It was a lesson in humility I’ll never forget. Decades ago my first real job after graduating university was selling accounting systems door to door to businesses. After several days of making little progress, I finally had a manager agree to walk me to his office to hear my pitch. Following him, I said, “Thanks, I really appreciate your time.” He turns, scowls at me and asks, “Why, is it not worth my time?” He’s dead serious. It occurred to me that I was being too grateful and too deferential to a potential customer.
How about you and your team members? Is it possible that they may be putting the customer on too high of a pedestal? Or do they take the opposite approach and treat customers condescendingly? Employees who interact with customers walk a fine line of diplomacy when it comes to status. As I teach to sales and service teams in my “Becoming a Trusted Advisor” seminars, our goal is to position ourselves – not as higher or lower status – but equal in status to the customer. We don’t want customers to view us as service providers. We want customers to value us – literally – as trusted advisors.
Here are three easy ways to help make that happen,
Don’t you know who I am?
When you or your team members introduce yourselves to customers, do you use your first name only, or do you share your first and last names? These days most people keep it casual and stick to first names only. In terms of status that’s a mistake. Instead, when you offer your first and last name it tells customers, I am comfortable being held accountable. If you have a question, you should ask for me, which is why I’m volunteering my full name. I’m someone important enough for you to know. All that enhanced status comes simply by adding your last name.
Are you talking to me?
A fast way to lose status is to start talking to someone who isn’t ready and willing to listen. So before asking customers or co-workers a lot of questions, it’s important to ensure you have their full attention. Unfortunately, common attempts to get attention actually hurt our status. Asking someone if they have a minute won’t go over well if it’s obvious that the conversation will take more than 60 seconds. That’s why so much of what I share in my seminars and coaching tools is about being more thoughtful with word choices. Next time you’re about to have a serious conversation with a customer or co-worker, begin with a simple, “How’s your time, are we OK?”
Since we’re on the topic of attention, I’ve been asked by frontline staff what to say to customers who talk sideways to you while chatting on their cell phone. My tip – say to the customer, “I’ll take care of you as soon as you finish your call.” Then move on to another activity or another customer who’s waiting for your attention. They’ll finish their call in a hurry. And they’ll start treating you less like a servant and more like a professional who deserves respect.
Who’s the know-it-all?
Hopefully, as you build a solid reputation for being dependable and reliable, you’ll increasingly be dealing with your company’s higher value customers who are making larger buying decisions. Then the question often becomes how do you establish status with a know-it-all? We don’t want to get into a competition of who’s smarter. Instead, consider using an approach called, you bring/I bring. You might say to a business owner for example, “You’re the expert on running a construction company. My focus is managing risk.” In essence, the faster you show respect for your customer’s expertise, the more receptive they become to yours.
That manager who stopped me cold decades ago when I thought I was being polite, taught me a valuable business lesson that stuck with me. Certainly, we want to be polite, but that doesn’t mean being subservient. The good news is changing a few words with customers has two outcomes: First, customers actually pay attention. And second, they see you more as someone who has something valuable to offer.