Recently, I had an important networking event and needed some business cards for the next day. I went to a national office supply store to buy some business card templates with pre-printed graphic designs that I could print at home. When I entered the store, I was just before the lunch hour and there were no shoppers in the store. I was greeted promptly by the floor staff and got the typical “Can I help you today?” question. I answered, “No” and went to the aisle where the printing forms were. I looked over the selection and saw two designs but one was hearts and flowers and the other one from 1989. Disappointed, I walked to the door. The sales staff did not inquire further as I walked out of the door.
Later that day I went to Office Depot to see their selection of designs. When I walked in I was promptly greeted by a sales associate but he asked me a different question. Instead of “Can I help you” which allowed me to say “yes” or “no”, he asked me an open ended question which showed his interest in me and my needs. He asked “What do you need today?” This simple question totally changed my experience and by the end of the day made me a loyal customer… for life!
At first I was taken off guard by the question, but I told him what I was looking for. I was surprised when he immediately walked me over to the aisle which had the templates. As we were standing there looking at the stock I realized they didn’t have what I needed and asked if they were in a different location. He then apologized for not having exactly what I was looking for but, he went on, their in-house print shop could print 100 cards for me that day and they had a catalog two inches thick showing the various designs, colors, styles and options they offered. I was elated!
This meant Office Depot had something even better than what I had set out to find. He walked me over to the print shop and I began making my selection from the very large catalog of design choices. By the end of the day I didn’t just have some pre-printed template business cards, I had 100 custom designed business cards that were tailored to my preferences.
As a result of this experience Office Depot got the sale and earned my loyalty. The first store lost me as a customer and all my referrals for life! The first store didn’t inquire about my need, they didn’t show they valued me, and their employees didn’t show pride in their store and their product offerings. And, by the way, that first office supply store also had a print shop and could have offered the same options as Office Depot, but I didn’t know it until I researched it further. Queue the sound bite for the “wah-wah-wah-wah” sound.
Subsequently, I contacted Office Depot and obtained permission to use their name in this blog as the experience they provided to me, in my opinion, was exemplary. Businesses that want to create a great customer experience and, in turn, generate customer loyalty must incorporate the critical components of listening to customers and understanding their needs into their customer service strategy. I was recently asked in a job interview to define exceptional customer service.
Here is how I defined it:
- Understanding customer needs by listening to them
- Acting on that information by providing a level of product, service and relationship quality that makes customers want to tell their friends, family and colleagues
- Empowering and energizing the frontline to deliver service that creates these promoters
- Anticipating future customer needs and developing strategies to meet them before the customer complains about it
Office Depot “gets it” on all counts. The end result of delivering exceptional customer service as part of a designed customer experience is the customer sees the business as a partner, rather than a vendor. And perhaps even more importantly both parties experience a mutually valued relationship.
Asking open ended questions is one way of engaging with the customer, showing concern and understanding their needs. Changing four or five simple words from “Can I help you?” to “What do you need?” or “What are you looking for?” can change your business, your customers and you workforce. This small design change could revolutionize your business and improve loyalty and sales.
This week listen to your frontline. How do they address your customers? Assuming there is always a polite greeting, are they following it up with an inquiry to understand the customer’s needs? Once they understand the needs are they showing concern and appreciation by escorting them to the solution or just pointing to the aisle nonchalantly?
If you have made similar design changes, I am interested in knowing what you are doing. Please share them with the readers and me. Together we raise the bar on customer experience and change the world.
Image by Canva
P.S. I have asked Office Depot if I could interview them further to:
- Find out how they motivate their workforce to listen to their customers
- Understand their Customer Experience and Loyalty goals
- Learn what Office Depot is doing with Net Promotion
AICEX Customer Experience Italian Association