Know Your Customer, Know Your Product

When I first started in Christian retail I quickly learned that while my seminary education could be profitably incorporated into my sales experience I still had much to learn about retail sales. There is a difference between knowing the contents of a book and being able to concisely explain the benefits of a book to a customer. I also learned that what I might find extremely helpful on a given topic may be completely wrong for my customer. Most of my customers are not seminary graduates (I have many who are and who are currently in seminary).

Over the years I’ve learned that when a customer asks for a book I need to ask questions to help me find them the right product. Sometimes the customer is not ready for the question in return. Example:

Customer, “Do you have a book on spiritual gifts?”

Me, “From a charismatic or a non-charismatic perspective?”

The customer replies, “Oh, I hadn’t even thought about it.” Several years ago I started reading books from other traditions (Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran occupied me for a couple of years). Recently I’ve been reading a lot of Catholic theology. The other day I asked a coworker what a “Divine Office” was? I had a vague notion but wanted to make sure I was right. Not only did he provide an explanation he refered me to a book with a great summary of it. The book is The Rhythm of God’s Grace by Arthur Paul Boers. This isn’t a Catholic book but it had some comments that really helped me. Here’s an excerpt:

“One name, ‘Office,’ comes from the Latin word officium, which combines the two terms opus (meaning ‘work’) and facere (meaning ‘to do’). ‘Office’ then has to do with work, duty, task, and even responsibility.

“Fortunately, ‘Office’ has other connotations as well. According to the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, its meanings also include ‘something done toward any one; a service, kindness, attention.’ I think of such daily prayer then as a goodness done or given to God, an offering. Surely God merits our service, kindness, and attention. (5)

“Other terms–such as ‘divine hours,’ ‘liturgy of the hours,’ or ‘fixed-hour prayer’–remind us of a regular daily rotation of prayers (ranging from one to seven services) at certain set times. ‘Hour’ is not just a time on a clock. An hour is more like a little church season. The hours, then, help us live and structure our time in a way that helps us pay attention to God and God’s priority throughout the day. (6)

“Sometimes the name tells you which tradition is being used. ‘Common prayer’ is usually Episcopalian or Anglican. ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ is Roman Catholic terminology. The ‘daily office’ is often Benedictine. (Benedictine is not automatically Roman Catholic; there are Protestant Benedictines.) The ‘divine office’ or ‘divine hours’ tends to be Orthodox. Even though different terms are used, the services in all the traditions have much in common and are more similar than not.” (7)

I find this sort of thing enormously helpful in providing me with an understand of the language of various church traditions. The better I understand the language of all of my customers the better I can help them.

One final example. We sell a poster in the store with a listing of the fruit of the Spirit. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years and I memorized Gal. 5:22-23 which enumerates the nine fruit of the Spirit.  Imagine my surprise when I read this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: ‘charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.’ (1832)

Twelve?! Why is the Catholic fruit basket bigger than the Protestant one? The answer is that this number follows the Latin Vulgate which lists these twelve virtues. Oddly enough the New American Bible only lists nine while the Douay-Rheims lists all twelve. All of this is to say now I will understand if I have a customer who tells me she want a poster with the twelve fruits of the Spirit. Before I would have tried to gently correct the customer by saying, “You mean the nine fruits of the Spirit, right?” This could have been potentially very embarrassing for me. Without skipping a beat now I know what she is asking for.

This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I love my customers and when I can find just the right product for them I know I’ve made them happy. My education grows daily as I encounter new customers everyday who remind me I have much to learn.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Catholic, Misc. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Know Your Customer, Know Your Product

  1. Phil Miller says:

    Wonderful posting! As a (now retired) librarian I had to field reference questions every day. Part of the flow of the “reference interview” to helping the client focus and narrow the point of reference. Not all librarians or book-store personnel have the knack for guiding the client – You, Louis, clearly do! (BTW, when people came to me and said, “I have a silly question,” my reply was, “There are no silly questions, only silly answers.”)


  2. Oh, I know precisely what you mean! I don’t think I’ve ever been as current with the literature as when I worked there (and I’m no slouch in that department!), and it was always profoundly satisfying to learn more in order to be able direct people to what they truly needed. Frankly, I miss it, but I’m glad that I can still read your posts and have a little taste of what it’s like. 🙂


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