Sophisticated And Unsophisticated Customers
While you might treat all of your customers equally well, you probably shouldn’t treat them all the same way.
That’s because different customers walk into your life with a wide range of prior experiences, and therefore wildly different mindsets.
At first the obvious terms for these customers are “idiots” and “smartasses” (as those who have worked in retail will know) but that’s not quite sufficient.
Some people have no idea what they’re buying but are lovely to talk to – we call them “Unsophisticated Customers”.
Some people are refreshingly knowledgeable and can cut to the chase – we call them “Sophisticated Customers”.
Each of these customers requires a different set of terminology, a different set of questions and a different customer journey.
By creating a process that respects every type of customer, we give ourselves the best chance of creating a raving fan.
The Curse Of Knowledge
You have “The Curse Of Knowledge”, in that you’ve probably forgotten what it’s like to not be an expert in your field.
The terms you use, the questions you ask, the instructions you give all make – these all make an unsophisticated customer nervous.
They feel like they should know the answer, and the subsequent stress and embarrassment urges them to leave your store or close their browser tab.
It’s not that they had a technical issue, but rather they preferred the option of stalling or doing nothing over learning more about your industry.
At the same time, the sophisticated customer wants to have their knowledge recognised (and perhaps complimented), and under no circumstance wants to be treated like the rest of the market.
They’re on the hunt for a superior product or a discounted price, and want to enjoy the process of talking with someone equally sophisticated.
They use loaded questions to check your credibility and demonstrate their eye for detail, but when they’re treated well they send more customers your way.
In the spirit of honesty, here are some personal examples:
I am an unsophisticated customer of car parts.
My brother-in-law recently asked for a tow hitch for his birthday, so I had to go to Autobarn for the first time ever.
I instantly felt out of place, and had to ask a staff member where to find this particular part.
He was lovely about it, and refrained from laughing when I almost dropped the box (I had no idea this item would weigh 3kgs).
I could not have gotten out quicker – it never crossed my mind to browse for something for my own car.
I am an unsophisticated customer of wine.
I make decisions based on price, labels and terminology that sounds vaguely familiar, or I ask someone in the store for a recommendation in a price range.
I leave with a bottle of wine I know nothing about, or why I picked the $45 option over a nearly identical $15 option.
I am an unsophisticated customer of some professional services.
I am unsure what constitutes a “normal” pricing structure for a lawyer, surgeon, conveyancer or accountant.
When I hear of how much a QC (our top category of lawyer) costs, my jaw hits the ground, but my friends tell me “yeah that sounds about right”.
I would dread having to make these purchase decisions on the spot.
I am an unsophisticated customer of cars.
The car buying process is a bad day, I know nothing about what’s considered normal, and there’s no independent person in a dealership.
Heaven forbid I had to negotiate with a private seller, that would ruin my whole morning.
I am a sophisticated customer of financial products.
I love reading about investment funds and personal accounts, how they work and finding the one that has the best risk/reward offer.
To me, they’re genuinely interesting, and I love finding out how other people make these decisions for themselves.
I am a sophisticated customer of headphones and speakers.
I love trying on headphones in store, appreciating what my friends and colleagues use, and how different venues use great sound systems to create atmosphere.
I also know what all of the numbers mean on the back of the box, unlike a lot of retail employees.
What’s interesting about these examples is that some of you read those and went
“Oh really? That industry is actually really interesting once you learn about…”
You’re probably right, I haven’t had anyone explain the process and benefits to me before - it took several different friends to teach me about various types of whiskey and how to drink them.
Priming The Unsophisticated
Unsophisticated customers, first and foremost, want to avoid making a mistake, especially a mistake in public.
If this doesn’t seem possible, we’ll opt to do nothing, kicking the can down the road.
Secondly, we don’t want to be “sold to”, we want to make the right choice.
For these two reasons, we love Buyers Guides and simple rules-of-thumb that tell us what to look for.
Could you create a primer or guide for your unsophisticated customers?
Is there an industry body or independent commentator who has made something similar?
Remember, with unsophisticated customers you’re growing the pie – the more of them who start buying, the better it is for both you and your competitors.
It’s also worth bracing for “sticker shock”, the negative feeling you get when a price is much higher than you anticipated.
This is really common amongst unsophisticated customers, who have no frame of reference for what is considered normal, nor will they appreciate the rationale for your prices being above/below the industry average.
While this can be uncomfortable at first, it might get easier if you can provide context for your prices on your menu/invoice, such as a comparison to a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) or competitor’s price.
Respecting The Sophisticated
Sophisticated customers, first and foremost, want to be acknowledged and treated a little like a VIP.
Secondly, they don’t want to be “sold to”, they want to make the right choice.
For these reasons, it’s worth creating a purchase/checkout process that can skip the upsell and the explanations, or else your sophisticated customers will go elsewhere.
While your sophisticated customers may earn less margin, they also act as advocates to their networks, sending more people your way.
Considerations For Your Business
The most common mistake I see is businesses isolating their unsophisticated customers.
Perhaps your web presence is unclear, or your prices are hard to interpret?
Is it intimidating to contact your team?
Do your customers know how to process the jargon on your menus and labels?
The other mistake is in not thoroughly training staff.
Are your team genuinely equipped to spot and assist a sophisticated customer?
Do they know when to bypass some questions in order to save time?
Do they truly understand how your products and services are used?