Three Challenges to Discovering Customer Needs
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.
It Could Happen to You (And Probably Has)
Have you ever been in this frustrating situation? Sadly, it is not exclusive to office supply stores. You have probably been through this when you have been put on hold for an outrageous amount of time ordering a pizza (okay, who orders pizza on the phone anymore, right?).
Or, when you had to call your cell phone carrier about an issue with your phone and were put on hold.
Or, maybe you were told someone would contact you within twenty-four hours only to have to call back after going three days with no response.
Or, like Alex, it happens to you in person, when you must stare down an employee who is too busy to help you because they are talking with their co-workers or sending a text. Alex’s story is an example of the first step of building relationships with customer service performance:
Discover what your customer needs.
This first step is the foundation upon which the other two steps will be built. Without this one, the others are impossible. As can be seen from Alex’s example, many businesses miss the opportunity to adequately Discover the needs of their customer, to the point that the customer is prepared to buy from a competitor. As easy as working with a customer seems, there are a lot of moving parts. The reasons an employee may not effectively Discover the needs of a customer vary, but they are almost always one of three things:
They do not know how to engage a customer. It is no surprise that our skills in interpersonal communication have changed. Technology has made it so that we can interact with almost anyone at any time or place—and not always verbally. Having spent a fair portion of my life working in entertainment, I am no stranger to seeing people on dates. One of the saddest and oddest things I have ever seen is people on dates that do not even talk to each other, but instead spend most of their time on electronic devices. If you are not even interested in interaction with a date, what hope do you have of interacting with your customer?
They do not know how to find out what a customer wants. Many jobs out there teach employees to ask, “Would you like fries with that?” Or, to say nothing at all while wearing a vest that says, “How can I help you?” When employees do speak with you, they ask things like, “Can I help you?” to which the answer will inevitably be, “No, I’m just looking.” If you don’t know how to ask the right questions, how can you find out what your customer needs?
They are unclear about how to set expectations for the customer. Many times, a customer service provider is just one small piece in a larger puzzle. When there is potential for a problem further down the line, customers usually will not find out about it until it is too late. This may be due to apathy or ignorance on the part of the customer service provider. Regardless, any foreseeable issue should be brought to the attention of the customer. How can you expect to create a loyal customer relationship if your customer never knows what to expect from you?
The solution to each of these three problems lies with helping employees understand how to effectively Discover the needs of a customer. There are three specific skills associated with Discovering your customer’s needs. The first skill is to engage the customer in friendly conversation. The next skill is to enquire about your customer’s needs. The final skill is to enlighten them about any concerns that they may have as they purchase. We'll take a deep dive into each of these skills starting in next week's article.