A Key to Success in the Vape Space: Customer Service

from our Special Report:

What’s wrong with this picture?

A customer comes in, seemingly a bit nervous;  they’ve never been to a vape shop before. But you’re busy with someone else, maybe a regular or maybe a friend or maybe you’re busy talking with one of your associates. You pull yourself away from whatever you’re doing, answer their silly questions, sell them a starter kit or a low priced mod and maybe some supplies and send them on their way.

Question: What are the odds that that person will return??

It’s not rhetorical, but one I see more or more with a negative answer as I find that customer service is lacking in many Shops. WHY?

1: Lack of training

Whoever owns the shop must develop a message and Mission Statement that transfers to the customers and the public. How does that owner and shop want to be perceived? If the owner is experienced and understands the mindset of their customers then that information and presentation must be conveyed to the customer.

Once upon a time in the computer world the expression “garbage in, garbage out” was used to explain why certain processes didn’t work. If you input the wrong data then the wrong answers will result. It’s no different with this issue of lack of training. If the owner doesn’t understand the whys and the hows of the way their business should run, it is hard to expect the staff to know those answers.

Many shops have great technicians, i.e., those that really understand the products and how to explain it, but are lacking social skills. Showing up your vast knowledge is great in a social setting or for those that have a good foundation or are really into Vaping, but for many newbies you can confuse them and turn them off by coming across as too arrogant or showy.

2: Poor selection of employees

It’s awesome that you can hire and work with your friends, but in many cases it’s the worse thing you can do. Good friends—or relatives—do not always equate into good employees. Your store is not Party Central, but a place to provide awesome service and education to the public that will buy your products and continue to do so.

If you do hire blood or friends you must set the ground rules from day one that business is business and friendship is friendship. It may help to have someone else in charge of your employees so they can be impartial and if they need to be the “bad cop,” it insulates you. If you cannot afford a manager to intervene then be sure you outline, in writing, all job duties that are required and expected.

In the world of business this also transfers over to doing business with friends or relatives regarding borrowing or lending money. If you do have occasion to borrow or lend, be sure that everything is in writing and not on a handshake. An interest rate (if any) should be stipulated, along with payment schedule and due dates and there must be recourse for payments not made. The number of friendships and family relationships I have seen ruined by money could fill a small book.

3: Not understanding the needs of your customer

Whoever walks through your doors has a motivation that brought them there. What is it? Do they wish to quit after decades of tobacco addiction? You could be their last chance. Are they possibly a new parent and don’t want to expose their infants to second hand smoke? Are they looking for a way to continue smoking in a social setting without being perceived as an outcast? The only way to know the WHYS is to ask.

It seems common sense, but I find that common sense is not that common.

Everyone that works in the shop must be trained on how to greet and how to create a relationship with all new customers. This does not mean everyone becomes robotic, but it does mean that everyone will infuse their/ your own styles on how you relate to the customer.

Those dovetail into #1 above as well, and that is, speak at the level of your customer. If they are brand new, then ease them into the big picture of e-cigs and Vaping and don’t cram all your knowledge down their throats.

4: Be mindful of the age and needs of your customers

This gets a bit tricky and may seem stereotypical, but different generations should be addressed differently. Some examples:

  • Baby Boomers have (usually) limited patience and less physical dexterity than a Millennial. Their eyesight is not as accurate and to see small things, like letters or screws or wicks, may require glasses. For many Boomers they want one thing: simplicity and answers to their reasons for being there. The good news is that if you are successful at treating them well and helping them kick their habit you can create a loyal well-heeled customer.
  •  Gen X’s (between about 32-50 or so) like technology and many think this Vape thing is reminiscent of when they built computers as toys 20 years ago. They may like the variety of mods and filters and wicks and flavors and may become good clients if you can educate them the way they want to be educated.
  •  Millennials will be your biggest customer base and potentially your most loyal customers if you treat them properly from the beginning. Seriously, there is lots of competition both with physical shops and on-line options, so why would they continue coming back to you? One reason: Relationships. They must like you, know you and trust that you have their best interests at stake.

5: Remember the “Golden Rule”

Which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” in other words, ask yourself, “How do you like to be treated in a retail store? What makes you come back and what ticks you off?”

If you treat your customers the way that you like to be treated that will go a long way towards separating yourself from the less than ideal customer service experience throughout the industry.

What are the top questions you wished you asked or what do you wish you knew then that you know now? Can you avoid learning “the hard way?”

Author: Norm Bour

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and the host of the award-winning podcast Vape Radio. He’s a vape industry coach, speaker, author and can be seen rubbing shoulders with the top influencers in the vape industry.