How Not To Lose Customers!

How Not To Lose Customers!

Dining with a large group of friends in a restaurant, I discovered a short, coarse, black curly hair in my prawn curry.  You know the type…..

I gingerly held the offending hair aloft so the waiter could inspect it too.  He disappeared towards the kitchens. Within seconds, the waiter returned with what he apparently regarded as the vital evidence in this matter, namely the chef.

Whilst gesticulating towards the area below the chef’s naval and then to the ginger mop of hair adorning the red-faced chef, the waiter declared

madam the hair could not possibly have come from our kitchen”.

Listening to customers is an uncontested principle underlying any basic level of customer service. So what can we say about this vignette as an example of customer service? Was I being listened to?  Before reaching any judgement, I feel the reader needs to hear a little more of this tale.

The waiter had indeed listened as amply demonstrated by what occurred next.  Summoning the authoritative air of someone who has the full backing of logic at his side, he explained to my table of guests that I must have brought the hair with me. He helpfully provided a motive too

one way to obtain a free meal.”

This startling story usually raises a few eyebrows, however, for the avoidance of doubt, I can assure you it is completely true.

I am reminded of the quote from Benjamin Franklin

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment”

So here are my top four golden rules for saying or doing the right thing, at the right moment when communicating with our customers.

Golden rule 1 : Stay curious

Human beings are great sense-making machines.  We create or dream up stories to help us make sense of what is going on around us all of the time. Although essential for survival, sometimes these narratives can restrict our view. Our sense of reality becomes confounded by the assumptions we carefully sew into the creases of these stories. Unfolding these creases reveals the judgements which shape our relationships.

Staying curious widens our view, giving access to a broader range of interpretations and possibilities.

Golden rule 2: Listen at all three levels

Being curious means listening inside and outside, to what is said and what is not, attending to the pace and the pauses in between. In any interaction, we constantly shift through these different levels of listening.

  • Level 1 . The chatter in our heads. That internal dialogue that keeps us ready with an answer.
  • Level 2.  What the customer is saying and the sounds we hear outside of ourselves.
  • Level 3. Using all of senses to pick up on how the customer is saying something. Awareness of the energy, the emotion in the voice, volume, the spaces, the breathing etc.

Being aware of all three levels of listening enables you to be purposeful and intentional about how you want to listen and respond to your customers.

Golden rule 3: Build rapport

Customer experience is built on emotional connection. Studies on memory provide clear evidence that we often remember the feelings evoked by a situation more than the actual content.

Allowing the process, or end goal, to hijack connection will collapse the encounter to an automated, dehumanising experience. Like all important relationships, we have to consciously work at keeping it alive.

Talking with a smile, even, when on the telephone injects warmth and connection from the outset.  Consider where the customer is in their journey right now.  This will yield vital information about the types of interactions you need to create to connect.

Trying on the view through the lens of the customer offers up a fresh avenue for building rapport.

Golden rule 4: Transform the experience

Every encounter presents the potential to transform the customer experience and make new things happen.

My partner was looking at suits for a wedding in House of Fraser. The assistant didn’t try and directly sell or persuade him what to buy.  By staying curious and meeting the customer where he was at, he soon realised that my partner was concerned about whether I would like it.  This gave him the cue to transform the experience.  He offered to take some pictures of my partner wearing the suit and text these to me.  This ‘can do attitude’ meant I was able to tell my partner that it looked great and so he left a happy customer with a new suit.

Making the shift from a transactional relationship to one that is transformational will create memorable experiences for your customers.

So back to my tale about the prawn curry. You may have created your own story, but in case you are curious here is the ending.  My guests happened to be a team of qualified food hygiene inspectors. On receiving this information, I was reimbursed for the cost of my meal. Did I go there again? What do you think? Absolutely not!

Mel Palmer, AKD Associate

Mel is an AKD Associate specialising in Customer Experience, Complaints, Leadership and Management and Conflict Resolution . Learn more about Mel here.