by Paul Laville

Here’s a question for you:

You’re out shopping. You’re in a high street and it starts to rain. You haven’t got a brolly so the only way to stay dry is to dive into a nearby shop. A quick look around reveals three shiny shops all within equal distance. These are:

1. A shop full of baby clothes

2. A hi fi shop

3. A shoe shop

Which one would you run into just to keep the rain off?

Ok, so why would you choose that shop over the others?

Let’s say you take the hi fi shop. You don’t really need a hi fi, and you’re not looking to buy. Not today anyway. But the rain’s really coming down and if you don’t move now you’ll literally dissolve.

It’s possible that the choice was random, but with all shops being equal in distance there’s a greater chance that you made the decision because you sort of like hi fi and would rather dry off looking at something interesting to you. I mean, who wants to spend five or ten minutes pretending to browse baby clothes when you don’t have a baby? The store manager might look at you and call the police.

But a hi fi shop… yeah. You’ve messed around with hi fi before and we all listen to music. It’s not a bad thing to browse whilst you wait out the rain. See what they’ve got, check out their prices and see what’s new. Better than standing outside getting a soaking.

What happens next?

Here’s a true story.

In a previous life I was an account manager, a ‘rep’ for a well-known audio brand, and there was this time I was visiting a hi fi shop in my area, sitting down with the manager at the desk, talking through our new separates. A part-time guy who worked in the shop was there too, standing behind the manager’s shoulder, looking at the awesome new stuff I was convincing them to list. There was no one else in the store.

Until somebody walked in off the street. Soaking wet. Literally showering water onto the carpet. It was raining outside and dark as the apocalypse.

At which point I stopped talking, thinking that either the part-time guy or the manager would want to go speak to this potential new customer. Or get him a towel. But they didn’t. Instead there was a prolonged silence during which the manager and his part-timer looked everywhere except at this wet guy off the street; it was as though he inhabited a space ‘where no one dared to look’.

This guy wasn’t the first person I’d seen in a hi fi shop looking like a fish out of water (literally in his case). It was clear to me he wanted someone to talk to and was struggling either to find the words or the courage. Eventually the store manager, without moving from his seat, barked out, “Can we help you there, sir?”

The guy looked like he’d just been punched. He shook his head and left.

“Bloody timewasters,” the manager swore. Part-time guy agreed.

Back to this in a minute. Keep it in mind.

One of the most successful parts of our Clarity customer experience training is when we task trainees to look at ‘the customer journey’ and consider every step somebody makes before, during and after a purchase. Every single time during this exercise, without fail, our trainees conclude that not only is every journey different but it’s also that getting customers in through the door is hard and expensive work.

Just consider it: How do people decide what they need? Where do they look to figure it out? The Clarity training flipchart fills up with suggestions - internet research, comparisons, manufacturer’s websites, recommendations, reviews from experts and other customers, print magazines and so on. And once someone has decided what they want they have to figure out the best place to buy it from.

This is where retailers step in with their marketing drives, advertising their offers, promotions, exclusives and – going further – their expertise, their extensive working knowledge and familiarity with products and technology trends beyond the realm of ordinary mortals. Many retailers go further, saying they’ll ‘go the extra mile’ and proudly announce that they put their customers first. Because that’s what makes the difference. Quite right too. But all that exposure costs retailers time and money, and it’s difficult because every other retailer is also out there fighting for hits, views, shares and likes. All of them shouting as loud as they can in a sea of almost overwhelming noise.

Oh yes. Trying to convince customers to make the journey to one single store in a fiercely competitive, noisy market is a massive undertaking.

But it works. People are influenced by what they see and hear, to such extent that when it pours down with rain and there’s a choice of three shops to go and dry off in, they’ll choose the one which they’re drawn to, even if the decision is made subconsciously.

So when a store manager, or whoever it might be, dismisses someone who walks in off the street as a “bloody timewaster”, marketing people will hide their heads in shame, because the purpose of everything they’ve been working hard on has been defeated. Crushed. Rendered pointless and worthless. Worse, there may be unseen repercussions. That guy in the hi fi shop, dripping with rainwater, may have told his mates what happened and perhaps he told them not to bother, and maybe one of those mates was looking to scope out a brand new home cinema room and spend thousands.

Thankfully this sort of thing is the exception rather than the rule, and it wouldn’t happen in a Clarity Trusted Member’s shop.

Clarity Trusted Members understand that trying to figure out the complexity of hi fi, where preferences are personal and unique, can be difficult, especially if you’re new to the wonders of quality hi fi. They will go out of their way to help you, to inspire you and show you how listening to the music you love through the right kit can touch you on an emotional level you didn’t even know was there. They really do go the extra mile and they really do put their customers first.

It's partly through excellent training, but it’s also about our approach to what we do and what we stand for: which is ‘clarity’, cutting through the noise and the jargon, putting ourselves in their customers’ shoes so that we can try and understand exactly where each and every customer comes from and what kind of experience they want from their hi fi. It’s about applying expertise without making assumptions, or showing off, or forcing our opinions on you. It’s about getting to know you before we start recommending what we’re certain you’ll like. To a Clarity Trusted Member there’s no such thing as a timewaster. Whether you want to learn more before making a decision, listen to the differences between different brands and kit, price up a project or just step in out of the rain, everyone who takes the time out to visit one of our Trusted Members’ stores will be welcomed, whoever you are, wherever you come from and whatever you want from your hi fi.

Needless to say, that hi fi retailer I mentioned earlier? They’re not a Clarity Trusted Member.