Today’s blog isn’t specific to FBA, but I do think that it will help anyone with their FBA business. One of my strengths is getting things that other people are not able to. Just last week there was a facebook discussion in which myself and another seller had a disagreement about how much we disclose about what we do while we’re out doing retail arbitrage. I took the position that except when a store bans it, I like to tell people who ask what I’m doing, whether customers, associates, or managers. I wasn’t always like this. I used to come up with elaborate stories (and sometimes when I purchase 80 tampon boxes I still do!), but I’ve changed my mind. One of my key points was that it has benefitted my business. I’ve had random people introduce me to suppliers they know, associates offer to save items for me until a sale starts, and managers offer me discounts if I will buy in bulk. His response was to say, “That NEVER happens!”
I’ve encountered this a lot. I’ve been amazed at how often people will say some variation of “I’m not going to try that, but even if I did, it wouldn’t work.” It’s sort of hard to argue with this. On the one hand, they might be claiming that I’m lying, in which case, that’s a pretty hard obstacle to overcome. On the other, they’re saying that it might work for me, but given their personality/demeanor/whatever, it wouldn’t work for them. It’s possible that this is true. So, what I want to do is to use this space today to give some tips for getting what you want.
- Leave your pride at the door. The number one barrier that most people will have is that they simply will not ask for something because it feels shameful in some way. Just get over it. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone you’ve never seen before and are unlikely to see much of in the future says no to you? So what. Last weekend I was at a casino and they happened to have a seafood buffet that was $49. If you know anything about casinos, poker players don’t generate a lot of their profits, so their comps are quite small. I would have had to play 25 hours of poker to get that buffet. Since I don’t play professionally any longer, that would have taken a long time, and I was hungry that particular night, not weeks in the future. So, I struck up a conversation with a floorman and then I asked if he could comp the meal for me. He told me that they weren’t really supposed to, but give him 15 minutes and he’d see what he could do. He came back, told me not to tell anyone (shhh! I’m not revealing the casino!) and handed me a comp for $50. My lobster was delicious. It didn’t hurt me or cost me anything to ask, but doing so saved me $49. You’d think that if this was the case, everyone would just ask. But they don’t. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe they’ve never considered the possibility that it’s okay to ask for a price break. Maybe they subconsciously have been taught that it is rude to negotiate. Who knows, but the point is that most people just will not ask. By doing so, you can gain an advantage.
- Have enough time to get what you want. Suppose you had a bad stay at a national hotel chain on a recent trip. I can just about guarantee that I would get my next stay for free, if not a full refund. However, I also know that this takes time and it isn’t necessarily going to be the first thing that the customer service representative offers me. Very likely I’ll need to track down a supervisor and potentially follow that all the way up to the VP of Customer Relations. That’s going to take some time. Here’s what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to have 20 minutes before my next meeting and try to hop on the phone and get this resolved. It might take me 20 minutes to get the right person on the phone and it simply will not work to ask to call them back tomorrow — I’ll have to start all over and they’ll already have me in their computer system. I might lose my opportunity to get what I want if I have to abandon ship right in the middle of an important conversation. A corollary to this tip is that you should compare what you stand to gain (refund, perk, etc) versus the time it will likely take to get it. Is it worth it to me to spend 2 hours to get a $500 hotel stay covered? Yes. Is it worth it to me to spend 2 hours to get my fast food meal covered? No.
- Know what you want. We’ve taken this for granted so far, but we shouldn’t. You’d be surprised how often people talk to customer service and have no idea what they hope to achieve. Never pick up the phone to Amazon without knowing exactly what you’d like the outcome to be. Never ask to speak to a manager without a specific goal in mind. You might not necessarily get everything that you want, but you’ll definitely be more likely to get what you want if you’ve thought about what that is.
In order, prefer to talk to someone in person, talk to someone on the phone, then talk to someone in writing. People don’t like this because the most effective options are the options that are the least comfortable for most people. It’s a lot easier to send off an email behind the anonymity of your computer, but it’s also a lot easier for customer service to ignore it or to send you a form letter response. When you are able to look someone in the eye and ask for something, you’re much more likely to get it. Face-to-face meetings aren’t always possible, though. When they aren’t, talk to someone on the phone. Again, this is harder than writing because you have to do it extemporaneously and you might stumble over your words, etc. But, it’s far more effective. When someone can hear your voice, you’re a real person. When someone sees an email, you’re just a number. People get what they want. Numbers get told that there’s nothing they can do.
- Speaking of phone calls. Many companies will simply not hang up on you unless you start cussing at them or they get permission. You can use this to your benefit. I learned this when I was 17. I went on an out-of-state trip and this was back in the time where Roaming Charges were still a thing for cell phones. Basically, AT&T was advertising free calls nationwide, but I was still on an old plan. I managed to rack up about $480 in fees. I had a problem. I was 17. $480 was a lot. I was at fault. My dad taught me a valuable lesson that day. He told me I could work for him for 48 hours or I could go get on the phone, call AT&T, and not hang up until they lowered it. At the time, this was a scary experience for me (now I actually enjoy doing it!), but I did what he said. I was told that there was nothing they could do at least 10 times. After all, I was on a plan that had roaming charges, I roamed, they charged. I didn’t even have a particularly good rebuttal to this and the temptation was just to say, “Okay, I understand, thanks for your time.” But, working 48 hours for my dad seemed a terrible alternative, so I just stayed on the phone. They told me there was nothing they could do and I told them that I’m sorry but that was unacceptable. Over and over this went. Finally, I’m sure they just got tired of me and told me they’d make a one time exception. 2.5 hours on the phone with AT&T customer support is a terrible experience, but it wasn’t worse than $480 that I didn’t have or working 48 hours!
- Be pleasant, yet firm. This is a hard balance and I think most people are inclined to err in one way or the other. Some people are so concerned with being nice, that they’re unable to be assertive and hence rarely get what they want. Some people are too quick to be angry, defensive, or combative and so they alienate the one person who is able to help them. The trick, generally speaking, is to let the person know how important it is that you achieve a successful resolution to this matter, but also make them want to help you. People are more likely to want to give you what they want if they like you and they’re more likely to like you if you’re pleasant. Here’s an example of a line I’ve used frequently in response to a typical how are you doing kind of question: “Hi Frank. To be honest, I’m really not doing that well right now because of this issue and I want you to know that I’m really frustrated with it, but I also know that it isn’t your fault. You’re just the unlucky person who has to deal with this. So, I’m sorry in advance if I get frustrated, but I’m hopeful that you and I can work together to get this resolved today.” It lets them know from the beginning that I’m very serious about getting this resolved, that I’m unhappy, but it isn’t the customer service person’s fault. You’d be surprised how far this goes. Some people spend their whole day getting screamed at and it really helps when a person acknowledges that it isn’t their fault.
- Humanize issues as much as possible. Most managers, customer service agents, etc., have a script that they follow (either a literal one or one developed out of habit/experience). These scripts are designed with the company’s best interest in mind, not necessarily yours. It’s helpful to try to get them off of their script. Here’s a line I like to use: “Oh, definitely, Cindy. I understand that your system won’t let you do that. Say, let me ask you, suppose you woke up this morning in my shoes and you had this big problem that it was crucial that you got it resolved, how do you think you would go about the process?” Some variation of that line is one of the most effective ways of getting what you want. It does a few things immediately: A) It’s flattering. You’re legitimately asking for advice from her and people like that. B) It immediately moves a person off of their script. I’ve spoken with many dozens (perhaps hundreds) of customer service people and everybody is caught off guard with this question. They aren’t trained for it, and that usually benefits you. C) It immediately changes the dialog. You move from two people sitting across from one another negotiating for their own desired outcome to a position where two people are sitting side-by-side trying to find a solution to the same problem. In a sense, you’ve moved the agent from representing the company’s interest to representing your interests. D) It gets employees to think outside of the box. Employees know a lot about how things work. They might know that policy states that they should only give refunds on purchases within 30 days, but they might also know that they have the authority to offer promotional credits up to $100. You can spend an hour fighting about a refund that they literally cannot give you OR you can ask them how they’d solve the problem and all of a sudden their creativity clicks in and you find a solution in 2 minutes. What we’ve done is basically change the agent from a robot who spits out standard answers to a creative problem solver on our behalf. It’s extremely powerful.
- Talk to the people who have the power to actually give you what you want. Sometimes when a representative for a company tells you that they cannot do something, it’s true, but not the whole story. They very well might not be able to do something, but it’s very likely that their supervisor or their supervisor’s supervisor can do something. But, if you spend all of your time talking to the entry-level person who has no decision-making power, then you’ll never get what you want. My philosophy is this: If someone says that something can’t be done, then I’m just not talking to someone high enough up the corporate chain. Assuming you aren’t abusing it, there are very few times where you truly reach a brick wall where you cannot get what you want. When the Neighborhood WalMarts were being closed out I had a situation where I was told I could use my tax-exempt card on the transaction, then spend thousands of dollars, and they rang it up, told me they couldn’t use the tax exempt, had to re-ring everything up, and charged me a few hundred dollars with tax. I was not happy. I specifically asked and was told a certain answer. When that answer was wrong, we had to spend an extra 20 minutes unbagging everything and re-scanning it, and the manager was working in a store that was gone in 2 days (ie. had no incentive to help me at all). Corporate was not helping, so ultimately (though a combination of questions, LinkedIn searching, and googling) I tracked down the regional manager for the entire Southern California market. I had to do some work to get past his gatekeepers (good secretaries are tough!), but ultimately I got what I wanted. Again, you can’t go through that much effort for everything, but if you’re talking about as significant amount of money, sometimes it is worth going an extra step or two beyond what most people will do.
- Anticipate objections and be prepared with a response. If you’re asking for enough, you’re very likely going to be dealing with people who don’t want to say yes. They’re probably going to tell you no and have some reasons for that answer. You want to be prepared for this. When negotiating clearance items, I’ve had the same conversation multiple times. Mike: I’d like to buy this entire shelf worth of items, but I really can only do it if I can get them marked down to $X. Manager: Oh, well if you’re willing to take everything, I could give them to you for $Y. Mike: I would really need $X to make it profitable for me, is there any way that you can come down to that amount? Manager: I’m sorry but we can’t We actually pay more than that to get the inventory. Mike: I understand that and nobody wants to take a loss on a product, but let me show you something. *picks up product, runs finger across bottom, shows manager finger* Do you see this dust? These have been sitting on this shelf for months. It’s April; nobody is buying school supplies and they’re not going to for months. You can let this sit here and sell one at a time for the next 6 months, or you can let me load every single one of these up for you and get them all out of your way so you can use the space for something that will make you guys some money. What do you say? Sometimes the answer is still no, but sometimes it magically becomes yes. Be prepared for common objections and have a response in mind.
- Show your appreciation. When someone spends a decent amount of time with you, ends up giving you a significant discount, fixes a big problem, whatever, accept and then try to reciprocate. Find out if there is a survey you can take to give the agent a great review. Shake the manager’s hand and let her know that you aren’t out to nickel and dime her on every product and that you’ll be back next week to buy much more. Do whatever you can to make the rest of their job as easy as possible. At the very least, give them a heartfelt “Thank you for all of your work today. You’ve really been great.”
Recently, Target sent me 130 units of the WRONG product! I was not happy. The correct product was very profitable and Target managed to use like 15 boxes to send the 130 units. They wanted me to return the products, but I had something different in mind when I called them. At the end of the day, they let me keep the 130 units and re-sent the original order. The wrong item, when free, makes me $6.35 per unit. I sold them all in four days. Is $825 in profit worth being a little uncomfortable on the phone for 30 minutes? For me, the answer was an easy yes.
As Always, Best Wishes