In our last episode, we talked about listening to consumer needs, as we rethink business models and move forward to the next iteration of the music products industry. In addition to a focus on needs, we also should pay close attention to consumer barriers: the systemic roadblocks that prevent our potential customers from reaching us, and the practices that our existing customers dislike.

We’ll leave the barriers to entry (time constraints, expense, perceived difficulty, etc.) for another discussion. This month, I want to focus on the things that drive customer dissatisfaction. Here’s the short list, gleaned from direct contact with customers, of course, but informed by studies and surveys, including the American Customer Satisfaction Index. While most of these gripes apply to retail as a whole, they also hit the music industry upside the head.

Customers want to communicate their preferred way. You may be proud of being progressive and media-enabled, and rightly so. If you don’t use text, email and social media to connect with your customers, you will miss out. But beware of turning the page (in itself an aging metaphor) on the old ways of communicating. There are still many people who prefer a phone call — even though there are now many who never talk on the phone. Wide swaths of consumers are not on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Sure, if your target demographic is the 16-30 age bracket, you can be all cutting-edge. You will, however, be closing the door on many potential customers, if you focus solely on the new channels.

Consumers want a good shopping experience, but despair of finding it. Decades of understaffed stores, poorly trained associates, and lackluster merchandising have taken the fun and wonder out of many retail experiences. When going to a store has all the glitz and stimulation of a trip to the license bureau, who can blame people for going online? At least you can shop in your underwear with a glass of wine. (Note: NOT a suggestion for a new store concept.) We need to dramatically raise the bar on our shopping experience.

Convenience is often more important than price. I doubt we’ll need 24-hour music stores in the near future (never say never), but we’re often clueless — or cavalier — when it comes to when consumers want to shop. The number of stores in our industry that open after 10 a.m., close at 6 p.m., take multi-day holiday breaks or even close “for vacation” in summer is ridiculous. This isn’t the 1970s. People are crushingly busy, and they get angry, not disappointed, when a store does not have convenient hours. Studies show they will shop at a store that fits their schedule rather than change their schedule to save five percent. People will also pay (a little) extra to have repairs done faster or to hand off chores like restringing or cleaning. And remember, Amazon is always open. Always.

At the same time, there’s a growing surcharge backlash. People are fed up with add-on fees and subscriptions that don’t feel valuable. Coming up with an “Amazon Prime”-style membership fee would be ridiculous in brick-and-mortar MI because the optics are different: It’s likely that Prime members would feel they are paying extra for services they already expect. The inverse is even more likely: non-members can feel they get substandard service. I’ve already seen one store in our market tout the “top service” one gets, if the instrument was purchased from them. The implication? If you didn’t buy from them, go to the back of the line. Charming.

Even if we avoid or solve — or at least mitigate — these customer pain points, forward-thinking stores will need to do a lot of extra outreach to convince customers that an improved, customer-centric shopping experience is available. After so many years of lackluster retailing in the marketplace (often amplified by problems specific to the music industry), we must regain consumer attention. It’s been diverted by the bright and sparkly internet, and even those disenchanted with the cornucopia of online goods don’t know who we are, where we are or what we do. They think Keith Urban comes to their house to give guitar lessons. In my opinion, this is the biggest challenge facing industry growth. Certainly, there’s plenty to be concerned about as you check off the list: CITES regulations, school budgets, currency exchange, financing, counterfeits … we have more problems than Jay-Z. But without a steady stream of customers, it’s pointless to try to solve them.

Of course, if we design our approach, do our outreach and get customers into our stores, it’s only a start. We have to get them to return for a second visit — and hopefully many beyond that. Crucial to that repeat business, and more important, in my opinion, than price, hours, displays or even specific products, is the way we treat customers as people. Music isn’t a food/shelter need, but for most people participating, music isn’t just a way to pass the time. It’s important to them, even the beginning adult violin student. These people want to talk to someone who recognizes that and treats their needs.

That isn’t easy. It requires special people, and we’ll talk more about that next time.

What have you done to improve the customer shopping experience in your store? Let me know, whether it’s a process, program or a display pic, by posting on the Veddatorial Facebook page at Let’s talk about ways to move our industry forward.

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