Serving people well

Yesterday I had another difficult conversation with a potential client. A family needed to sell the family estate and called to talk to me about having an auction for them. The caller was explaining some of the items they would be selling and kept emphasizing the antique furniture that would be sold. I finally stopped him to explain the current market on antiques right now has declined considerably, especially for larger furniture pieces. It was obvious he was not expecting to hear that.

As I tried to answer his questions and explain some of the reasons for this decline in prices it was obvious he was considering other alternatives to an auction. Finally, he said he needed to check with other family members to tell them what I had told him and one of them would call back. I’ve not heard from anyone since.

This is always a painful discussion to have with people. Many are convinced that because their items are antiques they are worth a lot of money, but that’s not always the case. Right now, large antiques are out of favor with much of the public, especially the younger generations. I’ve seen flats of costume jewelry sell for more than an antique table.

As I explained to the recent caller, I would rather have someone upset with me before the sale by my telling them their antiques might not sell very well than to have them upset when I give them a check for much less than they anticipated. I want to serve my clients well, and that sometimes means telling them things they don’t want to hear before we proceed with the sale.

An older lady called me two years ago who was moving out of state to be closer to her children. As we went through the house she pointed out all the pieces of antique furniture she would be selling. She told me a chest belonged to her late husband’s great-grandmother. Very gently I tried to explain that it didn’t belong to anyone else’s great-grandmother and the people who would attend the auction would not have the sentimental value to that chest that she did. Again, I tried to explain the realities of selling antique furniture in today’s market. She decided to go with another auctioneer. I was told after the sale by a person who attended that he felt she got good prices for her items but that she was very unhappy with those prices and the auctioneer.

Sometimes a person will tell a prospective client anything he or she thinks they want to hear to get the business. To me, that’s not a good way to do business. I want to be honest with people up front. Sometimes I have walked away from a potential auction because I knew the items they wanted to sell would not bring near what they thought. Some people appreciate my honesty and others do not, but at least no one can say that I mislead them to get their business.

In a former business I owned I stressed to my employees to always under-promise and over-deliver. Be honest with everyone throughout the sales experience. If it means we don’t get a sale that’s OK. We will get the next one, and we’ll probably have more satisfied clients who will tell others how we treated them fairly and honestly.

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