As a consumer, sometimes you just need some guidance. And when you don’t get it, it can be incredibly frustrating.
At our home, we are fortunate enough to have central air conditioning. We have two units, one that cools our first floor and one that cools our second floor. Recently, during a particularly warm week, we noticed that our second floor wasn’t really cooling well and the unit seem to be constantly running. So we did like any homeowner, and called an HVAC company to come have a look.
The HVAC guy showed up as promised and I explained the problem to him. The first thing he wanted to check was the charge on the unit. According to him, if the charge is low, that could be the issue. So he went to his truck, brought back some “gizmo”, hooked it up to the second floor unit and went to work. While he was waiting for the reading, the following conversation ensued.
Me: While you’re here, does it make sense to check the charge on the first floor unit as well?
HVAC dude: I can do that if you want.
Me: Okay, but I’m asking you…Should we?
HVAC dude: How’s the first floor cooling?
Me: Seems to be cooling okay.
HVAC dude: Well, I’d be happy to check it if you’d like.
Me (now getting frustrated): Yes…but in your opinion, should we?
HVAC dude: Well, you’re basically paying by the hour for me to be here, so I’m happy to do it if you want.
At that point, I’d had enough. I told him to forget about it and just deal with the second floor unit.
Later that day, I drove down the street to get a haircut. If you know me at all, you know that I’m not too particular about things like fashion and haircuts. My philosophy on fashion (much to Tracey’s chagrin) is – if it fits, it’s not hideous, and it’s cheap, it’s mine.
So I went to our local SuperCuts ($15 haircut – my kind of place!), sat down in the chair, and the following conversation happens.
Stylist: What are we doing today?
Me: Uh, getting a haircut. I’m not that particular, it’s been about 6 weeks. Just do what you think works.
Stylist: Okay, do you like clippers or scissors?
Me: Uh…I don’t know, whatever you think is best. Honestly, I’m not that particular. I think the last time, they used clippers on the sides and back and scissors on the top
Stylist: Okay, what size clipper blades do you want?
Me: Huh?…umm…let me see…I don’t know…whatever makes my hair look about 6 weeks shorter?
Stylist: Okay, do you want to start with a #3 and we’ll see how that looks?
Me (once again, starting to get frustrated): fine
Stylist: Now, do you want the back square or rounded.
Me: I don’t know, what is it now?
Me: Okay then…..square.
Then the straw that broke the camel’s back
Stylist: and what about your sideburns, do you want me to even them up?
Me: Look…I frankly don’t care what you do. You’re the professional. I don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t involve any more decisions on my part and as long as I look better than when I came in.
In both of these situations, I understand that the other person was just trying to do their job, but clearly I was looking for advice or guidance from each of them. I was deferring to them as professionals to guide me and neither one of them was willing to do that. It’s something we talk a lot about at Wicked Good Cupcakes. We tell all of our customer service folks to Be a Consultant.
Every business transaction follows the same pattern. The customer has a problem – The customer wants you to solve the problem. So as someone providing a product or service, it’s imperative to understand the problem and using your expertise, offer advice to the customer on how best to solve the problem.
After all, chances are you understand your industry better than your customer. They may ask for something specific, not knowing what other options are available. In the case of the stylist, she should have recognized after the first couple of questions, that I clearly needed some help. So simply saying something like “Okay, let’s go with a #3 clipper as I think that will look best. Sound okay to you?” Instead of “what size clipper blades do you want?” would’ve made all the difference in the world. Or the HVAC dude could’ve said “Look, in my opinion, if your first floor is cooling fine, you probably don’t need to have us check the charge, save your money. I would however, encourage you to do a yearly maintenance on your system to get in front of any potential problems. We’ll come out each spring, do x, y and z and it will cost $xx.xx. If this is something you’d like to do, we can get you set up today.” That would have given me a sense of confidence and trust. Quite frankly, I probably would have then signed up for a service contract.
In the example of cupcakes, instead of asking what specific flavors someone wants, we ask what types of flavors you like (chocolate, vanilla, etc) and offer advice as to what items on our menu would be suitable to your tastes.
Being a consultant and offering advice to your customers does a couple of things. First, it can eliminate problems that you may not otherwise have noticed. Case in point, a customer calls us and says “I’d like 96 cupcake jars, delivered to my office in New York on July 15th. Now, we could simply take the order and be done with it. However, the client (not understanding shipping like we do) is ordering those cupcakes for a meeting they’re having at 3pm the afternoon of July 15th. UPS doesn’t guarantee a delivery time so they deliver them at 5pm that day. Two hours after the meeting is over, but on the day the client asked for. Now the client is pissed, the client’s boss is pissed, and all because we simply did as asked. Had our customer service rep asked what the jars were for and what the date of the event was, he or she would have known to advise the client to have them arrive on the 14th – the day before the event.
The second reason being a consultant is important, is because it establishes a sense of comfort and trust between you and the client. If you ask the right questions, get to understand the problem, then offer ways of solving that problem for your client, chances are they will reach out to you again in the future. Case in point, I will not call that HVAC company the next time. I’ll find someone that I trust will advise me on the best way to care for my system.
So remember. You’re the expert. Chances are the person you have on the phone doesn’t know as much about your product or service as you do. Ask questions and offer advice that is valuable to them. Trust me, in the end, you’ll find yourself closing a lot more sales and getting a lot more repeat business.