Everyone’s an expert–and a critic

Last week I mentioned an encounter with a customer who offered us some unwanted business advice. While this gentleman was a more extreme example of the know-it-all customer, he was by no means the first. When it comes to small business, everyone has an opinion, from your landlord to the Fedex guy, and every customer in between.

People are going to have opinions about how you selected, set up, and run your business that goes far beyond your inventory or your customer service. Some will phrase their questions and advice very well, and you’ll likely have an enjoyable chat with them. Some will be rather abrupt with their criticism. And since they’re your customer, you grin and bear it.

Don’t dismiss your customers’ opinions out of hand, though. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a customer, some can also be a good source of feedback. Feel free to bounce a few thoughts off them, or explore their suggestions in more detail. Find out what their background is. It may be that they really are your town’s Warren Buffet.

If they’re a store owner themselves, ask them what things have worked for them. If they’re a reasonably informed customer use them as a one-man focus group and try some of your ideas on them. Good feedback can be hard to find.

Of course it could just be that they’re a boorish know-it-all and you don’t really want to engage them any longer than necessary. Wrap up the conversation as politely and diplomatically as you can and move on. Do what you can to keep them as customers, but don’t encourage them to become your regular unpaid consultant.

Before long you’ll learn who is good to talk to and who is not. Value good input when it is given. Business is lonely enough as is.

How do you politely deal with your local, regular critics and still keep them as customers? Put your ideas in a comment below!