Don’t be taken for a ride!

Customer service can make all the difference to your reputation – and the success of your business.

On the 14th of May 2014, a number of friends got together and, as a birthday gift, gave me some vouchers to spend at a well-known bicycle store in Limassol.

Fast forward 365 days and I decided – again on my birthday, three weeks ago – to treat my wife Christine and my young son Rolandos with the same present.

My mission

  1. To buy a child carrier for my bike, so as to be able to take my young son out with me.
  2. To buy my wife a bicycle.

As a creature of habit and with almost zero knowledge as to the whereabouts of another bike store, and given that the place I knew is in an easily accessible prime location, I decided to go to the same store from which my friends had bought the vouchers one year earlier. Then, I judged their customer service to be a bit lower than average. They had won my business but not my heart.

My 2015 experience at the same bike store

As I always do, upon entering the store I called out a cheerful “Good-morning!” only this time it seemed as if I was saying to myself as no-one made an effort to respond or to greet me, at least, with the expression of someone who is delighted to be welcoming an old customer back to the store.

The owner was busy serving another customer and even though I made an attempt to pat him on the back and say hello, he avoided my friendly gesture with skills that a circus acrobat would have been jealous of! The woman behind the counter was absorbed in her telephone conversation and she made it clear that she had no intention of stopping her conversation for me. Eventually, some six minutes after we arrived in the store, the owner signalled to one of his salespeople to deal with me and my family.

I explained to the young technician, who was acting as a salesperson, precisely what I had in mind for my son. He showed me a choice of child carriers, without bothering to explain the difference between them apart from the price. He did, however, make a point of telling me that they don’t fit such carriers on a Saturday, so whatever I chose I would have to return to the store the following Monday. The carriers could be seen from where we stood but, to touch and examine them more closely, we would have to go upstairs. The sales representative made no attempt to take us to the stairs; he merely pointed to each one, explaining how good it was.

At that moment, the evident lack of interest in my custom shown by the people there, from the manager to the sales assistant, reminded me of a recent conversation I had had with my good friend – and biking expert – Thales Panagides, during which he told me about another bike store and described the customer service there as “awesome”.

It took us just a few minutes to find ourselves at «33 Bikes» and less than a few seconds for me to realize what the owner, Socrates Socratous, was all about.

My 2015 experience at 33 Bikes

First impressions last

When we entered his store, Socrates was on the phone with someone I assumed to be a customer. I heard him say, “Of course we can do that today! Bring your bike in anytime you like. I’ll be here.” My first impression was that I was dealing with a person who not only cares about his work but is passionate about it and respectful of it.


The moment Socrates put down the phone (we had not been there for more than 30 seconds), he said “Michael Virardi, welcome!” We had never met but he recognised me and his wide-eyed look and genuine smile said “Good to have you here.”

Consultant vs. Salesperson

What I admired about Socrates is that he did not rush to show me his impressive stock. On the contrary, once I had explained what I wanted for my son, he asked me five very well-aimed questions, which positioned him – at least in my eyes – as a caring consultant as opposed to a circling hawk.

His first three questions were (in the order asked):

  1. How old is your son?
  2. How much does he weigh?
  3. How experienced a cyclist are you?

When I answered all three of them (“27 months”, “15 kg” and “not very”) he told me that he couldn’t sell me a child carrier because, based on the information I had given him, it would be too dangerous. The salesman at the first store had not had a problem with selling me what I wanted and he never asked the questions that would have positioned him in my mind as a reliable consultant. He had merely agreed my every request and hoped to obtain a sale.

And then, just as I was about to contemplate that my wife would be keeping me company during our hour-long cycling tours but not the third member of the family, Socrates proposed an alternative and safe method – a special child’s buggy (as shown in the photo below) which can be towed by my bicycle.

The only problem about this was that he didn’t have one in stock, so we would have to wait for at least two months, maybe longer. But once again Socrates and his positively wired customer service brain came to the rescue! He volunteered to load his own buggy (he said his 3 year old son could go without it for a month or so!) into his truck and, on a Saturday evening, he arrived at our house to deliver it to us for testing purposes.

Now that we have seen and tested it, it goes without saying that we are thinking about ordering a new one.

Christine’s bicycle & accessories

His next two questions were:

  1. What is your budget for your wife’s bicycle?
  2. How much do you love her?

Sorry, dear readers, I’m joking (for question5)! What he actually asked me was whether the bicycle would mainly be used off-road or on-road!

He then recommended a model, we saw it, Christine tried it out, and I bought it. And not only that. As well as buying Christine’s bicycle from Socrates, I bought all the other cycling accessories we needed from him too.

I shall be entrusting Socrates and «33 Bikes» with servicing our cycles in the future. I feel that I have not only discovered an excellent example of customer service (which I will tell others about – as I am doing now) but I have gained another friend who shows me the same respect that I believe I show all my clients and friends.

The secret

If you are a shop owner, you need customers. And it is a fact that you may be able to attract their attention through advertising or an impressive window display. But if you want those customers to buy from you, recommend you to others and return to you again and again, you need to show the qualities that Socrates has exhibited:

  • Make sure that your customers’ first impression is the best it can be. A good impression can gain you a loyal supporter while a negative one will lose you sales, your reputation and recommendations to others.
  • Show that you are glad to have them there and make an effort to serve them in a courteous and friendly manner.
  • Be more than a salesperson; be a consultant. Yes, you want to make a sale but not under any circumstances. Your customers want and need your advice. If this sometimes means telling them that you can’t give them what they would like because it is not suitable, do it. Better to lose a customer than to lose the relationship with a customer.

If you don’t already have them, these three qualities can help take your customer service to a new level. Make a start by offering a genuine smile to everyone who walks through your door. There is a traditional Chinese proverb that says, “A man without a smiling face must never open a shop”. Wise words indeed!