Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Earlier this evening, between dinner and dessert, my two-year-old son began singing the ABCs Song from his high chair. Not once, but again and again as he was cheered on by his siblings and me each time after completing the song’s finale: “…Next time won’t you sing with meeeee?”
His face lit up every time he was acknowledged at the end of his song. And then, as if it was the very first time, he launched into another rendition of the ABC Song. And what did we, his audience, do throughout each new performance? We smiled, nodded, encouraged, and clapped as though it were the very first time we had heard Carter sing the song.
It reminded me of when customers ask us questions we’ve heard a hundred (or thousand) times before. Common questions such as, “Where are you located?” or “How does your rewards program work?” or “What beers do you have on tap?”
The tendency is to begin answering the question even before the customer has completed his sentence. Sometimes the response is rushed in order to move onto other, more important, questions or priorities or is delivered in a way that is robotic. Efficient, yes, but ineffective.
Customers deserve to be acknowledged in unique ways. It may be the fortieth time you’ve heard the question today but it’s likely the first time this customer has asked it. Respond to their questions in ways that communicate a sincere desire to serve.
And here’s another benefit to tuning into customer questions—even the common ones: a chance to sell!
Take the three common questions above for example. Each question provides an opportunity to make a sale. When a customer calls and asks where you’re located, you have a chance to make a friendly first impression over the phone and to facilitate the customer’s drive to your location by providing clear directions with easy-to-spot landmarks.
Seriously, think of all the times that you’ve contacted a business for directions and because of the robotic, apathetic, or indifferent response, you made a decision to go elsewhere. It happens—a lot.
When a customer asks how a rewards program works, that’s your opportunity to shine, learn more about the customer’s use of your products and services, and enroll her in the program. She benefits from the program’s perks and your company benefits from her continued loyalty and future spending.
The alternative is to default to a script that you’ve spewed countless times in the past as you hand the program brochure to the customer before moving on to other priorities. The recipients of these rote pitches generally toss the program materials as soon as they round the next corner.
And the final example above, “What beers do you have on tap?” provides a great opportunity for engaged servers to sell high-margin draft beer or to upsell customers to a larger size—and a higher profit margin.
How many times have you heard a server respond in one breath, “BudBudLightCoorsCoorsLightAnchorSteamAmstelLightSamAdams andBass” or, worse, point you to the back of the menu? I recall times when servers were visibly irritated by the question. Their body language said, “Ugh…not again.”
Years ago I read the book, Hey, I’m the Customer: Front Line Tips for Providing Superior Customer Service by Ron Willingham. One of the quotes from that book that stood out to me was to “tune the world out and the customer in.” Whether “the world” refers to being preoccupied, distractions, or even the monotony of answering the same question again and again, you owe it to your customers to tune them in.
Think back to the beginning of this post. Imagine if, instead of acknowledging my two-year-old son with applause, I had said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…ABCs. Look Carter, you’re my fourth kid. Do you know how many times I’ve heard the ABC Song? Here, eat your ice cream.” Efficient, yes, but ineffective.
So the next time you receive “that question” (you know the one), refuse to go on autopilot. Instead, pause, make eye contact, smile, and then, with a bit of enthusiasm in your voice, respond as though it’s the very first time you’ve heard the question. Look for opportunities—even in seemingly predictable questions—to learn more about your customers, to add value, and to increase sales.