Soft Skills

Ideas from the Range Report on making a good first impression for your business.

Gunsmiths and shooting range employees can be incredible resources for product knowledge. Most have extensive training and can accurately and thoughtfully help a customer select the most appropriate firearm, ammunition and accessories that fit their needs. On the other hand, that same sales person may not have the same level of customer service skills when it comes to welcoming new customers.

“You have to hire people who have a basic desire to be nice,” states Dan Mann, founder and president, The Mann Group, a retail consulting firm. “Unfortunately you can’t train nice. Range owners can hire people who have the soft skills and teach them how to apply that consistently. Good opening phrases can be taught, reinforced and dialed in.”

People skills are a critical element to consider. “We don’t hire our sales staff based on gun knowledge,” says Ed Santos, founder of Center Target Sports. “The absolute most important key to our hiring is that they have people skills and that they fit with our team. We can teach the gun knowledge. We can’t teach people to be responsive, compassionate and understanding. Those are the top one criterion when hiring new employees.”

Although not all ranges offer comprehensive retail operations, attention to customer service still plays a significant role in generating loyalty from experienced shooters. Attentive range managers, a well-lit, clean environment and operating hours that fit a wide range of customer needs can influence a customer to pick one range over another.

Holden Kriss, range manager of Indian River County Shooting Range in Sebastian, Fla., notes that while some shooting facilities hire range officers with police or military experience, that type of experience may not be a great fit for other customer-service roles.

“They may not be the best people to relate to new customers,” Kriss said. “You want someone who is friendly, smiling and willing to engage someone who has never fired a gun before or, at the least, never been to your range. You have to have someone who is willing to be in that role and ready to deal with the public.”

Recognizing the importance of first impressions on first-time customers who may be slightly uncomfortable and knowing how to handle those situations can pay off. That same attention to personalized customer service can be even more important with experienced shooters who may be in a situation to champion your range to their circle of friends and neighbors.

“The goal of customer-service training is making your sales staff aware and understanding what your customer may be going through,” explained Mann. “We must learn to become great listeners and ask questions. Don’t assume anything until you can better understand by listening what the customer is doing. By listening well and asking questions you demystify the experience for the customer and make the range and retail operation very approachable. When they are in a situation in which they feel comfortable, they will stay longer and buy more.”

At Center Target Sports, employees will answer a customer’s question by walking around the counter and taking them to the part of the range or store that holds the answer, and, if needed, offering them product recommendations. Those few extra steps have impressed many first-time visitors.

Miles Hall, founder and president, H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, OK notes, “Good customer service is all about listening and communicating. It’s always about informing and educating. We are here to help, and that’s the way it comes across. People-skills training is at the root of our company.”

Read more in our July 2013 issue. Back issues are available.

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