This piece is the an entry in the "Happy to Help" Series, ongoing articles focused on elevating customer service experiences.
A True Story
Alex pressed “Print” on his computer only to see the notification he hated most. His printer was out of toner. He had an important project due at work that day and he desperately needed to print it. He resolved that he would stop by an office store on his way to work that had a print shop.
While it would certainly make him arrive at work late, it would ensure that his project would be delivered on time. When Alex entered the store, he saw one employee at the cash register ringing up a customer. Near the back of the store, in the computer section, he saw another employee also helping a potential buyer. He made his way over to the print counter and waited...
And waited ...
After several minutes passed, he began looking around to see if help would be arriving shortly, if at all. The employee in the computer section began helping somebody else with writing utensils, and now a second person was waiting in line at the cash register. He began to grow increasingly impatient, especially since the whole idea of coming to this store was to deliver his project on time.
Finally, Alex saw an employee approaching the print desk. The employee walked behind the counter of the printing area, worked on the computer for a minute, and then walked away, without even acknowledging Alex’s existence. Alex checked the time on his cell phone and noted that he had been waiting nearly ten minutes. He paused for a moment to consider his options.
At the top of his list was driving across the street to a competitor. While it could potentially save time if someone were available to print his project immediately, he considered the time that would be lost trying to get through traffic at the busy intersection. Alex resolved that he would wait two more minutes, and if he were not helped by then, he would make his way to the competitor across the street.
Fortunately, only a few more seconds passed before an employee finally arrived at the print desk and was ready to help Alex with his project.
That experience likely sounds familiar because I shared it in this article a few weeks ago. Let's take a look at what that interaction should have looked like. I'll apply the concepts of Discovering customer needs (Engage, Enquire, Enlighten) that I've covered over the last several weeks.
A True Story - Revisited
Alex presses “Print” on his computer, only to see the notification he hates most. His printer is out of toner. He has an important project due at work today and he desperately needs to print it. He resolves that on his way to work he will stop by an office store that has a print shop. While it will certainly make him arrive late for work, it will ensure that his project is delivered on time.
Alex enters the store and as he approaches the print desk, he recognizes the worker who helped him print a project a couple of weeks ago. She is on the phone, but sees him, smiles, and mouths the words to him, “Give me just one minute.” He smiles back, reassuring her that he doesn’t mind waiting.
Engage: After hanging up the phone she asks how he is doing. They converse for a moment about the great weather they have been having.
Enquire: Then, calling him by name, she asks what kind of project he will be printing (instead of asking, “What can I do for you?”). He explains his situation and gives her the USB that has his project. She asks specifics about his work, and after he explains what he is doing with the project, she suggests he use a heavier paper and have it bound.
Enlighten: Perceiving a potential concern, she reminds him that the special paper and the binding cost extra. He responds that there is not a problem with the extra cost, and agrees with her that it will make his report more effective. She prints and binds the project with efficiency, and Alex even makes it to work on time.
Discover Your Customer's Needs - Summary
The three skills associated with Discovering your customer’s needs are to engage, enquire, and enlighten.
Acknowledge the presence of your guests, and engage them in casual conversation related to topics outside of the transaction.
Enquire about your clients’ individual needs from your organization. Find out what brought them in or what brought them back and what makes your business different than your competitors. Learn their names! Ask the right questions, observe non-verbal cues, and listen intently to responses.
Be prepared to enlighten them about common concerns they might have about your product or services. Or let them know up front when you perceive a potential issue or challenge. Solve the problem before it occurs.
Discovering your customer’s needs by engaging, enquiring, and enlightening will help you improve your customer service performance, develop service skillionaires, and begin building business relationships with your clients.
Following are some questions that can help spark discussion on where you currently are in regard to this step, and what you can do to improve both individually and as an organization.
What are some simple things you can discuss with your guests, not related to the transaction?
What are questions that you will need to ask your guest to complete the transaction?
What information do you need to know?
What are the best ways to word these questions?
How can you better listen to what your guests are telling you about their needs?
Are there barriers that can be removed to improve communication?
What are some common concerns your guests will have?
How can those concerns be eliminated?
Are you able to eliminate guest concerns with a clear and concise explanation?
Are there policies that create common concerns for customers that should be evaluated for effectiveness in customer service?
Are there policies that are a must (i.e. government-mandated) that you could create an easily understandable explanation for why the policy is in place and how it benefits the customer?
With a learning partner, work through an entire transaction. You will act as a customer, while your learning partner acts as an employee. You, as the customer, should act as if it is your first time purchasing from the business. Think about what questions you might have, information you would like to know, and what concerns you would want to be resolved. Have fun with it, ask a lot of questions, be a little difficult, but realistic. Ask questions that first-time customers often ask.
After finishing the entire transaction, switch roles. Run through the scenario again, but make sure that your learning partner, who is now the customer, asks different, but still common first-time questions.
After you have finished this second transaction, make a list answering these questions: What are specific ways to engage your customer? What are common needs an employee will enquire about? How, as an employee, can you enlighten your customer?
Now go through two more transactions, each of you with an opportunity to be the customer again. This time each of you will pose as a loyal customer who purchases from your business often.
After these two transactions, again answer the questions (from #3) about common ways to engage, enquire, and enlighten a loyal customer.
Compare the two lists you have now created, one list from a first-time customer and one from a loyal repeat customer. Discuss these questions: What is the same about how you engage, enquire, and enlighten a new customer versus an existing one? What is different? What would be the most important thing to train a new employee about Discovering the needs of a customer?
Share what you’ve learned with a minimum of three coworkers.
Visit at least one competitor. Discuss with a co-worker or manager the following information about your competitor vs. your organization.
EASY: Regarding Discovering the needs of your customer, what do you do at your organization that is better than your competitor?
INTERMEDIATE: Regarding Discovering the needs of your customer, what do you and your competitor do about the same? What can you do to differentiate your organization from theirs?
HARD: Regarding Discovering the needs of your customer, what does your competitor do better than your organization? What needs to happen for your organization to level the playing field, or take things a notch higher than that competitor?