Enlightening Customers During the Discovery Process
This piece is the an entry in the "Happy to Help" Series, ongoing articles focused on elevating customer service experiences.
A True Story
Nicholas was purchasing some sunglasses at the mall. His current pair had broken due to some carelessness on his part. He decided that with his tendency to break sunglasses, he should purchase one of the cheaper pairs from a kiosk.
He found a pair that he liked, but noticed that they seemed a little flimsy. Based on Nicholas’ recent experience with sunglasses, he wasn’t sure that this pair was the right fit. Nicholas asked about the return policy.
The employee told him he had ten days to return the sunglasses for a refund. Nicholas then asked if he were to purchase the sunglasses and they broke, could he exchange them for a new set of the same type. The employee thought about it for a minute then replied that it would be okay to exchange them...as long as it was within ten days.
Nicholas didn’t buy the sunglasses.
The third skill associated with Discovering the needs of your customer is to enlighten them about any concerns. Many times this skill isn’t necessary. If you have properly engaged and enquired about your customer’s needs, you will know if your customer needs to be enlightened.
You likely have a good idea of some of the common concerns of your customers. This could be a wide range of things depending on your industry.
If you are in retail, people may want to know about your return or refund policy.
In entertainment, people ask about outside food.
In food service, people ask about special orders or gluten-free food.
In hospitality, guests may want to know about cancellation policies.
In airlines, customers will be concerned with cancellation costs and baggage fees.
In car maintenance and repair, we all have the same questions: What is the problem? Will it take long to fix? How much will it cost? Should I just buy a new car?
If you find that there is one thing people are always complaining about, or something that always causes issues that need to be resolved, you may need to reevaluate the way you do things.
For example, Walmart has been taking returns without the need of a receipt for several years. Sabrina, an associate who worked at Toys ‘R’ Us, explained to me why Toys ‘R’ Us finally decided to get on board with that same policy. They saw that a competitor was doing it and, more importantly, customers were getting upset when they couldn’t return something without a receipt.
Sabrina shared with me her experience of a man who came into her store for a return. Sometime during the summer, his son had said he wanted a plush polar bear for Christmas. Later, when the man and his wife were on a date, they dropped by the store and purchased the plush polar bear.
Months passed and as Christmas neared, the same child decided that he wanted an elephant for Christmas. The parents tried to reason with the child, but the kid would not change his mind. Sabrina related her experience to me:
“The man approached the Service Desk. He had a friendly smile, and was very nice. He asked if we take returns with a receipt. I explained our policy; we accepted returns with a receipt if it was within sixty days of the purchase. He looked down at the receipt in his hand for a moment, and then he looked back up at me. ‘But you take returns without a receipt, correct?’ he asked. I explained that he was correct and reemphasized our policy to accept returns without a receipt. It wasn’t until I explained it to him again that I realized the ridiculousness of our own policy. He quickly shoved the receipt into his pocket and said, ‘I lost the receipt, but I would like to return this polar bear.’”
Sabrina took care of the return, and as she had no customers in line, enquired more about the man’s needs. That was when she Discovered the reason for his need to return the polar bear that had been purchased months earlier. They joked about how silly it was that he couldn’t return something, even though he had the receipt. It was more to his benefit to not have one.
Return policies are a common area where customers need to be enlightened. Whether it’s during the initial purchase and you’re explaining the policy only if they need it, or if it’s during the actual return, having a clear and understandable policy is a great way to offer customer service.
I mentioned earlier that Nicholas didn’t buy the sunglasses he liked. It was because he didn’t like the answer about the return policy. When he and I chatted about his experience, he said to me, “What if I had bought the sunglasses, and as I anticipated, they broke after twelve days? So then I try to return my broken sunglasses and find out that the policy doesn’t allow for me to exchange them because it had been more than ten days. How much more frustrated would I be?”
Like Nicholas, most of us expect that our concerns will be addressed in the initial transaction, but that’s often not what happens. That’s what all customer complaints really are—the gap between what was expected and what was Delivered. We will discuss Delivering your customer’s needs in the future, but for now let’s just say that it’s best to find out what your clients are expecting up front and enlighten them about any potential issues.
Don’t always wait for your customer to bring a problem to your attention. It is advantageous to know what concerns, problems, or issues other clients have had. Then, you can be proactive, and when you perceive that there may be a concern, you can let your current client know exactly what to expect.
Enlightening your customers about their concerns is a great way to eliminate errors because the problem is being resolved before it actually occurs. If a person has a concern or a doubt that is not resolved initially, you will have an upset customer later.
Rich Sheridan, co-founder of Menlo Innovations understands this concept. Rich describes one of the founding philosophies for his software company is to “make mistakes faster.” Sheridan explains,
“If we make mistakes fast and discover them early, then we have a chance to correct them while they are still small and while there is still time and budget left to make changes.”
In the customer service world, this means that rather than making mistakes, you are catching potential mistakes early on, and resolving them up front to create a better customer experience.
A good friend of mine, Chad, told me about some work he had done on the engine of his car. When he returned home from his maintenance appointment, the air conditioning didn’t work. He called the mechanic and set a date to bring his car back to get the air conditioning fixed. When he arrived, he saw a recently printed sign (he says the ink was still wet) near the mechanic’s payment desk, stating that the company was not responsible for air conditioning problems that occurred while working on vehicles. Worse yet, the mechanic wanted to charge him for the repair.
Chad left furious, and after a few days went to a different mechanic who had been referred to him by a friend. This second mechanic diagnosed the issue, then, before doing anything to the car, he talked to Chad. The mechanic gave Chad the specifics on what was wrong with the air conditioning, what needed to be done to fix it, and explained the anticipated costs.
Over ten years have gone by, and Chad still takes all of his vehicles to that same mechanic. He refers all of his friends and plans on taking his vehicles there for as long as the mechanic is around—all because the mechanic was able to enlighten him about his concerns up front.
If you want to win big with your customers, understand what challenges or issues they might face, and enlighten them. People love proactivity.