NO EXCUSE ZONE: Stop Judging People

“Over the next six months, we’ll be using these tenets from Dan to refocus your vision, offering a new standard for you to employ in your business and presenting a constant reminder to do better. “Defining the ideal Customer Experience in this new season of retail is challenging. The greater challenge continues to be HOW to implement it. Delivering this new Customer Experience through your staff requires context, process, buy-in, accountability and unwavering focus.” This month we’ll focus on buy-in and unwavering focus.”
Anyone familiar with 1990’s Pretty Woman understands that it’s not just a movie about an earnest hooker (Julia Roberts) who ascends the nouveau riche ladder with the gentlemanly assistance of a rich suitor (Richard Gere); it’s an astute introspection into the capricious culture that dominated the rapacious late ‘80s and Reagan era-economics (that just happens to feature an earnest hooker and a gentleman assistant).
There are two famous scenes in Pretty Woman that are relevant to this article (don’t worry, we’re getting there). In the first, a wonderstruck Roberts enters a swanky Beverly Hills store still decked in her work clothes, midriff bared and boots above the knee. The discriminating employees snub Roberts, insinuating she can’t afford the conservative clothes, before asking her to leave the store.
Following the scene, Gere accompanies Roberts on a new shopping spree, uttering the retail observation, “Stores are never nice to people, they’re nice to credit cards.” Fast forward through one of Hollywood’s best makeover scenes, and Roberts returns to the first shop (to the tune, of course, of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”). Decked in a wholesome, decidedly white suit, the elegantly dressed Roberts brashly addresses the same employee from before: “Do you remember me? I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me? You work on commission, right? Big mistake. Big. HUGE.” She holds up her hands, burdened with bags upon bags of extravagant purchases as evidence.
And that, ladies in gentleman, is the point of this article.
The mistakes you’re making by judging the folks who walk into your store are big. HUGE.
We understand that every marketplace (especially specialty retailers) has its ideal customer. For outdoor retailers, it’s the climbing enthusiast or van lifer. For cycling shops, it’s the Tour de France racer. Although it’s fine to have those exemplars, it’s far more important to recognize the reality of your customer base. Those archetypal enthusiasts only account for 5% of your market. If you prioritize that 5%, you’re neglecting the 95% of your shoppers and potentially 95% of your income.
So often we find that retailers judge customers from the moment they walk through their doors. Just because they don’t meet your or society’s expectations of a typical sportsman, for example, doesn’t mean you should automatically discount their validity as a paying customer. Perhaps they’re looking to invest in a new sport, or maybe they’re shopping for a friend. Whatever the situation, your reservations are completely irrelevant. If they’re in your store, their thoughts (and their money) are as valid as anyone else’s.
This is one of the reasons why we always reiterate how important it is to hire your employees based on their interpersonal skills and ethics rather than their technical skills. An employee you hired based on their knowledge of cycling who lacks personableness, for example, is far more likely to exclude that 95% of your customer base who isn’t a professional cycler.
It’s so important that every member of your staff recognizes the breadth of your customer base and buys in to those specific objectives. It’s easy for anyone to nod and smile when you suggest they treat each customer the same; actually ensuring they make the changes and adjust their attitude is the hard part. Ensure your staff truly dedicates themselves to these higher standards—maybe pull an “undercover boss” and watch them interact with customers from an inconspicuous vantage point. Watch how they interact, then follow up with actionable advice on how to do better next time.
Your job as a retailer isn’t to tout yourself as the expert in a sport or style, it’s to connect with your customers and genuinely respond to their needs on an individual basis. Rather than judge your customer, intentionally empathize with them, considering their position and needs, and do everything you can to help them. In the end, you might be surprised by how profitable your acceptance can be.

The lesson here is this: STOP JUDGING PEOPLE. Every customer should be treated with the same respect and attention, regardless of their appearance, socioeconomic level, or any other judgement standard. There are no exceptions. Your focus, and your employees’ focus, on this humane tenet should be unwavering. Chances are, your sales growth will reflect these changes, as will the growing reputation of your business.

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