairs simply were not tracking correctly, and while they got close, I couldn’t get them on-counter. While the entire situation could have led me to just turn it back over to him and either tell him it was good to go and move on or throw my hands up and tell him there was nothing I could do for him, instead, I picked up the phone and made a call. 

On the other end, a customer service agent for the scope company picked up, and I explained the situation, urgency of need, and just how good of a customer he was (intentionally saying it loud enough so that he heard). I wrote down an RA number, hung up the phone and then walked to our scope case. After selecting his identical model, I walked back and began opening the box. He looked at me, perplexed, and asked what I was doing. I explained to him that his scope was faulty and that he needed a new one. He again erupted with “I am not paying for a new scope” just as I cut him off to inform him what I was going to do. I was replacing his faulty scope with a new one off of our shelf, at no charge, and informed him the scope manufacturer agreed to replace his with a new one after I sent his back at my shipping cost. At once, his red face lightened, and he actually smiled and thanked me, stating how much he appreciated it and how we didn’t have to do that. Quickly thinking, I said that customer service is what you pay for here, and next time, consider us when buying a gun. Over the next three or four years I sold him many more, and he never once haggled on price. 

The Turning Peep

If you have ever set up a bow, you know the pain of aligning a tubeless peep sight on a stretching string. One day in October after dark and minutes before close, a camo-clad customer rushed through the door like he was out for blood. “You screwed up my peep sight and I missed a shot on a doe!” he exclaimed. After explaining to him that A, it wasn’t me and B, I was still sorry, I examined the bow and discussed the issue. As other employees started bolting and shutting off the lights, I told them to lock the door when they left and leave the lights on. The customer was now calm-ish and asked if he needed to come back tomorrow. “Absolutely not — we are fixing this now and we’re going to shoot it before you leave,” I explained. 

After extracting the info that he hadn’t shot the bow in two weeks (lovely, I know) I explained to him that peeps can turn as a new string stretches and he should always monitor his equipment. I then adjusted the peep and set up a target, in the store mind you, to shoot. After making sure he was all set, he asked me how much he owed. After all, bow work isn’t free, and we had spent the last hour together — but I told him no charge. He tried to hand me some cash and I refused. Two weeks later, he brought in his buck to show me, and the next summer, he searched me out to tune and set up his bow. Had I not helped him last October, maybe he would have been shopping somewhere else.

The Gun Purchase Wait List

Nothing is more deflating to a shopper than excitedly bringing a gun to the counter only to be effectively wait-listed during background check. One such customer took it to the next level by first getting angry and then telling me he had never had this happen before, had just bought a gun last week somewhere else, questioned if I had screwed something up, and finally stated he wasn’t going to go someplace else. After I took the rant and displeasure with a smile, I asked him to look over the form. After delicately extracting more info from him, I found out he hadn’t really bought a gun from any store since the new check system was put in place. Armed with that information, I calmly explained to him how the process works and how it isn’t perfect, and I gave him some words of encouragement about how he was probably an upstanding citizen and would hear back tomorrow. He put down a deposit and two days later picked up his new rifle with a smile, picking out a second gun from the handgun case while I called in to retrieve his approval number. 

The Jamming 1911

A great customer I had dealt with many times returned to the store to send back his new 1911 that was jamming. After hearing the situation, it sounded plausible, so I obtained an RA and sent it back. Three weeks later, he picked it up, only to return a day later irate, stating that it is still jamming with all types of ammo. Before sending it back again, I asked if we could take it to the range so I could test fire it. (We had a range on-site.) 

After grabbing a box of the cheapies we used to test-fire used firearms, I walked down to the range and unloaded the entire magazine without a single jam. After explaining to him perhaps it was beginner’s luck, I filled the magazine with his rounds and drained it again. 

Mind you, this person was 30 years my senior and an avid cowboy action shooter. With that in mind, I tried to approach the subject about his shooting form (limp-wristing) carefully. This was a no-win situation for me, and it didn’t go over well. After hearing his life story about how he had shot more than me, how I didn’t know what I was talking about, and how this $1,000 1911 was a piece of junk, I offered to send it back again, but he refused. Obviously, at this point, I was in a pickle I had no intention of getting into with him. After he calmed down and I apologized for suggesting it, I offered to let him shoot it to see if we could figure it out. He did, it jammed, and he aggressively and probably jokingly asked me how to hold it. I showed him, he drained the mag, loaded another, and drained it, too. Still slightly heated, he packed it up, thanked me, and left. A month later, he was back buying a sub-size companion to the 1911 in question. 

Lifetime Warranties

People love to read the words “lifetime warranty” on a product, but they often fail to read the fine print. That always puts retailers in between a real rock and a hard place when said product fails. One such memorable occurrence from my retail days was when a customer wanted to exchange a product that was obviously five years old the day before bear season. Being an outdoorsman, I understood that when things go wrong, it can be to detrimental to an outing, but as a retail salesperson, I also understood how business works. 

In this instance, the customer started out cordial, but when informed that I couldn’t simply exchange the product, he got visibly upset at the situation. Mind you, it was obvious that it wasn’t normal wear and tear that had occurred — it was negligence and construction/concrete use that had caused the damage. After nicely attempting to explain to him that I did not have the same model in stock and that I wasn’t a warranty center, he threatened to never shop “here” again and that he was going to the big-box store. 

As he was leaving but before he got to the door, I told him to hold on, and he stopped. I picked up the phone and called the box store that was better suited to deal with these returns. I asked if they had said product in stock and the correct size, and I asked them to hold them. After informing him of the situation, he smiled (sort of) and left. A week later, I saw him back in the store buying ammunition and targets. While he could have just went to the big-box store, he came back to us. Maybe it was the phone call, maybe not, but he was still a customer. 

While some customers will never be satisfied and are downright miserable human beings, a little extra effort can turn a no-sale into a lifetime of future purchases. Lemonade from lemons, or something like that. 


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