Educating your customers

The old adage “The customer is always right” isn’t true. Sometimes they don’t have a clue what they are talking about. Sometimes they know just enough to be dangerous, and sometimes they don’t know enough to ask questions. Any of these scenarios provides us with an attempt to educate them.

When I look at an estate that someone wants me to sell at auction I sometimes hear, “This is the first time I’ve ever had an auction, and I don’t know anything about how they work or what I need to do.” This is certainly understandable. Most people do not have the opportunity to sell many estates at auction in their lifetimes. They have lots of questions which I’m always glad to answer even if I am not the auctioneer selected to have the auction.

The initial question I’m often asked if how much commission I charge. This is often asked even before I’ve had a chance to see what they are selling. I try to explain that I need to look at their estate before I can answer that question. If it consists of a large assortment of items that will probably sell high the auctioneer can reduce his or her commission. If the estate looks like last year’s yard sale items that didn’t sell, the rate will be higher or, in most cases the auctioneer will not even take the auction.

One of the hardest things an auctioneer has to do is tell the potential seller that their estate will not sell for very much money. Most people think their collectibles collection is worth a fortune because they paid a lot of money to purchase the pieces that went into the collection. Most collectibles have gone down drastically in recent years in the secondary market. That’s hard for some people to hear especially if they haven’t kept up with the secondary market. People almost always over-value their old furniture. When they begin to tell me that a table belonged to their great-grandmother I know they believe it must be worth a lot of money. It usually isn’t, and I have to explain that to them. As I tell them, “I would rather you be upset with me now as I tell you these things than to have you mad at me later when I bring you a check for much less than you thought you would get.”

They want to know what they will have to do to prepare items for the auction, whether I can haul them or if they have to bring them to me, and what other expenses they might incur. Because auctioneers structure their fees differently these are all legitimate questions. I enjoy taking the time to explain their costs if they choose me to conduct their auction and answering whatever other questions they might ask.

Many potential clients want to know what particular items might bring. Again, this is an opportunity to educate them on how auctions work. My usual response is that it depends on whether there are two people at the auction who are interested in the item. If there is only one person interested it might not bring much, but if there are two or more people wanting the item it might bring a very good price. I have found that explaining this to sellers before the auction often eliminates any bad feelings after the auction when items didn’t bring as much as they had hoped.

With access to the Internet our potential clients are often much more informed than they used to be, but they still don’t know everything about the products or services we offer or how we conduct our businesses. That’s why it’s important to educate them. Answering the questions they don’t know to ask before the transaction often prevents future problems. It also sets you apart from your competitors, and it can sometimes give you the opportunity to upsell that client.

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