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RealSkiers: How to Be a Good Customer


Try to be as specific as you can when describing yourself as a skier. (RealSkiers.com)

Thanks to the popularity of rating sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, every retailer, restaurant and service provider in America is subject to appraisal by its customers. On the whole, this phenomenon is a positive development, even if human nature is such that many folks are more likely to rant about a negative experience than extol an exceptional one.

Even the best operation will occasionally fumble the service ball. Recently, a spate of mountain-out-of-molehill incidents that triggered a chorus of carping inspired one of my co-workers to lament, "I wish we had a way to rate our customers."

While I don't expect this insight to cause savvy venture capitalists to commit billions to its implementation, the comment from my beleaguered colleague made me think, "If I could conceive the ideal, five-star customer for ski gear, what would he or she be like?" 

I can sum up the answer in one word: "prepared." (One of the Secrets to Life is that it never hurts to be prepared.)  But this begs the question, what does good preparation look like?

Let's suppose you're looking for new skis and boots. Everyone with advice worth following will tell you to first focus on boots, so let's do the same here.

The first principle of boot buying is, "Don't look for a boot; look for a bootfitter." This doesn't mean that there's no value in reading up on the current boot market, only that you can't make a decision based solely on what you read, no matter how credible the source.

Accurate bootfitting that puts skiers in a comfortable, balanced position is an art that can't be practiced long distance. This is another way of saying, don't even think about buying ski boots online. You need to find a shop with which you can have a lasting relationship, not just for boot selection and fitting, but for all the other services skiing requires.

If you want to earn a 5-star rating from your bootfitter, here are 5 tips to help the bootfitting process:

  • Bring thin ski socks or offer to buy a pair.
  • Wear loose pants that can be rolled up, or shorts.
  • Bring your old boots or a picture of same, if possible.
  • Have some idea what flex index might be right for you.
  • Bring patience, an open mind and a sense of humor to the proceedings.  

On the flip side, here are three sure ways to lose a star or two:

  • Ask to try on every boot in the store that's in or near your size.
  • Grossly exaggerate your ability. It doesn't help your cause.
  • Go through the fit process, then announce you'll think about it.
  • Repeatedly overrule advice from experts trying to help you.  

Once you're in the hands of an experienced bootfitter, all you really have to do to be considered a first-class customer is be open to suggestion, responsive when asked for feedback and decisive when need be.

When it's time to talk about skis, preferred customers prepare by:

  • Knowing what skis they own, and which they plan to keep.
  • Objectively self-assessing their ability, style and terrain preferences.
  • Learning about the various ski categories and narrowing the choices down to no more than two.
  • Reading ski reviews and brand profiles to see which models sound like the best fit for their style.
  • Cutting the list of models they want to demo down to three.

To maintain a high ski-buyer rating, avoid:

  • Steering the conversation off topic.
  • Prolonged dithering.
  • Insisting on ill-founded advice from an "expert."

In a perfect world, all specialty ski shops would merit a 5-star rating, as would all who patronize them. Alas, nobody's perfect. I confess to bungling a service assignment just last week and I'll probably commit another gaffe or two before season's end.

But it's never for lack of trying. At the end of the day, that's all we can ask of either side of the customer/shop equation, to do the best we can while working collaboratively towards a happy ending. 

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