Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

A secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 


The Four Elements of Satisfactory Customer Service

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Before an organization can even think about delighting customers, it needs to be able to consistently deliver what it takes in order to satisfy customers.

Satisfying a customer is dependent on:

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

1. A “perfect product or service

…perfect being defined as “designed and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.”  (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.  But reasonably foreseeable.)

2. Caring delivery

…no product is perfect in if it’s presented to the customer in a way that doesn’t appear to be “caring” to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t show care for the customer, it’s not going to be a hit.

3. Timely delivery

…a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesn’t match your customer’s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.  Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.

4. An effective problem resolution process

…because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process is covered here.

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Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors

A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. And it’s important to be able to deliver satisfaction over and over and over.  The only problem is, nobody ever shouted “Yeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.”  It’s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe.  To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.  Stay tuned—we’ll talk about it next article.


The Secrets of Customer Service Recovery

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

sign:

(c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Glitches–service breakdowns–are unavoidable when you provide service to customers. A computer system goes down. A key person walks out on you with no notice—on the only day you couldn’t possibly arrange coverage. A waiter drops a tray in a customer’s lap.  (I’ve done that one myself–a tray with six open bottles of beer on it.)

Service breakdowns are uncomfortable, and they require training to resolve. But you’ll find an opportunity hidden inside your company’s worst moments: the opportunity to bring a customer closer to you. Indeed, you can learn to handle service breakdowns so masterfully that these moments actually help you to create loyal customers.

The Four-Step Sequence for Great Service Recoveries

To recover masterfully when something goes wrong for a customer, respond to the service failure with a specific stepwise sequence.  (I with these would form a memorable acronym, but the best I’ve come up with is ARFFD. Not sure that’s very attractive as a memory aid.)

  1. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  2. Review the complaint with your customer.
  3. Fix the problem and then follow up: Either fix the issue in the next twenty minutes or follow up within twenty minutes to check on the customer and explain the progress you have made. Follow up after fixing things as well, to show continuing concern and appreciation.
  4. Document the problem in detail to allow you to permanently fix the defect by identifying trends.

Let me run through these steps in detail.

Step 1: Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. What’s needed is a sincere, personal, non-mechanical apology.

What does a customer want out of an apology? He wants to be listened to, closely. He wants to know you’re genuinely sorry. He wants to know you think he’s right, at least in some sense. He wants to know you are taking his input seriously. Overall, he wants to feel important to you. This means that the key to an effective apology, to getting back on the right foot with your customer, is to convey at the outset that you are going to take his side and share his viewpoint.

Step 2: Go Over the Complaint with Your Customer. In Step 1, you’ve begun an alliance with your customer; in Step 2, those collaborative feelings will let you explore:

  • What actually went wrong, from the customers perspective
  • What the customer needs for a good outcome

These aren’t good places to jump to conclusions. They’re issues you want to take time to explore in some detail with the customer.

Step 3: Fix the Problem and Then Follow Up. So you’ve decided to replace a substandard service or product. That’s a step in the right direction—but it’s only a first step. Remember that the customer has been stressed, inconvenienced, and slowed down by your failings. Merely giving her back what she expected to receive is unlikely to restore satisfaction.

A key principle in fixing a problem is to work to alleviate the customer’s sense of injustice—of having been wronged or let down. You do this through the attitude you convey, certainly, but you also do it by providing something extra. You can find a way to restore the smile to almost any customer’s face, whether it’s a free upgrade or a more creative offering, like one on-one consultation time with an expert on your staff. 

Ideally, the ‘‘something extra’’ you come up with will change the nature of the event for her: your special and creative efforts on her behalf will come to the foreground in the picture of the event she paints for herself and others, online or off, and the initial problem will move to the background.

Follow Up If you’ve handled the problem yourself, check in promptly with the customer after the intended resolution. This underscores your concern. and also lets you catch lingering unresolved issues.

Immediate follow-up is also important when you have reassigned (handed off) the customer’s problem to somebody else: Did the customer end up being (and feeling) taken care of by the technician to whom you assigned her issue? Youll only find out if you check back in with the customer. Besides, customers want you, their original ally, to follow up with them on such questions, not just somebody over in, say,  IT, not even if you know for a fact that the IT person is best equipped to help.

Step 4: Document the Problem in Detail. It’s natural to want to give yourself a breather after solving a customer’s problem. Still, it’s important to record, every single time, the details of what went wrong—promptly, before the memory can fade or become distorted. I call this “the deposition.” Be scrupulous: The only way to prevent serious problems from recurring is to document the problem for careful analysis later.

Your goal in using this documentation is to identify trends or patterns that hint at underlying causes. For example:

  • You might notice that a problem tends to happen around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays when Billy is on the job. This could lead you to consider whether Billy may have missed a particular training module.

or

  • It happens only between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., which leads you to notice that a freight elevator is always under maintenance at that time, creating unacceptably slow service.

or

  • The complaints are always about rear wiper blades you sell, but only in your Eastern and Midwest franchises, leading you to discover an interaction between salted roads and the particular rear blades you stock.  

BUBL: The Secret of Successfully Invading a Customer’s Space

Baby and mom with soap bubbles

Bubbles – (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Those customers who look so normal–to the untrained eye–as they wander around your establishment are actually each surrounded by a transparent protective bubble.

To be able to provide great customer service, your team needs to be aware of this phenomenon and be conscious of the extent to which a customer’s individual protective shell is open or closed at any particular moment. Learn to recognize when and when not to venture into the customer’s protective bubble–the invisible sanctuary within which the customer has expectations of solitude–and for how long.

Learn and remember the principles of this human force field by using my acronym “BUBL.”  

The BUBL method for starting, pacing, and concluding a service interaction

  • B Begin Immediately
  • U Uncode the guests    messages and pacing
  • B Break your schedule
  • L Leave room for more interaction

Let’s take these steps one by one.

B – Begin ImmediatelyThe guest expects service to begin the moment she comes into contact with the employee      

(Busy employees: Sometimes this needs to be accomplished even if you’re speaking with another customer; you may need to learn how to work with one customer while visually acknowledging the presence of a new arrival.)

Determining whether or not the customer actually considers contact to have been made for the purpose of soliciting service is a subtle part of this step. For example, if a guest catches a server’s eye, it may be merely accidental, but if the guest holds the server’s gaze, it usually means he’s expecting to be offered assistance.

U – Uncode: Decode the messages the customer is giving you about pacing, about their level of happiness or distress, etc. and adjust appropriately to their mood and timing. (This isn’t only detectable in person, by the way: such cues can be discerned on the phone, in live online chat, via videoconferencing, etc.)

(Yeah I know: I had to invent a word–“uncode”–to make my acronym work.  If I had stuck with D-Decode, the acronym would have been BDBL, which is actually fun to say, but maybe not so memorable.)

B – Break your scheduleYour customer has let you into their sanctuary for this moment. Drop what you’re doing and work on what they need. True service can never be slave to your checking things off in a predetermined order from a to-do list. Attending properly to a customer means adhering to the customers schedule, not the other way around. 

L -  Leave room for moreIs this really good-bye? Check before you conclude the interaction

It’s the service professional’s responsibility to ask if anything additional is needed, and, if not, to graciously thank the customer before leaving her in the sanctuary of her bubble. This is an important final principle: the ‘‘closing’’ of service. Too many service interactions end with a cold and impersonal ‘‘Bye,’’ or ‘‘OK,’’ or, far too frequently, nothing at all. The closing of service is as important as the opening. It is the last touch point, and it needs to be handled properly. Again, this principle can be applied in a chat sequence, a series of emails, or on the phone, as well as, of course, in person.

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This is subtle stuff.  But its important stuff.  It needs to form a module of your training, with role-playing and reinforcement, and a significant part of your mindset when interacting with (or considering whether to interact with) your customers.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Happens When Employees and Customers Clash?

???????????????????????????????????????????????Remember the classic scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Brad (actor Judge Reinhold), working at a fast-food joint, loses his temper at a rude customer, gets yelled at by his boss in front of the customer and gets fired? The customer may have been satisfied (temporarily), but the fast-food restaurant lost a good employee (check out this clip).

When an employee clashes with a customer, how should you handle it? If you don’t want to lose good employees or alienate good customers, the answer is “delicately.”

1. Separate the combatants. If an employee has blown his or her lid at a customer, your first step should be to remove the employee from the situation and deal with the customer yourself. Tell the customer you’re sorry for what happened and you will talk to the employee separately.

2. Get the customer’s side of the story. Take notes so you can remember clearly.

3. Make it right with the customer. Find out what the key issue is. For example, is the customer upset because he can’t get a refund? Or has the refund been given, but the customer feels the employee was rude during the process? Deal with the business issue first (i.e. the refund), then soothe the ruffled feelings.

4. Get the employee’s side of the story. Again, take notes. Go over what the customer said. Keep in mind both parties may not give you a full or correct account, but at least you’ll have a handle on what happened. If other employees were present, you may want to get their eyewitness accounts separately as well.

5. Assess the damage. Depending on what you learn, you’ll need to handle the situation in different ways. Did an employee with multiple behavioral issues admit to badmouthing a customer, with four eyewitnesses corroborating it? If so, you need to take disciplinary action. Was a stellar employee accused of something by an irate and seemingly irrational customer she and four eyewitnesses deny? If so, you may actually want to let that customer know you won’t tolerate their behavior.

6. Talk to the employee. Most situations fall somewhere between these extremes. In that case, talk to the employee to figure out how she could have handled the situation differently and better. The problem may lie in her responses, in which case you need to educate her about how she’s coming across and standards for interacting with customers. Or the problem may lie in your company’s systems—maybe you need clearer guidelines about returns or more empowerment for front-line workers to make their own decisions.

Ultimately, working through customer/employee clashes will let good employees know you support them, let good customers know you’re committed to providing standout service, and make your business better every day. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

In the pioneer days, customer service at the local general store meant a friendly greeting and wrapping a purchase in brown paper tied with string. Today, customers’ expectations have become far more sophisticated—and so has customer service. Here are some of the top customer service trends today, as identified by Forrester Research, and what they mean to your business.

  1. Customers want “pain-free” service. Basically, this means making it easy for customers to get the help they want, anytime, anywhere. For example, customers now expect to be able to use a variety of communications channels to get customer service. Voice is still the number-one channel used for customer service, but self-service, chat and email are all gaining in popularity. Moreover, customers expect the same level and quality of service, whether they’re using the phone or live chat. Finally, they expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and seamlessly complete it in another.
  2. Stocksy_txp6f31b4d2H08000_Small_165665Customers are going mobile. Most customers expect to be able to interact with customer service on a mobile device. It’s important you don’t just present a smaller version of your desktop website on mobile; instead, use responsive design to ensure customers can view and interact with your site whether they’re on a tablet, desktop or smartphone. For mobile, your customer service interface should be simple, intuitive and easy to use.
  3. Customer service is getting proactive. One big trend Forrester noticed: Nearly one-third of bigger companies plan to invest in proactive outbound communications with customers this year. For your small business, that could be anything from calling customers to follow up after a sale, to randomly surveying customers about your service, to using shopping cart software that reaches out with an invitation to live chat when customers’ actions indicate confusion.
  4. Companies are moving customer service to the cloud. More companies are relying on cloud-based, SaaS solutions rather than installing software. This enables them to keep current on changes in customer service and maintain fluid databases with new knowledge about how to handle customer problems and inquiries.
  5. Companies are incorporating self-service. Forrester reports that 67 percent of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions. Savvy companies are looking to supplement their own knowledge bases with user-generated content, which enables customer service employees and customers alike to find answers to a wider range of questions and problems more quickly. 

Experience Your Business the Way Your Customers Experience It

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Every day you’re in business, take some time to make sure you’re experiencing what doing business feels like, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like as a customer.

Even great companies fail at this, more often than they realize.

A simple example

Here’s a simple example of what can go wrong, and why.  Do you ever wonder why it’s so often chilly in your favorite restaurant?  Even the great Charlie Trotter’s restaurant was notoriously frigid, for all the warm service you received as a guest there. 

The reason is this:  Restaurant work is hard, active work.  Restaurants are staffed by employees who are on their feet, hustling, working their rear ends off.  Good employees. Helpful employees. But employees who most likely don’t realize that sitting down, expending zero calories as you wait for your caloric infusion (dinner), is going to cause a guest to have a different sensibility relating to comfort and temperature.

It’s not always simple

Striving to see things from your customer’s perspectives has some inherent traps. If yours is an unusually innovative company or trying an unusually innovative approach, sometimes you will throw intentional or unavoidable obstacles (a steep learning curve, for example) in the way of your customer.  This means sacrificing immediate sales or immediate ease of use in the interest of ultimate success.  For example:

  • Maybe you have the wrong customers. This is a reasonable theory, for those of us who are truly brave and truly trying something new.  If you’re opening a restaurant with cutting-edge cuisine (sorry about the cascading foodservice examples today—I must be hungry) in a primarily tourist-trappy “Tour Buses Welcome” part of town, it may take time before you are discovered by the discerning diners you’ll truly need for your business to ultimately thrive.
  • Maybe your customers won't immediately get what you're about, and maybe that's ok. If you can see into the future (like Steve Jobs) there’s a chance you can bring your customers with you, not instantly but over time.  Just because a system seems alien on day one doesn’t mean it always will.  Remember how weird having a mouse and no keyboard commands was in the ‘80s until we adapted.  Think about what it was like when ATMs were introduced.

Don’t kid yourself.  Usually you’re being oblivious, not innovative.

Most of the time, this innovating-ahead-of-the-customer isn’t what’s causing your blind spots. What’s going on is more likely that you’re simply unaware of how your business comes across to your customer, how you’re abusing your customer’s patience and aesthetic sense while the poor customer is trying to do business with you. 

You need to become aware of, and then eliminate:

  • Elements you intend to be simple that are actually confusing

For example: Does your website violate usability rules and expectations?

  • Elements you intend to be easy that are arduous

For example: A customer can be in a heck of a bad mood by the time they even get into your store if they find it hard to find parking, if your address is unclear, if your hours are incorrectly reported by Google or Yelp. 

  • Elements you intend to seem trustworthy and straightforward, that don’t come across that way to your customers

For example: Pricing that a customer assumes to be all inclusive but that requires extra charges to be complete. (Charging for wifi may seem reasonable to a hotelier, since she knows what it cost her to install the system, but it won’t seem that way to a hotel guest.)

How do you get there?

Well, there’s no "we are there now—we’re done“ in customer service. But it’s a process you have to start, and continue, forever.  Including:

  • Park where where your customers park
  • Come in the same entrance your customers come in
  • Read what your customers read (for example online reviews of your company — and of your competitors); don’t assume their journey with your company begins on your website or at your front door
  • Use the public website for your company, logging in as customers log in (no insider override here, please).

Amazon box as delivered by UPS/ copyright Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) micah@micahsolomon.com

Wonder why amazon.com is such a powerhouse?  Well, there are a lot of reasons.  but here’s one you probably only think about if you live in the Seattle area:  Amazon has 80,000 built in customers.  Literally everyone who works there orders from them, the same way the rest of us do.  And these 80,000 users catch issues fast, suggest improvements minute to minute and day to day (which are then often acted on right away).

There’s one more element to it.

There’s value in getting to know your customers outside of their interactions with your company.  In other words, finding out what the rest of their lives look like.  This isn't easy either, but it’s important. Otherwise you can only create an environment that is comfortable for people who are more or less similar to you. To give you a simple example of this: I worked with some car dealers recently who had the most male-defined waiting rooms you can imagine.  Although more than 50 percent of their purchases (and, I’ll bet, even more of the decisionmakers on purchases) are women, the overwhelmingly male managers were who had picked out the furniture and even the magazines for the weighting areas.  They would have done better to have someone (most likely female) who understood the norms and expectations of their customers a bit better.

Seeing your business from the viewpoint of your customers isn’t easy, and won’t always come naturally.  But it’s worth it. 

 

© 2014 Micah Solomon


10 Pieces of Advice to Ignore

Entrepreneurs get advice every day from their professional advisors and information they read. A lot of it needs to be ignored. Pay close attention to disregarding these platitudes and what to do instead:

  1. It takes money to make money. Many entrepreneurs spend too much money getting their company off the ground. In fact, having a lot of money can lead to being wasteful. Use small investments to test ideas and get paying customers. Based on this success or failure, spend alittle more money to test the next action.
  2. Do what you love and the money will follow. This principle has the entrepreneur focus on what they want to do instead of what the customer wants. Building a company is about finding the pain a buyer has, not what the entrepreneur wants to provide. Instead, do what you love and if you solve a customer’s pain, the money will always follow.
  3. Failure is required for success. This is what many entrepreneurs tell themselves when they fail. While failure is not required for success, ultimately it is part of every entrepreneur’s experience. Never fear failure. When it comes, acknowledge it, learn what you can, then take another action to give you another chance at success.
  4. Failure is not an option. Not only is it an option, it is the most likely outcome. Get comfortable with the fact that you will fail some of the time and not knowing exactly what will happen next.
  5. A penny saved is a penny earned. This is short term thinking. While it is important to be carefully frugal with your money, not every transaction needs to yield the maximum profit. Successful business owners invest in long term relationships.
  6. Good things come to those that wait. Waiting is typically not in an owners DNA. As another platitude says “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it”. Being proactive rather than reactive will typically win the day.
  7. A penny for your thoughts. Be careful not to give away your value to customers for free. Entrepreneurs typically undervalue their products and services since they are uncomfortable asking customers to buy.
  8. The customer is always right. If the customer was always right, most entrepreneurs would be out of business! When the customer has a concern, the most important thing is to listen and show empathy. They don’t need to be right, but always need to be heard.
  9. Another day, another dollar. Making money is not a linear process. Successful small business owners look for the leverage in profitability and this typically is not in the form of working harder or longer hours. Look for the financial leverage points in hiring other people, intellectual property or a dedicated distribution channel.
  10. Money doesn’t grow on trees. While this is literally true, there is ways to make money all around any entrepreneur. Follow the customers that have the money to solve their pain and the money will follow. 

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Think Like a Doctor to Cure Your Customers’ Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????Greg House, M.D. was a brilliant (if fictitious) diagnostician who based his success on the premise that “everybody lies.”  I can imagine a number of reasons why patients may lie outright to their doctors — even if those lies send them to the brink of death until the last few minutes of the episode.  But your business customers seldom try to misdirect you.  They just don’t know how to accurately tell you about the issues that they want to resolve with your goods or services. 

If you find yourself constantly tweaking and re-tweaking your business solutions, or if customers seem to return your products too frequently, you may be a victim of the dreaded customer-service disease known as problem solving by deduction.  However, by playing doctor and recognizing certain symptoms, you can find effective cures your customers’ needs.

Symptom 1: Requesting a Cure without Describing the Ailment

How many patients stroll into their doctors’ offices just to ask for an antibiotic?  Did they conduct their own testing before the visit to verify that they have a bacterial infection that antibiotics actually cure?  Unless your clients have your level of expertise, their requested solutions may not guarantee a cure for their ills, and it can even create a new disease.

When a first-time customer came to my friend’s flower shop looking for a bouquet of lilies to bring as a hostess gift, my friend initiated a conversation about the gift-giving occasion.  Once she learned that the flowers were intended for a dinner party being held by a first-generation German family, she quickly suggested alternative flowers because in Germany, lilies are used at funerals.  A few minutes of conversation saved the customer from embarrassment — and it earned my friend many future flower orders for the customer’s frequent business events.

Symptom 2: Providing Vague Explanations of the Ailment

You probably wouldn’t spend money on a doctor visit to report that you just don’t feel right.  Just as you might bring a list of specific complaints like loss of appetite or exhaustion, your clients need to describe their issues as specifically as possible. 

Think of the months of wasted effort you would put in if you were to build a Model A Ford from original parts, only to learn later than the customer wanted a ’65 Mustang when he asked you to “build a classic car.”  Business people can fall into this trap, often because they don’t want to appear ignorant.  But, if you don’t ask questions to get to the specifics, you will not find the right solutions to your customers’ business needs.

Symptom 3: Defining Issues by Elimination

When your doctor asks you where it hurts, you wouldn’t respond with, “I’ll tell you where it doesn’t hurt.”  Yet, some consulting customers expect you to come up with solutions based solely on what they do not want.  This is an extreme example of customer service by deduction, and you have to carefully nip it in the bud.

One report designer quickly learned this lesson when she was called in to modify a series of reports used to analyze product sales within a company.  The client provided her with a printout of each report and then, proceeded to point out what was wrong with each one.

Recognizing that this type of information would lead to a trial-and-error approach that would never solve the problem, the designer refused to end the meeting.  She kept digging until she got the client to clearly explain the intended use for each report and identify the missing information that prevented the report from meeting its goals.  With clear answers, she could solve the real issues.  Her clients were delighted when she returned with new reports that met or exceeded their expectations.

Recognize the Symptoms to Heal Your Customers’ Ailments

Your customers come to you because you have knowledge that they do not have.  But just as patients do not clearly express their medical concerns, your clients can easily lead you down the wrong path.  Of course, you probably want to act more like Marcus Welby than Greg House, but you need to keep asking questions until you can hone in on the issues and apply the healing touch that they really need.




 
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