I was talking to friends recently about "l'esprit commercial" in relation to local shopkeepers and wine producers; how important it is yet how many lack the basics. In these difficult times, they often forget some basic everyday commercial rules:
1. recognise your regular customers - a blank look and indifferent greeting to someone who has been frequenting the place for months and regularly buying produce does not go down well.
2. greet your regular customers with a smile - the bane of the Parisian waiter too, told to smile at customers who he'd rather snarl at for obliging him to fetch and carry to earn a living. It can take some time before a vendor accepts you as a regular customer and instead of just greeting you with a short, sharp "Bonjour", will greet with you a smile and ask you how you are. (I have reached this happy state at my local butcher's. It took me roughly nine months.)
3. make the odd "geste commercial" such as a bit of extra ham, an extra bottle when you sell someone a significant quantity of wine, or a 10% discount, a bunch of parsley thrown in, etc.
Local wine producers are particularly bad, so bad in fact that they have a reputation for being stingy. Take one story I heard about a basketball player who introduced his Parisian friends to a local wine. They loved it and gave him regular orders when he travelled up to see them. He would pay around 1000 Eur each time. Do you think the vigneron gave him an extra box, or even just one special bottle as a gesture of goodwill? Nothing. Rien. Not even a discount. When he wasn't even being greeted with a smile he decided that enough was enough and stopped going there.
I heard another story about a different vineyard where there too, they are so stingy that they charge 1.50 Eur more at the vineyard for their wine than the same wine for sale in the local fromagerie. You make the effort to go to the vineyard, pay extra petrol, and they sting you on every bottle you buy! As a result, my friend doesn't bother going there any more but just buys it down the road from time to time, and less and less as he's reluctant to give them too much money as he doesn't like their attitude.
What is amazing is that these people are always complaining that they don't sell enough! They won't, of course, bring in a PR professional to give advice. That would cost money! Even though it might make them more in the long run. Actually, they don't need one, I can give out all the advice they need, and I cost no more than a few boxes of wine! :)
The contrast with my friend's butcher is telling. He would be greeted with a cheery hello, and offered special cuts, extra bits, and even the pâté bowls when he bought the last slice. As a result he was a faithful customer and spent a fortune in there. He's moved now and laments the loss of his butcher as the one where he now lives does not have the same attitude to customer service.
My friends reckon that this lack of "esprit commercial" comes from their peasant backgrounds. When there was less choice, before supermarkets brought wine from all regions practically to our doorsteps, people went to their local producers or cave cooperative. They liked or lumped the treatment they received because there was nowhere else to go. Peasants are renowned for being stingy and surly so customers just accepted it.
These days, we all have so much choice, we can buy what we need from a multitude of suppliers in a small area, so anyone who wants to stand out has to make it worth his customer's while - recognition, friendly contact, and commercial gestures. Otherwise we might just as well go to Carrouf.
But how can you tell them?
You speak a lot of sense here. Don't we all want to feel special once in a while, at little cost to the shopkeeper.ReplyDelete
I love going to our local farm shop and don't expect any extras but I imagine if I did suddenly get a little treat, it would be wonderful. Do you think they worry customers will always expect discounts/ treats etc when given once?
Having said that, the examples you give regarding the wine producers are crazy.
I think most people are reasonable and don't expect the earth, or a little something, unless they've spent a significant amount. When I do get something extra, it makes my day, and I'm happy to go back another time and spend more money. That's what they want, surely - us to keep going back, and keep them in business. :)Delete
There are four boulangeries in our village. The ones that get my regular custom are the ones who I enjoy seeing when I walk in the door. No secret there - and my absolute favourite is the boulangère who has a permanent smile on her face and makes you feel all happy inside in the five minutes you spend inside the bakery. Just because she is so pleasant.ReplyDelete
I enjoy shopping locally rather than at the local supermarket, where a lot of the staff are grumpy and unapproachable. Most of the guys at the local market are lovely, know my first name, notice when I don't turn up and ask how I am. The cave coopérative know the people from the village and give us a discount on the wine, and they are always pleasant to new customers and tourists. Maybe it's because I'm further out 'in the sticks' than you....
Not all our local commerçants are grumpy, thank goodness! But those that are need to stop complaining and start smiling. They'll probably find that their business improves.Delete
I do most of my food shopping now in Biocoop in Les Crès/Castelnau where they are all very smiley and recognise me, say hello, and listen when I ask them to stock things (like frozen berries and kale); and La Ruche Qui Dit Oui where you can often talk to the farmers, and you know that they picked your veggies that morning.
I hope the future is going to be more focused on local producers selling locally in small outlets. It's a concept that's really catching on. :)
I asked a learned friend why French waiters and commercants are so often surly and disinterested in their customers, and he replied that it went back to the Revolution and the concept of liberte, egalite and fraternite, surtout l'egalite. All citizens were to be regarded as equals. Therefore just because your custom contributed to their livelihood, that didn't make you any better than them and you shouldn't expect any gratitude. For some of them, that philosophy doesn't seem to have changed since the 18th century.ReplyDelete
Second attempt to post this - the first one vaporised!
Exactly, I read that somewhere too. However, I'm not asking for gratitude, just a pleasant exchange and recognition of my business, because I can easily take it elsewhere. :)Delete
What makes me laugh is the girls working in a certain organic supermarket who look down on their customers. Needless to say, I don't go there anymore.
There was a vigneron who, when you tasted and then bought a dozen bottles put the one from which you had been tasting as one of the twelve...but he couldn't have cared less as he was on the coach party circuit and had guaranteed non repeat custom.ReplyDelete
At another place, while the founders - grandparents and parents - made a fuss of their regulars, the grandchildren were far too posh to be bothered to make an effort. The chai could be marked as open, you'd go in, wait, walk around and be shoved out as they were 'busy'....so we stopped buying as did other locals who had the same treatment.
How people can be so short sighted when it is their own business is beyond me.
Oh that's interesting. The same lack of esprit commercial and in a different part of the country. Some people want their business to fail it seems sometimes!Delete
Sarah, repeat after me: we French don't do customer service. We don't know what it is. Harsh, but true...ReplyDelete
It's a shame because they'd do a lot better if they did, as proven by those that have understood the benefits of good customer relations. French customers are no different to anyone else.Delete
I wonder if shopkeepers who don't do customer service get annoyed when they themselves get bad treatment elsewhere. :)
I have two very different choices when it comes to shopping for groceries in my neighborhood, Lidl and Edeka. Our first two months in Berlin, I divided my trips between the two. Now, I only shop at Edeka. Why? Because they SMILE and say hello. Not only that, I'm not being "rushed" at checkout, as is the case at the other store. At Lidl, ten feet of conveyer belt exist for customers to put their groceries on, while waiting for the cashier to scan your items. At the other end, it's probably one foot,if that. If you don't hurry the hell up and "throw" your groceries back into your cart, folks behind you become pissy and start complaining, as too does the old chap scanning your stuff.ReplyDelete
Gosh, I wouldn't shop at Lidl unless I really had to either in those circumstances.Delete
It's so true, customer service makes a big difference in whether I will go back to a store or boulangerie or restaurant or not! Also, people talk with their friends about their experiences, so helpful and friendly service begets more customers.ReplyDelete
Hello and welcome to my blog. :)Delete
Some small places have little choice, so you can't change your boulangerie without a huge hassle - the next one might be 10km away. Still, life is a lot more enjoyable if you are pleasant to people. Smiles beget smiles... and happy customers.