The Expert – Part 1

EXPERT – Someone having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.

expertThis is the first in a four-part series on dealing with experts in your retail store from several different perspectives.  For the sake of these posts, when I refer to an expert I am referring to someone who has advantaged knowledge or experience about the products being sold and their usage. Today’s perspective is dealing with a customer that is an expert.

In training, we often refer to entering behaviors; the knowledge, skills and abilities that someone brings into the class.  Entering behaviors are critical in approaching the topic at the proper level for the participant.  In retail, we refer to this as qualifying the customer and it is also critical in sales success.

I have witnessed or experienced countless interactions in stores where the sale staff assumptions about a customer’s knowledge and experience.  This can result in a variety of things.

  • The sales staff talks down to the customer
  • Customers have to prove that they are worthy of the product
  • Staff members waste time talking about things that the customer already knows or has little interest in
  • Sales staffs get intimidated by the expert and try to one-up them on product knowledge and get into odd pissing matches
  • The customer may get annoyed enough to leave your store
  • New or less savvy sales people with attempt to lie their way through the process, often getting caught by the customer in the “alternative truths” thereby diminishing the customers view of the staff, the store and possibly even the brand

So, what do you do when you have an expert as a customer?

  1. Take care of the customer’s immediate needs.  Help them with the things they cannot do themselves such as navigating the store, accessing the product or ringing up the transaction.
  2. Recognize the knowledge and experience of the expert.  Show them that you both recognize and appreciate their expertise by complimenting them on the knowledge and interacting at the appropriate level.
  3. If the customer asks for information, give accurate information even if you have to dig it up.
  4. Exploit the expert’s knowledge and experience by gleaning any tidbits about product knowledge and usage that the customer is willing to share.
  5. Enjoy the experience.  It is a pleasure working with someone who shares your advanced knowledge about the product and usage.  Avoid becoming intimidated or competitive.
  6. Thank them for shopping in your store.  Let them know you appreciate that as an expert, they chose to shop with you.

Follow these 6 simple practices and you will find working with most experts a pleasurable and fruitful experience.


As a retail manager, I have learned that there are a couple of trouble spots to keep an eye out for in your store.

“The know-it-all”  This is a person that is an expert, real or perceived, that ones to prove their superiority.  The last thing you want to do with this person is try to prove your superiority, real or perceived, to them.  It is a no-win situation.

You can usually spot this people as they spout off about their product knowledge or experience when you begin to talk with them during the sale process.  The best approach is to clearly acknowledge their knowledge and experience.  Say something, like “You clearly have some great experience with this” or “Your sure know a lot about the product.” Then, quickly move on to Step #1 or #4.

“Faking It”   If you have managed in retail, you have probably watched one of your staff getting in over their heads with an expert by not recognizing their limits.  The sale person will sometimes attempt to fake it by overstating, misrepresenting, bluffing or out-and-out lying to a customer.  They do this out of convenience, frustration,  expedience or embarrassment.  As painful as these situations can be, they are often the most instructive for the faker.  Just be sure that the proper apologies are made.

As a manager, you should train and coach your staff to be honest with customers and know their limits.  If they do not know something, they should admit it and find the answer.  When asked a question about product that they cannot answer, they should, “That is a great question. I do not know that off the top of my head but let me get that information for you.”  Provide staff with access to the information that they need to do their job.

Another technique, I train people on is using an expert.  Say something like, “Let me check with Jen, she is our resident expert.”  The staffer should then do one of three things. Get the information from the expert quickly. Hand off the customer to the expert. Or, If traffic allows, involve their expert in the sale while listening and observing to expand their knowledge.

Follow the 6 steps and watch for the 2 trouble spots and you will have continued success working with your expert customers.



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