What happens when your frontline employees are completely ignorant of your products, and are only capable of sprouting nonsense? What do you do as a business owner?

I use a multi-function color laser printer (an Asian brand), as well as a monochrome laser printer as a back-up. Both printers have WiFi and small footprints, so that they fit well within my small office serving our team of consultants.

A few days ago, the black toner cartridge on the color laser printer was running low, and I swapped in a new black toner cartridge. Since I have no more black cartridges, I thought of getting to the IT Mall to get 2 complete sets of color cartridges (CMYK).

I went first to the largest store in the mall, and was referred to the printer corner. A young man came and told me they have the cartridges. I was led to the corner where all the cartridges were, and then he told me they only had Cyan, Magenta and Yellow (CMY), but no Black cartridge. I asked him politely when new stock would arrive, and he said one to two weeks. I told him I would return when full sets of cartridges become available. He then told me the most bizarre thing I have heard:

“Why don’t you buy a new printer?”

I was taken aback at this ludicrously stupid question, and then left the store.

The next store was a large one, in another floor. I went to their salesperson and he confidently told me they had stock for the CMYK cartridges I wanted. He went to the front desk, and then started staring at the cabinet full of cartridges, and then pronounced that they only had CMY cartridges – again, no Black cartridge. The plump lady at the cashier told me to wait, and she started dialing the phone, apparently to check the inventory or something. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited for around 15 minutes while time was wasted and she just repeated to me to wait. I left the store.

What both stores could have done at that time was to request for my business card, and then promised to contact me once the stock became available. And when a week is up, call me to tell me stock is available, and if not, when.

Better yet, train your frontline employees at the retail channels to be familiar with the products, preferably first-hand, and have a good information and knowledge management system (KMS) built internally, connected to the greater Web, to allow your frontline people full knowledge to relay to your customers. And for goodness sake, get your supply chain system in order.

Some customers are knowledgeable and know exactly what they need or want. Serve them as exactly as they demand. They will thank you for it and return again. Some customers may not be knowledgeable and may not know what they need, pack yourself full of industry and product knowledge, preferably first-hand, to help your customers make the best decisions based on affordability, features, and most of all, usage benefits. Again, if you can serve your customers with knowledge, expertise, wisdom, and empathy, they will thank you for your service, and return.