What’s Your Story?

What’s your story? We all have one. Most likely we have more than one.

That means your customers or guests do too.  When someone chooses your business, they have a story. They may tell it to you, and they may keep it to themselves. But they have one, and while you don’t have to know what it is, you do need to know they have one.  And the moment they choose to give you their money, you become part of their story. I find it very healthy to look at it this way.

Now that you know this, how will your next customer interaction be different? Knowing they are patronizing your business as part of their story can make you more prepared for giving them what they need.  The simplest of purchases has a story behind it, and if you know it, your chances of turning a transaction in to a CONNECTION is greatly increased.  If someone shares their story, you can help the story unfold by how you connect with them.  Isn’t looking at it this way more fun?

NO purchase does not have a story.  With that being said, realize the story is not always an exciting or happy one. But there is a story there, and the more effort you make to uncover that story (within reason and privacy laws) the more of an impression you make with your customers. Some of them will want you to know their story.  When they do, listen.  They not only gave you their trust when they patronized our business, they gave you their trust in when they decided to tell you. If you look at that action with reverence, you will see that someone has invited YOU in to their story. Cherish that, and help them live it.

I work in a place where I have the time and opportunities to hear people’s stories.  Most seem to like telling them, and I enjoy listening to them, not because I am paid to, but because I care about other people.  You do, as well, and listening will tell them that. Kids really love telling you stuff.  Listen to every word. They appreciate it, and so do their parents. Your guests will forget a mundane purchase shortly after they make it. If you take part in the story, they bring to you, they will NOT forget it, and they will return, as well as sharing their stories with others.

What is your story?  I realize we don’t have time for the details, but my point is, what makes you what you are today?  Victories, failures, love, hate, and everything in between. You have it. And so does your customer.  You don’t need to know their story, but you do need to know they are motivated by many of the same things that you are, and when they come through your door, remember that. They have passions and insecurities, like you. They have found and lost things, like you. They want to feel relevant and good about themselves, just like you.

Can you help them do that? Of course, you can.

The Most Demanding Customers Need Your Kindness The Most

How do you feel about those especially rude or demanding customers that creep in to your life in the business you have chosen to be in?

It’s easy to let them make you angry, or at the very least, frustrated.

When I was a waiter in my 20’s, I had this theory that those really demanding folks were CEO’s, celebrities, or others with the money and power to make demands whenever they felt like it.  Now, in some cases that is true, but in most, as I have learned over these many years, it is not. After working with CEO’s, celebrities, and others with money and power, I now feel differently.

I have modified my “theory” over the years, and I now put those demanding, sometimes unhappy guests in to multiple categories.  For one, it’s not the CEO that usually makes demands.

It’s the middle manager who is told what to do all day long. Told what to do by his boss, his family, his friends, and the media.

It’s the stay at home mom who finally gets out and wants to make a few rules of her own for a change.

It’s the couple that can only afford to go out once in a great while, and really want things to be special.

It’s the man unhappy about his life, his neighbors barking dog and his unfulfilling job, and projecting it to you.

Please know, I am not defending abhorrent behavior. Its never ok to be rude. I just think if you stop and empathize with these souls for a moment, and see your experience with them as a chance to connect with them on a level they need, you can possibly become that ONE exchange in their day that they remember differently from the others. And even if it does not seem to be working, do not stray from the effort, regardless of how they react. It is at that very moment that they subconsciously need what you are giving them.

Don’t get me wrong. There IS a point where you must respond respectfully with your feelings regarding their behavior, but if you keep it positive, you will never lose. Other customers will see your empathy, even if your intended recipient did not. And, in a best case scenario, the customer will recognize the connection you are attempting to make, and you will be a positive influence in their life.

In a worse case scenario, you deal with the unruly guest accordingly, and in a way in which you wish to be treated. They may not leave happy, but you will have done your part in defusing the situation in a way that set an example to anyone who witnessed the exchange.

It’s not your job to “cure” unhappy or especially demanding people. But, it is your job to serve or sell to them to the best of your ability.  While you are not a licensed therapist, you can give a fellow human more than any shrink ever will. You can give them compassion and understanding. You can make them feel good about themselves. And you can actually contribute to your world with your understanding and grace. Why not?

Connect By Being Present

How “present” are you with your customers? Do you make eye contact? Do you go beyond answering a question with any descriptive words or observations?  Your presence can create a true human connection in the simplest of circumstances.

I was at a company Christmas party last week.  I asked the bartender what red wines they offered by the glass.

“Cabernet or Merlot”, the young man said, in a monotone voice while looking at his coworker.

He did answer my question, but he was not present.  He saw his job as getting me what I needed quickly, so he could do the same for the next customer.   He also clearly did not want to be a part of my world. I returned for another glass of wine later on, and a new bartender was there.  Being who I am, I asked him the same question, obviously already knowing the answer.  

“Well, sir. We have both a California Cabernet as well as Merlot from the same winemaker.  You will be having Prime Rib tonight, so I think the Cabernet is the way to go.”

I felt a connection with this man that I did not feel with the other. Same transaction. Completely different result in human needs being met. My basic need for the glass of wine was just one need I subconsciously wanted met.  The second bartender made me feel good about myself, and my purchase, simply by connecting with me on a level that went beyond just answering my query.  Did that second glass of wine taste better?  Probably not, but I felt good about spending my money the second time around, where the first was a simple transaction to meet my physiological needs. The second exchange only took five more seconds.  Five seconds.

The difference between those two scenarios is what will separate you from the others. You can look at it as being subservient, or you can look at it as enhancing another’s life. The choice is yours. Choosing the latter will result in your happiness as well as the customer’s. This is not just about making them happy. It’s also your well being at stake. Everyone wins when you provide a connection.

It’s easy to forget we are facing people at our businesses with the EXACT same needs we have. It’s easy to see a transaction from an efficiency standpoint, and with that comes the lack of connection.  But it does not have to be that way, even if efficient transactions are your goal.  It only takes a moment to turn a mundane exchange into a meaningful connection between humans, with both parties needing the same thing.  People are longing for connections rooted in empathy and understanding. You have the opportunity to be one or more of those important connections.  Why wouldn’t you?

It’s not difficult to make a connection in even the simplest of exchanges.  And when you do, the customer or guest remembers how it made them feel. I guarantee it.

Customer Service Can Save The World

I am going to come right out and say it. Customer service can save the world.  I know, it’s kind of a ridiculous thing to say, but I believe it. Some in the business of hospitality, sales, retail are only nice to you so they make money, but I want to believe that the majority of us in the business of taking care of peoples needs like being kind to others and helping find solutions to their problems.  This is where we come in.

Modeling of kind, civilized behavior has to start somewhere. Parents, obviously play a role in this, but society could prove that some did not put much effort in to it.  That being said, those of us who are kind to others for a living can model kindness and respect back to our customers.  It literally starts with us. That is what inspired me to begin this blog journey.  You can show the world how it’s done, because you are sometimes as much a part of our customers lives as anyone, depending on your business.  I know, it’s an incredibly idealistic thought, but I stand by it, and want to be a part of the change in how people treat each other.

Next time you have a difficult customer or guest, remember the way you handle it can not only diffuse the situation, but model to EVERYONE that witnessed it, how to kindly and eloquently handle a difficult situation. It will reflect on your business, and show others ways they can handle a similar situation in their future. Crazy thought eh? That you could teach kindness just by being kind? You can. You are one of a zillion interactions your customer is going to have today, but they take notice when you stand out as one that evolved from and interaction to a CONNECTION.

It’s not hard. Simply put yourself in the customer’s shoes. What will make you feel good about yourself and the business you are in? We all get motivated by similar things. I know, you are an individual. But humans still are the same in a lot of ways, and when you let customers know you are aware of that, and that you care about them as a person as much as a you care about them as a customer, you’re not just giving them what they want. You are giving them what they need.

Give them what they need.

Creating A Sanctuary

No Fields Found.

The length of time you spend with a customer or guest obviously varies with the type of business relationship you have. If you are in certain types of sales, the relationship evolves over time., while if you are in retail the length of time you spend with a customer is comparatively short. Regardless of the length of your relationship with the customer, making the most of that time to make the customer feel good about where they are is what will be your biggest advantage over those who do not.

I work in an environment where guests stay for four to eight hours, giving me a chance to watch their comfort level change over the course of the day. It gives me a great advantage in identifying the things that customers respond to when creating a place in which they feel safe, validated, and comfortable. Whether you have that advantage or not, you have opportunities to connect with the guest in a way that makes them feel those things. Even if the relationship lasts a short time, you can help meet their emotional needs with your interaction. No, you’re not a psychologist (unless you happen to be a psychologist who is reading this), nor are you expected to be, but you can make positive human connections in a short period of time.

Let’s say your interaction lasts three minutes or less. What the heck can you do? Well smiling is always the best way to start. It is welcoming, and the start of any good relationship. You can let them know you appreciate them, or that they have made a smart purchase. And something as simple as telling someone to have a good day, in a way that is sincere, can make someone more at ease and willing to return in the future. This is a great discussion to have with your front line staff in the future. Maybe tomorrow?

If your sales interaction is longer, you have more opportunities to truly connect with that person as a fellow human, sharing interests, discussing their purchase decision, and developing a real relationship with them that makes them comfortable when they are at your business.

That moment a guest realizes they are in a safe, welcoming place is a great moment to witness in business. It means a good things for everyone involved.

However, if you make your business a place of sanctuary from the sometimes cruel world, you create not only more business, but more community. And communities are places people have a real need to be a part of these days.

The Non Business (Human) Lesson: Your relationships may vary, not only with whom, but how much time you get to spend with them. Make that time, no matter how long or short, significant. Make real connections with them. That’s what matters with humans. It matters a lot.

Treating Customers As Humans

It seems like a painfully obvious statement.

“Customers are human, too.”

But it gets overlooked every day. Many businesses treat the relationship in a way that suggests they think they are the only ones with human needs, emotions, and vulnerability. In the course of the daily grind, we all sometimes forget that the people we are dealing with are facing the same crap we are. The same bosses, same family issues, same barking dogs, same life hurdles, etc.

However, when we DO realize it, we change the way we interact with those wishing to do business with us, regardless of the business we are in. A man named Abraham Maslow studied psychology and Human Actualization throughout his career, creating what is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which we will learn a little about, because it is the backbone of this whole concept of customer service. Basically, it is a list of emotional needs that must be met for self actualization. While there are arguably now more than five, the original five needs are:

You know….the basics of survival. Food, water, clothing, shelter, sex, sleep, and what not. Maslow, considered all other needs secondary to this one. It’s pretty big. I would definitely concur.

We all want security, order, protection from the elements (like tigers and hurricanes), law, stability, and freedom from fear. He listed these as the second most important needs to be met. Makes sense to me. How about you?

Maslow says that after the above mentioned needs, comes the need to belong. The need to love and be loved motivates behavior in a big way as we have seen played out in both life and in literature. Friendship, acceptance, trust, and intimacy are a part of this group of needs, and the need to be part of a collective is a strong need that should never be ignored. If you do, it will be your peril.

Our buddy Maslow broke this one down in to two categories: (1) esteem of oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (2) the desire for reputation or respect from others). Maslow actually found the needs for respect and reputation were most important for children and adolescents, proceeding self esteem or dignity, although today, there would be there would most likely be a lively discussion about that.

This need involves self fulfillment and personal growth, realizing one’s full potential. Maslow said it was “a desire to become everything one is capable of becoming”.

Look this guy up when you get the chance. Remember my friend Tony in the Grand Canyon? He told us “People spend money to feel good about themselves”. It was a simplified version of “People spend money to have emotional needs met, leading them to feel safe, secure, loved, fed, clothed respected, and fulfilled.”Tony’s explanation was simpler, but you get the point.

Are you going to fill all of these needs in your next transaction with a customer? Probably not, but knowing what they are is the first step in creating a sanctuary for your customers and guests.

Welcome to Dealing With Humans

In over 40 years of customer service, if I have learned one thing, it is that there are those who see customers as customers, and those who see customers as humans.  There is a big difference.  A big, BIG difference. Over the years, the number of businesses in the latter category has diminished significantly.  If you don’t think so, tell me why Amazon is so popular? 

American business spends a bunch of money on stuff. Take a a product launch, for example.  Thousands, if not millions are spent on marketing and Public Relations, thousands more for design, packaging, and presentation of a product. Thousands more on CRMS software to maintain relationships with customers. And, at the end of that chain, that glorious point in which you make human contact with the customer you worked so hard to obtain, is a minimum wage employee with little training, and possibly little desire or incentive to establish, or maintain a customer relationship.

Over 40 years, I have served, or catered to in some way, Presidents, vacationing families, rock stars, cowboys, retired couples, kids, sports fans, concertgoers, and people from virtually every walk of life, and they all wanted to walk away from the experience with the same things, whether they were aware of it, or not. No matter what socioeconomic group they were from, their expectations and demands were driven by the same human needs.   

When I worked at the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon in the late 80’s, I had a roommate named Tony. He was a Detroit Italian who was one of the best waiters I have ever met, and he once told me, “No matter what they are buying, people spend money to feel good about themselves, and our job is to make sure that happens.”  At first, I did not agree. I thought it was an oversimplified statement, but over time, came to realize that it is absolutely true. 

Repeat what good ole Tony said to yourself now, because it is the underlying mantra of this whole program. People spend money to have emotional needs met, whether they are aware of it or not. A pack of gum? A nice meal? A new boat? It doesn’t matter. Yes, they want the materialistic outcome, but the act of the purchase is to satisfy needs not met elsewhere.  As soon as retail, hospitality, and all sales front lines realize this, the process of creating and keeping customers becomes a whole new ball game.  This information is game changing.  Ask someone why they shop Amazon, and they will most likely tell you it’s about price and convenience.  It’s not. Those are only two of many emotional needs people need met in a purchase, and the dismal state of customer service has left consumers accepting that maybe that is the best they are going to get…price and convenience. This is where brick and mortar can always win if you remember why people buy in the first place.