Renee phoned ahead.
“ABC Cyclery, this is Keith,” I declared into the phone.
“Keith?” a woman replied, “My name is Renee. Can I speak to the service department, please?”
“Sure, Renee, I can probably help you. What’s going on?”
“Well, my chain fell off and I can’t get it back on. Can you tell me about how much that’ll be to fix?”
‘About how much will that be to fix?’ is probably every service technician’s least favorite question. Back before cellphones and video streaming, one of the snarky things techs would declare to one another was, “I was about to tell her to hold the phone closer to the bike so I could get a better look at it.” Nowadays, if a mechanic asked that the customer just might oblige.
If age hasn’t given me wisdom it has at least given me patience, knowledge and experience; I’ve learned that it is better to deflect a question like that, so I responded, “Well, Renee that’s going to depend on a lot of factors, but I can tell you that we give free estimates. If you bring us your bike we’ll put it up in the stand, take a look at it and come up with an accurate estimate. Does that sound fair?”
‘Does that sound fair?’ is not a throw-away-question. ‘Does that sound fair?’ is a buy-in, a very important first step whenever one is asking for someone’s trust.
Rene sighed. “Yeah, I guess. Do you have any idea?”
Tit for tat, a Roland for your Oliver, Renee want’s some reassurance before she lugs her bike to the bike shop. “Well, how did it happen? Were you shifting gears? Did the bike get bumped? Did it happen in transportation?”
“I don’t know. It happened a long time ago and the bike’s just been sitting. I bought it from you,” she added, voice rising in inflection.
Rising inflection denotes a question or call for help. “I bought it from you,” means that Renee thinks we should go above and beyond because she’s earned some due process from us, a high level of care because loyalty should work both ways. Renee’s right. That’s the power of a Brick and Mortar, an actual location, Buying Local, rather than virtual commerce.
Some folks- low-lifes to be quite blunt- “shop” Brick and Mortar for the sole purpose of getting a good feel for merchandise, test riding models, getting a size assessment, trying on clothing; basically, picking knowledgeable salespeople’s brains.
They’re users, people who want expert advice who will then take their newly acquired knowledge to venture forth on the WWW in search of Amazon’s or Alibaba’s or what-have-you’s lowest price for a product. On-Line retailers are not known for knowledgeable sales-staff, they’re known for low prices. Their low-prices are a result of low-overhead.
Brick and Mortar costs money. Brick and Mortar is in easily accessed, attractive locales. Brick and Mortar should provide exemplary customer service because customers are paying a premium. Renee’s call is totally legit, but I still need to assess the situation.
“Yeah, Renee. I don’t know how much it’s going to cost but I can’t really do anything until the bike is here. Bring it in. As I said, I’ll look at it right away, figure out what’s up and then we can figure out what you want to do.”
Did you notice the change from “we” to “I”? “We” are a team at ABC. “We” are a brand. “We” get things done. But sometimes customers need an “I.” “I” will do that. “I” am here for you. Come see “me.” I’m telling Renee I’m her boy, she just has to, as the saying goes, “Help me, to help you.”
Before disconnecting Renee gave me another deep sigh. “Fine, Keith. I’ll see you in a little bit.”
And a very little bit it was.
A woman, roughly sixty-years-old, five-foot-two-inches, walks into the store and I greet her. “Hey! How are you? What brings you in today?”
Sales technique tells us we’re not supposed to ask the ‘What brings you in today?’ question just as we’re not supposed to ask our kids, ‘Who won?’ when they return from a soccer game. It’s crass. It’s not sophisticated. It emphasizes the wrong things.
My major job at ABC Cyclery is service writing. When clients role bikes in I have a pretty good idea what they want; service for their bikes. Our diminutive gal wasn’t pushing a bike. Force of habit. When you know better, you do better. Or not.
“Keith?” she asks.
“Renee?” I respond a big grin on my face.
“Yes,” she says.
“Pleasure,” I respond, extending my hand.
Renee’s grasp is firm. (I abhor a zero pressure, dead-fish handshake whether delivered by a man or woman.) Renee’s grip is firmer than the vast majority of women’s that I have encountered, thousands and thousands, but medium for a man. I don’t have long to think about grip strength because my ADD brain is focusing on her totally decadent, tri-color -green-hued, spangle-encrusted, sharp-as daggers fingernails.
I long to talk about her nails but it’s too soon. We’ve just met, and our rapport is perhaps a five on a scale of one-hundred. Before I “Keith” her we need to, excuse the expression, sniff each other out.
I am a Bull-Dog disguised as a Golden Retriever. Bull-Dogs latch on to one human whom they love for life. Golden Retrievers are loyal-to-none, dedicated to fun kind-a dogs. I love meeting people and getting to know them and to call me effusive is to describe the ocean as wide. I know Full-Keith can be off putting so I act normal at first. Believe me, it’s just an act.
“Is your bike outside?” I ask.
“No. That’s part of the problem,” Renee responds. “I don’t know how to get it here.”
‘I don’t know how to get it here,’ is catnip to this Bull Dog. It’s Pavlov ringing my dinner bell. It leads to, “Do you own a bike rack?” with the implication being, ‘You should own a bike rack.’
We talk about Renee’s bike. She reiterates that the chain fell off a long time ago. “It fell off like the first time I rode it,” Renee declares. Renee whips her owner’s manual and sales receipt from her purse and hands them to me.
I glance at the material and say, “But you bought this ten years ago. It’s been sitting for ten years?”
I’m hoping, ‘The first time I rode it,’ is hyperbole, I mean, what kind of person buys a bike and lets it sit for a decade unridden because the chain fell off?
“Yeah. I’ve been busy,” she responds.
We talk a lot. About her bike, about places Renee has lived, that we’re the same age (I have a rule. If two people are over forty-years-old and were in high school at the same time, then we’re the same age. By that rule we’re the same age.) We talk, we bond, we laugh. Finally, I say, “Okay. Well, we can’t work on it unless it’s here; how about a bike rack?”
We go outside, and she shows me her little red Mercedes. I tell Renee that because of the little red Mercedes’ rear spoiler she’d have to get a trailer-hitch style rack, Renee tells me her little red Mercedes is leased. We explore possible solutions and Renee decides that she’ll gladly pay a pick-up and delivery fee; we return to the store and walk to the service department check-in computer.
Consulting the service computer, I say, “Okay, let’s figure out when you’d like us to pick up the bike.
“Last name?” I ask.
“Raskind,” Renee responds. “R, A, S, K, I, N, D.”
Typing in Raskind I find that ABC Cyclery’s computer lists one Raskind, a Richard Raskind. “Any relation to Richard?” I ask.
This question is like a curtain on The Price is Right, one has no idea if there’s something wonderful behind the curtain or something terrible. Sometimes the answer is, “Yes! That’s my dad!” or, “She’s my sister!” or other bubbly responses. Sometimes it elicits frowns or stony faces, Renee gave me two-seconds of silence, so I say. “Oh. Sorry. Ex-husband?”
She squints her right eye, bobs her head up and down and says. “No. Just ex. Ex me. I used to be Ronald Raskin.”
“Really?” I gush. “I had no idea. Well good for you!” My sentiment is not feigned. If it’s good for her then, good for her!
“Yeah, I thought that’d be your response. You seem pretty open.”
“Me?” I ask, “I have a very conservative lifestyle, but I just want people to be happy and healthy. I figure if we’re not hurting anybody then what we do is our business, not anybody else’s. I’m just super happy that you felt comfortable sharing with me.”
“Yeah. Keep it to yourself though, okay? Some people just don’t get it.”
“Boy is that an understatement!” I declared.
We set up Renee’s pick-up appointment for later that day (BTW- that’s not her real name) and went out and collected her bike. After I looked the bike over I called, and we decided on a plan of action. ABC Cyclery is going to get her rolling again. I hope we have lots of opportunities to win her trust and her business.