10 Ways to Cultivate the Art of Thinking Like a Customer

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10 Ways to Cultivate the Art of Thinking Like a Customer

I heard a story from Mike, one of our Technology Advisors about his experience taking his family to dinner for a birthday celebration.  They just moved into a new house, so they tried out a Mexican restaurant near them that was supposed to be good.  Once they were settled in, the waiter began to take orders.  When one of the kids was pausing during the order process, he said rather abruptly, “If you aren’t ready, I’ll have to come back to you.  The restaurant is busy, and I have to wait on other tables.”   He then proceeded to rush about, and remind them that he was busy and had to keep moving.

The result? He made them feel unwelcome, hurried, and not valued. Everything he said was probably true.  There is a worker shortage, he was the only one there, and he probably did need to keep moving, or all the customers would be upset.  However, the short abrupt manner that he handled the situation set them up to likely never come back. This server made it clear that he had a problem, and that his circumstance was the most important thing, and not the customer.

This is a simple story that likely will be retold many times in the months to come unless something changes in the workforce.  What is the underlying problem?  This server did not express any empathy.  He was too caught up in his issue and his struggle.  He either forgot or had never learned to think like a customer.

Empathy is a lost art in our society.  It is so rare that people take the time to put themselves in the shoes of another and walk a mile or two that it stands out.  I find myself almost taken aback when someone says something to me like, “that must have felt awful”, or makes the extra effort to identify with how I may feel about something.  I have to admit, I’m not always that good at it either.  So how can we bring empathy to our business interactions?

10 Ways to Cultivate the Art of Thinking Like a Customer:

1. Personalize Your Interactions. Though people do business with a company, they formulate their opinion of that company based on their experience often with a single person. In our story, the server may only work every third Saturday, but people will say that the service is horrible at that restaurant based on their singular interaction with him.  With that in mind, we have the power to set the tone for our whole company based on how we interact.   By creating a personal connection and expressing that we care, we have the power to give our whole company a positive persona.

2. Anticipate and Ask. This is truly thinking like a customer and takes some skill. The one who can see what is next for the customer can truly take service up a notch.  “You know, it appears that the problem is solved, and the test worked, but I want to make sure you can get your work done. What else do you have to do today?  Let’s just double-check that that will work too.  Would you mind starting that process?”

3. Ask Open-ended Questions. Good open-ended questions really make a difference. If you have a teenager, you may have mastered this already. “How was your day”, gets you, “fine”. “What was the best part of your day”, might at least get you a little more feedback.  Curiosity and the willingness to ask a few questions can go a long way to creating a connection.  I follow  a rule  that I learned in sales training.  If your contact brings up something personal, chances are they want to talk about it, and it is safe territory.

4. Adjust to Their Personality. There is so much to be said about this, but we can often tell a little about someone’s personality by their clothes, manner, or the words they use. A driver personality often does not appreciate small talk, but may be more open if you ask them about a particular accomplishment or something goal oriented.  A communicator will talk all day and will need you to guide the conversation.  An analytical type will love the details.  We could go on, but there are lots of great resources on personality types and how to adjust your style to theirs.

5. Get the Communication Bookends Right. First impressions are so important to set the tone for the conversation. Many will tune you out before you even get started, if you don’t get engagement up front.  Clear, upbeat, and helpful go so far at the beginning.  And the closing part of the conversation is often what stays with them.  It helps to close out graciously and with a tone that values them as a person.

6. Focus on the Customer. Think like a customer means creating a customer-centric culture. The customer should feel valued in our interactions.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have to protect ourselves, our profits, our procedures, or our way of doing things.  As, Ken Blanchard says, “Profit is the applause for a job well done.”  Profit is the result, not the goal.  Serving well is the goal, and if we do that, profit will come.

7. Own the Customer Experience. The interaction is yours. The two Fs are super powerful here – Follow-Through and Follow-Up.  If we do what we say we will do and follow through, we immediately prove our integrity and create trust.  If we follow-up, we prove that we care enough to be sure the customer is set.

8. Choose Yes First. Are you the person who always sees the roadblock or are you trying to find a yes? It does us good to say, “What if we could say yes? What would that look like and how might we make that work?”  Shep Hyken in his book, Amaze the Customer Every Time, tells the story of Ace Hardware and how no single person is supposed to ever say “no” to a customer.  It must be confirmed that the answer is no with another associate.  It takes one to say yes and two to say no.

9. Be Open to Sacrifice. I remember distinctly someone saying this to me at church one day, and it has stuck with me ever since. If we truly want to serve, if we truly want to help people, we will likely have to give something up.  It takes extra time to ask that question and truly listen.  It takes extra effort to focus and use empathy, but what is life really about?  Isn’t it truly about caring for and serving others?

10. Be Present. It is so easy to zone out, when you are working with someone. Turn off the ringer, close the email, ignore the buzz and give others your full attention.  The good news is because fewer and fewer people do this, you can really make a difference if you do!

What if that server at the Mexican restaurant had taken things up just a notch?  What if he said, “I’m here by myself, but my goal is give everyone here great service, would you help me out?” His circumstances would be the same, but his tips might change.  He might even get a Google review for the restaurant about how awesome he was despite the worker shortage.   How can you put yourself in the customers shoes and walk a mile or two?