At the foundation of customer service and successful selling is the willingness and ability to be truly interested in each customer you meet. Not just in what he (she) needs, but also in who he is, what he does, what goes on in his life that might make your product or service relevant to him.

A friend of mine is a VP of a large wireless retailer. He was getting a little frustrated at how many sales reps seemed completely unwilling to engage customers at this level. Sure, they would ask “what phone would you like?” or “Who’s your current provider?” but God forbid they might ask the customer what he did for a living, or what sports his kids play. So he decided to take matters into his own hands. As he goes on store visits now, he asks sales reps to role play with him, with him playing the role of customer. Here’s how the interactions go:

Rep: “What brings you into the store today?”

Bill: “I’m kinda looking for a phone.”

Rep: “Well we have some great new Smartphones I think you’ll really like.”

Bill: “STOP!”

Rep: (looking confused) “Um…Why?”

Bill: “Why don’t you learn a little about me first?”

Rep: “(still looking confused) Okay…. umm…like what?”

Bill: “Why don’t you ask what I do for a living?”

Rep: “Okay. What do you do for a living?”

Bill: “Good Question! I’m a Snake Farmer.”

Rep: “Umm….okay…… (looks up at Bill with confusion). er…. I really don’t quite know what to say now….”

Bill: “Well, what did you think about me being a snake farmer?”

Rep: “Well, I thought it was kinda cool”

Bill: “Then why not just say that??!! What else might you want to ask me?”

Rep: “Er…maybe I’d want to know what you would do with the snakes?”

Bill: “GOOD QUESTION!! I sell them to zoos all over the world. Now what might you want to ask.”

Rep: “Umm. Well, where do you keep your snakes?”

Bill: “Good Question again! I have pens spread out all over 40 acres out back.”

Rep: “How do you keep track of them?”

Bill: “Now you’re getting it! I drive around all day in a golf cart to check the pens.”

Rep: “So, how do you stay in touch with the office?”

..and so it went.

What Bill was getting at, of course, is that the more interest you have in your customer and the more you learn about him, the better a relationship you build, and the better a job you can do for him. Sometimes just two or three great questions can make all the difference. The sad part, he laments, is that most people these days are just far too narcissistic. We are far too consumed with ‘us’, our needs, our wants, our problems, our little world, and have just stopped caring about the people around us. It’s hard to disagree with him.

The good news is that those of us who are willing to truly engage the people around us, the future is bright indeed. And you never know when you might bump into a snake farmer who needs your services.

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