Knowledge is power, knowing how to use it is priceless

In customer service circles, we talk a lot about knowledge. As a service provider, having the knowledge of what to do, how to do it and the background information to help the consumer make the right choice is paramount.

Also knowing when to back off can be a useful talent.

A few weeks ago, Linda and I went to Colonial Photo & Hobby, a local specialty photo shop where we have gotten great service and great products in the past. I would almost describe CP&H as old fashioned or a throwback, but in the best possible way… when you walk in the store there are numerous people waiting to help, and they are experts in their field. They have knowledge to spare and are willing to share it.

We were lucky enough that day to be helped by Ken Pepper. We were either looking for a new camera, or needed information about our current camera to take better pictures. Ken listened, asked insightful questions, made suggestions, let us try different cameras, explained various features and taught us more than a few things that would help our picture taking efforts. It was everything you could want from a service interaction.

But Ken is not the reason for the post. Not the entire reason, anyway.

There was another employee nearby who did not have a customer to help, so they decided to “help” Ken and us. As Ken was making a suggestion, the other employee would interrupt, make a different suggestion, and basically tell Ken how to do his job. It was annoying and insulting at the same time. Ken handled it like a pro, though.  He patiently listened to their suggestions and went ahead with his own agenda anyway.

Luckily, another customer was in need of help, so the other employee left and we were able to be helped by Ken, unencumbered by other influences.

The other employee probably had the knowledge to help us, but their approach, when we were already being helped by Ken, was overbearing and out of place.

So where did this come from? Why would this employee feel the need to power-in on Ken’s interaction?

  • Maybe they had a problem with Ken. (Hard to believe as easygoing and patient as Ken is, but it’s possible.) Maybe they had some sort of issue in the past and this employee didn’t think too highly of Ken’s suggestions or his ability to make the sale.
  • Maybe there is a self esteem issue. The amount of experience in this store is incredible, and maybe this person feels the need to prove their worth any chance they get, and maybe Ken is an easy target because of this low-key demeanor.
  • Maybe they just can’t help themselves. Some personality styles prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. Maybe this employee hasn’t developed the self awareness and control to use their knowledge at appropriate times and situations.

The impacts here are two-fold (at least).  First, if this had gone on much longer it would have really soured our experience as consumers. (It obviously stuck with me enough that I am writing about it, but it did not tip the scales away from doing business with CP&H in the future.)  Secondly, if Ken continues to be the target of this type of undercutting, it could lead to animosity and tension among the staff, which has a funny way of rearing it’s ugly head when customers happen to be around. Either way, it’s not good for business.

You’ve probably never heard me say, “discourage your staff from providing service and information”, but in this case it’s more important to know WHEN and HOW to provide it.

So HOW would you handle this?  WHEN would you step in if you saw this happening?

Thanks for reading!


Post script: In the end, did we buy a new camera?  No. Ken taught us enough about our current camera that we were able to take the type of pictures we wanted. Because of his great service, though, the next time we DO need a camera (or anything CP&H sells), we’re going to see Ken!

4 thoughts on “Knowledge is power, knowing how to use it is priceless

  1. Interesting scenario and perspective, and an issue we don’t normally see as a problem. Sometimes too much self confidence can lead to (perceived) arrogance and as a result lead to overbearing service, resulting in the negative consequences you described.

    Of course this could be nipped in the butt during training, emphasizing the proper ways to use knowledge as power while also balancing humility simultaneously.

    My question for you, Matt, is as a consumer, would you notify the business and identify this as a service failure? Would you recommend others to do that?

    • Josh,

      Thanks for posing yet another possibility for this behavior – always appreciate your perspective!

      In terms of notifying the business, I did not. While this was an annoyance that made me think a whole lot about why it happened, (and thus write about it) it didn’t get to the point where I felt it was a service failure. It was more of a curiosity regarding human behavior. I walked away from the experience more knowledgeable than I had been and also thankful that I didn’t have to spend a fortune on a new camera, so I was actually very happy overall. This wouldn’t stop me from shopping there again.

      If there were a situation where I felt I had been mistreated, or something had been misrepresented, I would definitely bring it to their attention – and have. Just recently, my wife and I were told by Sears that a part for our refrigerator wouldn’t be available until January 2014. (We had already been dealing with an issue since April – mostly compounded by stuff that was broken by their service techs). I made my displeasure known and they decided to replace the fridge because ours was unrepairable (at least in a timely fashion)!

      My wife will also tell you that I am a firm believer in communicating with my wallet. As consumers, we have the ultimate power to give a business our money or not. There are times I feel like I am making enough of a statement by never giving them any money again.

  2. As a young salesman, I was the unnamed employee. Yes, I was (still am) smarter than everyone else. No, I did not understand my “role”on the team. And I was more than a jerk, at times. I didn’t really get it until I remembered what my 1st grade teacher, Sister G, told me about being smart, Jim, everyone brings a different set of strengths to the class. Listen to the other children and you may learn how to play kickball better.” She was right. I helped other children with math and they helped me be a much better player in sports. We are all blessed differently. Thanks Sister G! And thank you for reminding me of that lesson.

    • Great lesson, Jim! And interesting that so much that can impact our business lives was taught to us early on (or at least the attempt was made!).

      So if this employee didn’t have the wisdom of Sister G to fall back on, what do you think would make him/her realize this isn’t the best approach?

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