Can you interpret your customers words?

Posted by Trevor on 5 September 2012 | Post a Comment

Within our daily lives, we are constantly trying to interpret what others say. A person will say one thing, but how do we know what they truly mean by their comment? I have found that talking with my family is much more garbled or vague than speaking with a customer. Someone will often make a comment that forces me to think a little deeper about what he or she is saying. A few select words will have me wondering what they really meant by that comment.

On the other hand, your customer is not related to you and is therefore not bound by any rules to preserve your feelings. Customers are much more direct, and as a business owner, believing that you know better than your customer is a dangerous position to take. If a customer is unhappy, they are going to tell you so. While my wife or mother-in-law might insist something is fine when really it isn’t, a customer will straight up tell me that they don’t like something one bit. Rather than try and get inside your customer’s head and guess what they are implying, you should simply listen to what they are saying.

Other businesses have similarly tried to interpret my words.

Recently I made a trip to England and failed to realize that even though my iPhone was in standby mode, I would still incur data roaming charges. By the time I returned to the U.S., my cell phone bill was a very high $513, compared to my normal bill of about $100. I called up AT&T to inquire about the charges, and I was instantly met with a defensive and accusatory representative. Of course I recognized that this was my fault for leaving the phone in stand-by rather than switching it off, but I’ve been a long-time customer, and this was merely a mistake. My billing history clearly shows it to be a one-off. After several phone calls and a half hour battle with someone in customer service, they offered me a $30 credit. Now they have lost a customer for life. I’m sure they are not bothered, but if I live another 30 years, they just lost $36,000 by not listening to me.

AT&T probably doesn’t care that they’ve lost me as a customer, because that won’t significantly impact their business. But as a small business operator, you can’t treat customers that way. You have to listen to what they are saying, avoid trying to interpret what they mean, and react accordingly.

It is as simple as this: the customer is always right. I don’t know why so many companies over-complicate it.

There are some people that suggest other ways to handle customers, somehow indicating that happy employees are more important than happy customers. But the fact remains, if you don’t have customers you don’t have a business.

Don’t try to interpret what you think your customers are saying to you. They will tell you directly and specifically what they want, and it is your job to do everything you can to meet their needs. I stress talking to customers to gain their insight, but there is no point in asking them if you are not going to listen. It really is common sense, and it befuddles my mind how many companies get it wrong.

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