Sunday, August 07, 2016

Customer Appreciation

Humans are wired to remember the negative more than the positive. This characteristic probably began as a survival-enhancing trait, because our ancestors who catalogued and avoided negative experiences had a better chance of reproducing and bringing their next generation to breeding age.

As the eons have passed, the survival value of a negative focus has diminished, particularly as our technological society puts out crash pads around every sharp object and nurtures helplessness, but it remains vestigially. Any of us can notice things and connect dots to make small or large patterns that alarm, anger, or depress us.

I riff on customer behavior a lot, because I have absorbed so much of it over the decades. We in the theme park/specialty retail business should wear dosimeters to indicate how many assholes have irradiated us in the course of our careers. Given the bias toward retaining negative impressions, the collection of crap rays builds up and hangs around with more force than the accumulation of happy nice rays. I'm not excusing, just explaining.

Some people have higher susceptibility than others. You'll meet career sweeties in service positions. You'll meet people who have enough self control to contain an appropriate but ill advised response to a customer's radiation. You'll meet snarling burnouts who should change jobs, and would if they could. You'll meet people who are learning that they don't have what it takes to put up with the demands of an unfiltered public surging in with their needs, wants, and attitudes.

The seasonal fluctuation in our particular businesses, bike and ski, create high work loads and deep lulls. Each of these brings a specific kind of stress. And the devotees of one season consider the peak of our other season to be down time, so they come in to chisel and waste time when we are most busy with the other half of the clientele.

Specialty retail has its own challenges. We get chiseled during cross country ski season, because cross country skiers are basically cheapskates. I am one of you. Cross country skiing appealed to me because I could use skis for their ancestral purpose, to go from place to place, and because I could ski for free, limited only by available snow and my own skills. So I share the desire to pay less and ski more, compared to lift served skiing. Bicyclists cover a much broader spectrum, because bicycling can be done over a vastly greater range of conditions. But, because machinery is involved along with physical exertion, bicyclists not only encompass pathological bargain hunters, but mechanical and athletic arrogance in the spectrum of behavior. There's a little of that in cross-country skiing, but among skiers the chiseling dominates.

What does all this mean to customers and shop staff? Last week, with a staff chronically one person short for the workload on any given day, we had bored skiers, tired of summer, coming in for the off season deals, deals, deals. This draws a qualified staff member to sell stuff at suicide margins while in-season repair work continues to pile up. We should make them hold a gold-plated chisel as their emblem. At the same time, we got the out-of-town smart shoppers who will loudly tell their friends not to buy anything from us because they know some place down home that is going out of business and is basically throwing stuff out. That guy should wear a headdress made out of a dead vulture, to proclaim his devotion to feeding on the death of others.

I see from the condition of things people finally bring in for repair that they don't care whether it was properly set up the first place. The things they manage to survive make me wonder why I ever cared so darn much about doing a good job myself. Gone are the 1990s, when thousands of people took to the trails and actually tested products and our workmanship.

Weirdly, the current trend to know nothing and shop entirely by price manages to coexist with a culture of helplessness in which customers depend more than ever on products not only meeting but exceeding their specifications. Take that guy who rode the Mount Washington Century on a 23-22-21-20 spoke front wheel and did not end up in some hospital with his spine pinned together and his whole face in a cast.

When the shop fills up with loud, confident, and wrong experts explaining our products to their friends, while I scrub away at some greasy, rusty, neglected and abused piece of disrespected equipment, it can be hard to summon a feeling of noble justification for my occupation. We in the back shop turn to dark comedy. Occasionally we indulge one or two of those appropriate inappropriate responses.

All this is what we have to survive to be there for the truly interested, interesting, and appreciative riders. It's no one's fault that the pleasant lift from them can be eradicated in the next ten minutes by some behavioral fart. It's just people being people. And we are people laughing at people being people. We'd miss the jerks if they went away. It's fun to come up with ways to bitch about them. With negativity bred into us, our choice is to take it too seriously or to mock it.


Steve A said...

If the jerks went away, you'd have to adjust the standards for what constitutes a jerk...

Mike C said...

(sorry for commenting on an older post, but wondering ... )

> ... rode the Mount Washington Century
> on a 23-22-21-20 spoke front wheel ...

So what's the correct answer here? Is it
a) use front wheels with a reasonable number of spokes (like 32 or 36),
b) carry a Fiberfix, or even (gasp) actual replacements on longer rides, or
c) both ?

- a ~230-lb rider in MA

cafiend said...

Mike C -- The rider with the diminishing spoke count started the century with a 24-spoke wheel already reduced to 23. He continued to ride up and down mountains as more spokes broke. It's an absolute wonder that he did not end up in the hospital.

While thousands of riders survive every day on lightly built wheels, they are gambling more than they realize. A wheel that is technically strong enough to withstand the normal loads of a bike wheel may still have less resistance to the expected range of unintended overloads.

I consider a 32-spoke wheel to be a lightweight wheel. It's the heaviest of lightweight wheels, but 36 spokes was the norm when I started. Lower spoke counts and piano wire spokes were the risky bets most often placed by time trialists and climbing specialists, although 32-spoke wheels showed up on the bikes of crit and road racers. And I'm sure some of the mass-start crowd was styling 28s, too. One rider in the area spent months or years trying to get his nerve back after folding up a 28-spoke wheel in a sprint. Like I said: risky bet.

Materials have improved since the 1970s, but you still have to weigh the risks against the benefits when choosing lightweight equipment. Don't expect the industry to make wise decisions on your behalf. They know that modern looks and low published weights sell products.

I recommend that most riders use conventionally built wheels with 32 or 36 spokes. These days, a well-built wheel will seldom break spokes. OEM wheels are frequently not well built and the materials will be among the lowest quality. Sexy-looking wheels on a low- to medium-quality road bike are among the most risky, but even the big name brands will launch a loser from time to time. Carry a spare spoke for each size on your bike (probably 3 lengths in all, but maybe not), but you probably won't need them.