Author Topic: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?  (Read 2633 times)

crackerjack

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How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« on: September 21, 2018, 07:32:23 AM »
Hi all, first time poster here but a long time moustachian.  I've always been a saver and completely understand people's desire to keep costs down but feel like there's a line between being moustachian and taking advantage of other people, which sadly some people step over time and time again.  My current dilemma is how to deal with those people (tactfully!). 

Some background:  I have a hardware shop in a small town.  As a small business owner I always have a To Do list literally as long as my arm and it's usually just me in the shop, so time is money.  I've increasingly noticed lately that people are buying their big-ticket items on the internet and coming to my shop when they have problems, expecting us to help them for free in the name of customer service.  They might buy a couple of small items or an infrequent larger purchase, so I don't want to annoy them and just refuse to help. 

For example, they might buy a radio somewhere else and come into us for batteries for it and then ask us if we could just put the batteries in for them.  Then, of course, it escalates and they ask us to show them how to use it, and then if we can preset their favourite stations for them and oh, can I just go through the tuning again, and set the clock, etc etc, and suddenly I've spent 30 minutes giving them an in-depth customised tutorial on a product I haven't even sold.  Or they ask us to draw a diagram of how to wire something up so they don't have to book a home visit - essentially asking us to tell them how to do our job for free so they don't have to pay us. 

Just today I had a woman bring in a pile of batteries asking me to test them for her.  When I tactfully pointed out that we sell battery testers she said yes, but why buy one when she can just bring a bag into us every few weeks for us to test them for free?  She didn't even buy any batteries at the end of it.  I feel like I'm wasting an awful lot of time when I could be doing something more productive, and there's a point where being helpful in the name of customer service has to stop when people are just using us as a free handyman service.

 It's creating a lot of stress because all of this wastes so much of my time for minimal money that I'm running out of time to get other important things done.  However, it's a small town.  Rudeness doesn't go down well here, and even if I politely apologise and say I'm not able to do something, or I can't chat because I'm busy then people take offense and it hurts our reputation. 

So.  How do I deal with this politely, and without anyone taking offense?  Has anyone else had the same problem at work?  Are there any specific phrases or wording that works well?  Or any good books/websites/training resources to help us to discourage this sort of behaviour?
« Last Edit: September 21, 2018, 07:43:08 AM by crackerjack »

Freedomin5

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2018, 07:40:37 AM »
Can you charge a service fee for servicing products? And then waive the fee if the customer produces a receipt confirming that the product was purchased at your store.

Kind of like car dealerships that service cars for X fees, but if you bought the car from them then you can get Y months of servicing or a certain number of visits or certain services for free as an after-care package.

Mgmny

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2018, 07:48:12 AM »
Battery testing you are probably screwed on because you offer the service to try to sell more batteries to your customers.

I would simply refuse to work on items that you didn't sell someone. Say, "I'm sorry ma'am, but I can't help you with this item as I am not the original merchant. If you want to purchase that radio over there from me, I would love to help you preset all of your favorite stations, but I can't work on this one as we didn't sell it to you out of liability reasons."

crackerjack

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2018, 08:12:53 AM »
We do charge for servicing products, but the sorts of things we deal with are often so basic that we couldn't charge for them.  The 'Could you just show me where to plug this part in...? Thanks, now could you just show me.....?' kinds of questions that escalate from being a 2 second answer to a 20 minute plus tutorial.  It's difficult because we have a reputation for being helpful, which is essential to keeping our customers, but once we help someone with a quick answer it's like they then pull out the rest of the problems that they've stored up and settle in for the long haul.  It's increasingly difficult knowing how to tactfully draw a line and how to tell customers that we expect paying for our time past a certain point. 

For products that we haven't sold we do take a harder line these days, but we still get people bringing in something they've bought online and asking us how to put it together.  If we say we can't help with products we haven't sold about half of them get offended and say they've 'been a customer for years!' etc etc.  The older ones especially seem to think that buying a lightbulb off us ten years ago means unlimited customer service on any item, forever.  This is why we need suggestions for some tactful wording, although I feel like we've tried everything at this point!

DS

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2018, 08:40:31 AM »
Maybe some time of reward coupon based on how much they spend at the store that earns them advice time? And only when they spend a certain amount, like increments of $100. Just an idea.

GreenEggs

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2018, 08:47:39 AM »
Well,


Put up a large "Free Help Wanted" sign to help the customers who want too much "Free Help".


A little rude sign actually might help.  Another sign pointing out "the obvious" fact of how difficult it is to operate a brick & mortar store competing with the Big Box & the Online stores is always a nice little reminder to both your regulars that are proud & happy to support you, and also the cheap SOBs that are just "using" you.  There's no guilt in stating the facts.


From a business perspective you really need to firm up your profits from things that they can't get online.  Seasonal things like plants, and maybe a repair shop.


If you have the right mix of products, location, and personel it seems like a good hardware store can still do well.  But that's a tricky (and maybe a lucky) thing to accomplish.


Good luck,

Cranky

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2018, 09:26:21 AM »
Yarn stores typically deal with this by helping you for free with yarn and patterns purchased there,  it charging a teaching/lesson fee for materials bought elsewhere.

I think that could be adapted for a hardware store. And you can always refer people to YouTube when they want free help.

frugaliknowit

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2018, 09:39:20 AM »
Maybe when someone is trying to "pick your pocket" by wanting free advise/help with something they bought elsewhere, make your store phone or cell phone ring, say "excuse me" to the freeloader, then pretend you are on a phone call (with a "real customer").  Stay on the call until the freeloader leaves.

Frankies Girl

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2018, 09:47:59 AM »
I honestly wouldn't have a problem with someone saying politely but firmly NO to requests to do things on products you didn't sell. You have every right to post a simple policy that says "We do not provide service or consulting on any product without proof of purchase" if you do not want to waste time working on crap not purchased in store at all.

BUT you can and should likely do that, but charge a consultation fee every single time. Simple store policy: any item purchased in store will come with free consultation; items without proof of purchase will have a minimum service/consult fee. And then figure out how much you feel comfortable with charging. And stick to it.

You should absolutely post a sign or make it a policy that you do not test or service any products in your store that were not purchased there without a nominal fee for it.

So definitely any "I just want you to put in the batteries on this radio/show me where the plug in thingy is" type of thing - you tell them that any product not purchased in store would require a consultation fee of X amount - $10/per half hour? - and there is a minimum charge of a half hour. And cheerfully explain that the product in store would come with free support/help from you. 


"Quick" question guy that ends up asking a billion of them scenario:

Hey I have this radio I got at Megastore and I can't figure out where to put in the batteries, can you help?

I think there's a compartment on the bottom side? I'm sure it's in the instruction manual that came with it, or maybe online?
(Do not take the product in your hands - just tell them if you vaguely know their first question)

Well, can't you check? Also I need to know how to program the doohicky and while we're at it, I need you to explain this thingy...

I'd be happy to, but as you didn't purchase this at our store/without proof of purchase from our store, I unfortunately will need to charge a consult fee to do what you're asking. The pricing starts at $10 per half hour, and there's a minimum of a half hour charge. If you had purchased this at our store, we offer free service and consulting on the product. We have to charge fees for outside items now in order to keep the doors open!



So battery lady scenario:

Here's a bunch of batteries I want you to test.
I'd be happy to help you out, our fee for testing is 50Ę/battery and I can test 10 batteries per day for you if you don't have proof of purchase from our store, or I can show you a battery tester we sell that would allow you to test all of your batteries yourself any time you'd like.

Rudeness/complaining from rude woman about how she shouldn't have to pay...

I'm very sorry you feel that way, but I am a small independent business and I make no money on any time spent on products that weren't purchased from my store. I'm in danger of going out of business if I don't charge small fees for my time in those cases. While I understand you might shop online or large chains to get better pricing, you would get service from me/my store included in my pricing - which obviously isn't provided in the cheaper price you are paying elsewhere. 

And so on.

The key is to remain super polite but FIRM. They are the assholes that use a small business to get free support for their cheaper elsewhere purchases. They don't get that the reason it's cheaper is because it's a giant chain or low overhead compared to the small shop that has living, breathing people working there that rely on sales to keep doing the living, breathing part.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2018, 09:54:03 AM by Frankies Girl »

SKL-HOU

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2018, 09:49:47 AM »
Can you put a sign with prices? For example, battery testing $xx for 5 batteries, putting in batteries $xx, wiring diagrams $xx, etc for the typical time wasting questions. You can also add if they buy a product, this money will count towards it, for example, you test batteries and they are bad and they buy batteries, then no charge for testing.

Cezil

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2018, 10:12:49 AM »
...<snip>...

This nails it.  I accidentally used to think it was okay to do what your customers are doing to you, and no one spoke up or said anything to me, so I never questioned it or thought it was an issue on the merchant side.  I've grown since then and this was one thing that made me feel so humble that these people used to help me out for nothing in return.  I am very embarrassed and still feel bad when I think back to those days when I used small independent businesses like that.  I feel bad for taking advantage when I didn't even know!  No one taught me otherwise, but I'm glad I eventually learned!  Speak up, be polite (some of us don't know that we don't know and this might be a light bulb moment), but remain firm.

erutio

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2018, 10:21:47 AM »
It's insulting to call these customers "overly-mustachian".  They are cheap.   And a true mustachian would learn how to do these things on their own through the internet.

Needing help putting batteries in a radio?  Really?? Do you customers need help with their bedpans and catheters also? 

Presetting their favorite stations? Setting the clocks?  WTF?  Is your small town stuck in a time warp to 1988 or something?

As a small business owner, it's ok to piss some people off to stand by your principles.  You don't want these people's business anyways, and don't need them because you're mustachian.

PensacolaStache

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2018, 11:35:21 AM »
I feel that you're overthinking it and that everyone else in this thread is embarrassingly cheap (like, owner of a restaurant that reuses toothpicks cheap).

First, you need to track your time spent with these customers and start logging outcomes. Cold hard facts are hard to dispute and I worry that you just have a small spurt of busyness that is stressing you out.

You live in a small town. If people start giving you bad reviews for customer service, what will you do? Are you really mad at people price shopping or are you just mad at a handful of customers?

Remember, customer service is a right in the eyes of the American consumer. Sure, it can seemingly be a waste of your time and cheap people annoy you. But, if you tried to charge me for a battery test, you would guarantee that I would choose other alternatives to your store indefinitely. Are you okay with that because we both agree that I'm not the only one like that? Try going to an auto shop to get a code reading and then trying to charge you. You'd laugh at them and drive to the next shop that'll do it for free.

I think instead of following the odd advice of others in this thread (like putting up signs), you should continue to help people for free. Again, this is a right in the eyes of the consumer. I doubt you can change consumer behavior. The only one that can lose from these policies is you.

What you should do though is just confront problem customers. These are the repeat visitors (is she even a customer), like battery lady, that just annoy the hell out of you and add no economic gain to your business. Kick them to the curb. I'd rather you have one or two negative reviews from problem customers then to have a reputation in your small town that you're now nickelling and diming for help.

Most customers are not problem customers and you showing off your expertise just solidifies your reputation as an expert and gives you an opportunity to upsell the  customer or maintain a good relationship with them. Most people will buy from you and that is good.

All of this, of course, fails to mention the fact that this lady may be recommending you to her friends and you have no idea about it.


Final, off-topic/kinda on-topic comments:
- Baby Boomers are notorious for not understand how to use technology and gadgets, it's very odd considering batteries have been in existence their entire lives.
- Millennials learn everything from YouTube. Odds are what these people ask you to explain is on YouTube so just direct them their.
- Don't draw diagrams, go "I really just need to see it."
- Keep directing people to YouTube.


hdatontodo

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2018, 01:01:37 PM »
The Batteries and Bulbs store near me has a list of fees to do things like insert batteries into car remotes, program car fobs etc. The guy even told me I could put the new battery in myself at his counter, or he would charge me for that.

Make a list of your top 10 small services and put a dollar amount on them.

Also I like the comment about not servicing for free item purchased elsewhere.

Tell people they can google their way through small things if they don't want to pay a fee.

Car Jack

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2018, 01:23:19 PM »
I've dealt with customers on a professional level for many years.  A great strategy is when you recognize one of these people taking up your time for free, use their time.  Person with batteries:  I can't test them right now, but leave me the batteries and I'll get to them.  She comes back.  Sorry, didn't have time....come back middle of the week.

If you want to sell some batteries, you could put some electrical tape on one contact of the tester and then they'll all test as dead.

Someone wanting to have batteries put in a radio.....  Once they pay for the batteries, sure....put them in.  Then when they want instructions, pull out your phone and answer it.  Look at the person "I gotta take this" and walk away, talking like a major delivery is screwed up.  Disappear into the stock room and close the door. 

I did a lot of phone support and when people were wasting my time, I'd first call them back in a day.  Then it was 3 days.  Then it was a week.

Frankies Girl

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2018, 01:53:00 PM »
I feel that you're overthinking it and that everyone else in this thread is embarrassingly cheap (like, owner of a restaurant that reuses toothpicks cheap).

First, you need to track your time spent with these customers and start logging outcomes. Cold hard facts are hard to dispute and I worry that you just have a small spurt of busyness that is stressing you out.

You live in a small town. If people start giving you bad reviews for customer service, what will you do? Are you really mad at people price shopping or are you just mad at a handful of customers?

Remember, customer service is a right in the eyes of the American consumer. Sure, it can seemingly be a waste of your time and cheap people annoy you. But, if you tried to charge me for a battery test, you would guarantee that I would choose other alternatives to your store indefinitely. Are you okay with that because we both agree that I'm not the only one like that? Try going to an auto shop to get a code reading and then trying to charge you. You'd laugh at them and drive to the next shop that'll do it for free.

I think instead of following the odd advice of others in this thread (like putting up signs), you should continue to help people for free. Again, this is a right in the eyes of the consumer. I doubt you can change consumer behavior. The only one that can lose from these policies is you.

What you should do though is just confront problem customers. These are the repeat visitors (is she even a customer), like battery lady, that just annoy the hell out of you and add no economic gain to your business. Kick them to the curb. I'd rather you have one or two negative reviews from problem customers then to have a reputation in your small town that you're now nickelling and diming for help.

Most customers are not problem customers and you showing off your expertise just solidifies your reputation as an expert and gives you an opportunity to upsell the  customer or maintain a good relationship with them. Most people will buy from you and that is good.

All of this, of course, fails to mention the fact that this lady may be recommending you to her friends and you have no idea about it.


Final, off-topic/kinda on-topic comments:
- Baby Boomers are notorious for not understand how to use technology and gadgets, it's very odd considering batteries have been in existence their entire lives.
- Millennials learn everything from YouTube. Odds are what these people ask you to explain is on YouTube so just direct them their.
- Don't draw diagrams, go "I really just need to see it."
- Keep directing people to YouTube.

And you are overlooking the fact that the OP has been doing exactly what you've suggested and spending gobs of time helping folks out that don't give him any actual compensation for his time and store expenses.

If he wanted to do the same thing as he's been doing, why would he post this thread at all?

This is not the same thing as a restaurant owner denying free toothpicks. This is the same thing as a "customer" bringing in food from another eatery, demanding the use of the table, plates and utensils for free and expecting a waiter to cater to them without them leaving so much as a tip for thanks.

It's not being cheap - they are rude and taking advantage. The fact that you can't see that and believe it's a generational thing and he needs to basically cater to every person that crosses the threshold of his store no matter if they pay him for his time? That's insane. And he will go out of business if that's the bulk of his clientele interaction.

No one is saying never to give a bit of free help for customers from time to time. But he needs to put into place a good strong policy that he can refer back to for those people that take advantage of him.

And in every case, politeness is key. A calm, polite but firm stance will work best for those that are just clueless. The ones that know they are entitled assholes are the ones that will leave poor reviews for not getting what they think they deserve. And most of the time, they are pretty obviously entitled assholes, and small town people know who is what in any case.


SKL-HOU

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2018, 08:16:33 PM »
I feel that you're overthinking it and that everyone else in this thread is embarrassingly cheap (like, owner of a restaurant that reuses toothpicks cheap).

...

Expecting free service when you havenít even bought the item at that store is cheap and embarrassing. I would never expect a random store to test and fix things for free. The decent thing to do is pay for services received.

Case

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #17 on: September 22, 2018, 12:04:59 PM »
I feel that you're overthinking it and that everyone else in this thread is embarrassingly cheap (like, owner of a restaurant that reuses toothpicks cheap).

First, you need to track your time spent with these customers and start logging outcomes. Cold hard facts are hard to dispute and I worry that you just have a small spurt of busyness that is stressing you out.

You live in a small town. If people start giving you bad reviews for customer service, what will you do? Are you really mad at people price shopping or are you just mad at a handful of customers?

Remember, customer service is a right in the eyes of the American consumer. Sure, it can seemingly be a waste of your time and cheap people annoy you. But, if you tried to charge me for a battery test, you would guarantee that I would choose other alternatives to your store indefinitely. Are you okay with that because we both agree that I'm not the only one like that? Try going to an auto shop to get a code reading and then trying to charge you. You'd laugh at them and drive to the next shop that'll do it for free.

I think instead of following the odd advice of others in this thread (like putting up signs), you should continue to help people for free. Again, this is a right in the eyes of the consumer. I doubt you can change consumer behavior. The only one that can lose from these policies is you.

What you should do though is just confront problem customers. These are the repeat visitors (is she even a customer), like battery lady, that just annoy the hell out of you and add no economic gain to your business. Kick them to the curb. I'd rather you have one or two negative reviews from problem customers then to have a reputation in your small town that you're now nickelling and diming for help.

Most customers are not problem customers and you showing off your expertise just solidifies your reputation as an expert and gives you an opportunity to upsell the  customer or maintain a good relationship with them. Most people will buy from you and that is good.

All of this, of course, fails to mention the fact that this lady may be recommending you to her friends and you have no idea about it.


Final, off-topic/kinda on-topic comments:
- Baby Boomers are notorious for not understand how to use technology and gadgets, it's very odd considering batteries have been in existence their entire lives.
- Millennials learn everything from YouTube. Odds are what these people ask you to explain is on YouTube so just direct them their.
- Don't draw diagrams, go "I really just need to see it."
- Keep directing people to YouTube.

And you are overlooking the fact that the OP has been doing exactly what you've suggested and spending gobs of time helping folks out that don't give him any actual compensation for his time and store expenses.

If he wanted to do the same thing as he's been doing, why would he post this thread at all?

This is not the same thing as a restaurant owner denying free toothpicks. This is the same thing as a "customer" bringing in food from another eatery, demanding the use of the table, plates and utensils for free and expecting a waiter to cater to them without them leaving so much as a tip for thanks.

It's not being cheap - they are rude and taking advantage. The fact that you can't see that and believe it's a generational thing and he needs to basically cater to every person that crosses the threshold of his store no matter if they pay him for his time? That's insane. And he will go out of business if that's the bulk of his clientele interaction.

No one is saying never to give a bit of free help for customers from time to time. But he needs to put into place a good strong policy that he can refer back to for those people that take advantage of him.

And in every case, politeness is key. A calm, polite but firm stance will work best for those that are just clueless. The ones that know they are entitled assholes are the ones that will leave poor reviews for not getting what they think they deserve. And most of the time, they are pretty obviously entitled assholes, and small town people know who is what in any case.

I disagree, and agree.

Although it is ethically right to do as you say, the OPís goal is to stay in business and do well.  Since he wont be competing in prices with chain stores, the best way to do this is developpersonal relationships with customers and deliver superior service.  It is his unique selling position.  Customers who waste his time threaten that by taking up time that could go to good customers.  We all agree that it is important politely tell such abusers that you can only give extensive help to paying customers.  But you have to be careful, because the other posterís point about bad reviews is critical.  Young people absolutely choose a store based on whether it has good online reviews.  A small percentage of bad reviews can be handled by the owner succesfully responding on the review site and explaining the situation.  But a large number will scare off customers, guaranteed.  Therefore, managing how much free help you give out is a double edged sword and may be slightly tricky to navigate. 

Now, where i do disagree with the pensacolastache is his statement that the responders here are cheap.  Nope!  But his idea of keeping track of statistics on helping people could yield very valuable data, as long as collecting it isnt too difficult.

Edit:  after re-reading the op, i think that if he really has tons of customers doing this type of shit, then it is not good news.  He needs to develop a customer base that is willing to pay a slight premium for superior service... that requires good reputation in the neighborhood.  Tricky to navigate.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2018, 12:09:54 PM by Case »

mozar

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #18 on: September 22, 2018, 01:38:34 PM »
Get an intern! A highschool student will be able to do all these simple things, even work with the local high school to get school credit. If the kid can only come in once or twice a week then that is free consultation day/ hours. Better yet you could pay them minimum wage for a couple of hours a week.

austin944

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #19 on: September 22, 2018, 05:57:03 PM »
I would tell them that you can help them for X number of minutes, and after that, you will need to help paying customers.  Then immediately ask them if they will agree to those terms, or ask, "is that OK"?  Wear a watch and casually glance at it when they start their questioning, so they know the clock has started.

I think it will be hard for these non-paying customers to become upset if they agree to your terms and their time runs out.  If they become visibly annoyed after the time limit, remind them that they agreed to your terms.  If they don't agree to your terms, or start arguing about it, then I think it would be a total waste of your time to help them at all.  They don't sound like reasonable people to me.

These non-paying customers might get upset if they sense that you are being unfair to them in not helping them enough, because they heard through the grape-vine that you gave more of your free time to other non-paying customers.  In other words, if you treat your non-paying customers unequally, you are more likely to get complaints than if you treated them all equally and told them all to take a hike (or had a fixed time limit).  So whatever you do, make sure all of your non-paying customers are treated the same.  Then they can't complain of unequal treatment.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2018, 06:06:25 PM by austin944 »

Abe

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #20 on: September 22, 2018, 08:06:06 PM »
I like mozar's idea. In addition, pay the kid with whatever they earn in consulting fees. Then you have no overhead, the kid gets a decent amount of money and maybe learns something, and the customers are happy they're getting attention. I think most people, even your town full of cheapskates, will have a hard time trying to weasel free advice out of a kid!


crackerjack

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Re: How to deal with overly-moustachian time-wasting customers?
« Reply #21 on: September 23, 2018, 11:17:29 AM »
Thanks for all the responses so far, it's interesting to see so many different viewpoints.

I'm not sure that an advice charging structure would work in our specific situation.  We've already started charging for some things that customers have traditionally expected for free and take items in for a chargeable repair instead of fixing it over the counter where possible.  We also have a tutorial fee for teaching people about new equipment (TVs etc).  Allowing people X amount of query minutes before we start the timer would just cause us to get a bad reputation, bad online reviews and encourage people to shop elsewhere, as others have said.  The service aspect is our USP that the chain and online stores can't compete with, so I don't want to go too heavily down that route. I'll take another look at some of the services we offer though, I think there's room for improvement in some areas like key fob batteries etc.

I'm very confrontation-averse so I suppose I'm looking more for tips on how to subtly shut down an interaction when things start looking like turning too time-intensive, or when the customer is obviously trying to take advantage.  Some people are really persistent and no amount of, 'I'm sorry, but I can't really advise without seeing it/can't draw you a diagram/can't consult my magic crystal ball' seems to work.  I read a great advice thread a couple of years ago (not here) from someone asking how to politely deflect her boss's increasing demands, and there were some great body language techniques and phrases discussed that took control of the conversation, but were tactful enough to avoid offence.  I wish I could find it again. 

To the person asking if our customers expect us to change their bedpans for them ..yes, they would if they could!  A lot of them are elderly and genuinely struggle with basic tasks, which is part of the reason I don't want to get too strict or rude with anyone.  We also have a school for the blind nearby, so we get a lot of customers coming in with visual impairments.  I try to be as compassionate as I can and help people out when they genuinely can't do something themselves but there does come a point where I feel like an unpaid social carer, which is not compatible with running a business.

It's also a very arty/hippy town, so we definitely have our...well, let's just call them 'characters'.  The Chatters are common, people who talk so much and for so long that we genuinely don't know what on earth they're on about.  It takes them ages to get to the point of what they actually want, and in the meantime they'll tell us all about their Uncle George's girlfriend's basket-weaving hobby or whatever, which they seem to think is related to their query (it never is).  We're constantly trying to steer them back on track.

I have definitely used the techniques someone mentioned where another co-worker phones me or I just walk away into the office, but in many cases the Chatters still stand there continuing the monologue with themselves, or just raise their voices so I can hear.  It's so annoying when the task I need to do is out on the shop floor and I have to pace the office until they eventually leave!  I've also just ignored them and carried on doing what I need to do, but they follow me around the store, still talking about god-knows-what.   I've now started walking towards the door while they're talking and if I open the door for them, like I'm trying to be helpful, they'll often wind up their own conversation and shunt themselves outside without even realising what I've just done.  I laugh every time it happens.

As for interns, I'm in the UK so unpaid interns and school credits aren't really a thing.  I'm looking to hire someone new at the moment but we have a fairly decent minimum wage so I won't want to pay that person to deal with the time-wasters.  I like the suggestion of telling people I can look at something 'later' for them to put them off as I can perhaps make up an excuse that I have a time-sensitive order that needs to get submitted in the next 15 minutes or something so they don't get offended.  That would work in some cases.