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.