Last week I was reminded how important it is to not just hear, but to listen and understand what your customer is asking for. The owner of a relatively new pool hall called and asked us to perform a third party inspection on pool tables they had recently ordered from another vendor. They wanted to file a dispute for a portion of a $40,000 purchase. They felt very strongly that the tables they ordered were not what was delivered.

If it had been simply an error of model or stain color, it would not have affected his business; however, this difference concerned the size of the tables.   The customer wanted Commercial Size 8′ tables but the company delivered Home Size 8′ tables.   Most Houston pool halls use the larger tables so having the smaller tables would not draw in customers.

The mistake is an easy one to make. In the billiard industry, the larger 8′ tables are called several things; Commercial 8, Big 8, 8.5′, and 8′ Oversize. To be specific, the buyer and seller should always refer to the regulation playfield size of 46 x 92.

Unfortunately, the seller assumed he understood what the customer wanted. The customer did not read the quote before he made the purchase. While the seller did deliver exactly what was on the quote and invoice, the customer is very unhappy with what was delivered.

From the outside, it’s obvious that the buyer and the seller were both active in the miscommunication. However, industry experience and expertise should have dictated that the sales rep know a pool hall would not order the Home 8′ tables but would order Commercial 8′. The customer was not happy with other things, including thinking that they were getting Snooker tables they had shown the vendor a picture of, but getting a model which was similar to the pool tables. They were also dissatisfied with the speed of the cloth and the installation. These were just smaller issues tied up in the bigger picture.

At International Billiards, the sale would go something like this.   These questions, some general, some specific would be asked, prior to this sale:

  1. Pool is played with 16 balls, Snooker is played with 21 balls and smaller pockets, Carom is played with 3 larger balls and no pockets. Are you certain you want Snooker and Pool tables?
  2. American Snooker is a different size and style than the European Snooker in your picture. Let me show you what is available.
  3. You are asking for 8′ tables, however Commercial Size 8′ tables are standard in pool halls. Here is the difference.
  4. Pool tables are built in different qualities. Are you interested in buying by price point or something that will withstand heavy public use?
  5. These models are available in different stains and finishes. Do you want your pool tables and snooker tables to match?

Additional communication and consideration of the customer’s point of view and needs prior to the sale would have prevented this entire situation.   Now, instead of being the proud owner of a packed new business, the customer has 2/3 of his business filled with tables that are not getting played on and is unhappy. The billiard dealer cannot afford to take back eight pool tables in an unpopular laminate color and contractually, they delivered what was quoted. No business likes unhappy customers and surely they feel the same.

And then there is me. I’ve always been able to see multiple sides of any story. In this case, I’m wondering why the customer didn’t shop around instead of going to the closest location to their business.

There are two morals to this story:

  1. Do not just hear, but listen and understand your customer and their needs.
  2. You can get dental floss at the corner store and be happy….. but you should get a 2nd opinion for brain surgeons and pool tables.