Identifying and Meeting
Customer Needs

By Jayne Kowal

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It is not enough to have business goals and strategies related to providing an excellent customer service experience. It isn't even enough to have a philosophy of service excellence. While these are foundations, service is about interactions and execution. Every employee is responsible for how they manage interactions with customers (both internal and external) and this includes identifying needs.

Identifying a customer's need occurs through active listening and effective communication.

ACTIVE LISTENING
Active listening is "listening with all three ears". To be effective, you need to hear what is being said AND understand emotions. Emotion is interpreted through tone, voice inflection, body language and your own intuition (gut feeling). Active listening contains three concepts: words, tone of voice and body language (55% of communication comes from our body language).

Here are some examples of using active listening to identify needs...

  • A customer seems to be confused about your service options (i.e., membership options, banking options, etc.) (need = help, identified through body language)
  • You have been dealing with an upset customer over the phone. The customer seemed happy but after hanging up you feel like they may not be 100% satisfied (need = further follow up, identified through your intuition)
  • A regular customer always wants to talk. He is always cheerful, uses open gestures, smiles yet needs nothing specifically. He asks you a lot of questions and is eager to share personally relevant information about himself (need = value as a person, identified by the body language, tone of voice AND words)

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
The key to communication is simple, clear, positive and enthusiastic. Customers choose to use your business because they have needs (I.e., they need an answer, information, support or advice, someone to talk to, a way of increasing their physical activity, a pass or membership, financial security, etc.). You find out what a customer needs by asking and then actively listening to their response.

Your goal is to understand three things:

  • What they want
  • When they want it
  • How they plan to use it

Customers are not always able to articulate what they need. By asking key questions and probing for more information you can define their need.

Remember, ALL customers need to feel valued.

CHALLENGES

  1. WHAT GETS IN THE WAY OF YOUR ABILITY TO ACTIVELY LISTEN? IDENTIFY ONE COMMON BARRIER AND CREATE AN ACTION STRATEGY TO ELIMINATE OR REDUCE IT.
  2. HOW CAN YOU SHOW VALUE?

Once you have accurately assessed a customer's needs, your next step in the process of engagement is to efficiently and effectively MEET their needs. This means doing it right AND doing the right thing. This includes:

Knowledge of your products and services. This requires knowledge beyond your department to focus on identifying what your business products or services are (features) and how the product or service will assist the customer in enjoying value (benefits). Knowledge is key to recognizing and seizing opportunities to cross sell additional programs/services or value-sell related programs/services, both techniques to add increased value to your customer. Remember, the goal is to meet the customer's need. When we engage in cross selling and value selling techniques we are trying to suggest additional or complementary products/services that the customer will want or need. We are not pushing products. When done effectively, both the customer and the business win.

Problem solving and decision-making. Customers desire their need to be addressed as quickly as possible. The more people or time it takes, the greater chance of dissatisfaction. Do you have the skills, desire, knowledge and opportunity to solve problems and make decisions at the first point of contact with the customer? If the answer is "no", consider the following questions and strategies within your department:

  • Do you require additional training and understanding of the products and services your business offers? What can you do to make this happen?
  • Do you want to solve problems and make decisions on the spot?
  • Do you require support in understanding policies and guidelines and the kinds of creative alternatives you have to choose from?

AT ALL POINTS OF CONTACT WITH CUSTOMERS WE NEED A WHAT CAN I DO ATTITUDE

Dealing effectively with customer complaints. Complaints are opportunities for us to learn what our customers expect from us (their perceptions), what is not working with our products/services/processes, etc. Those who complain are likely telling us what many may have experienced but never verbalized. We meet needs that come to us in the form of complaints by actively listening, identifying what we can do to resolve their problem (if we ask them we can assure our resolution actually provides value) and following up on what we promise. Take this one step further and share your learning - what was the problem and why was it a problem? If we don't know about problems we can't make proactive changes.

Finally, we need to recognize that customers have both tangible and intangible needs. It is our ability to recognize and meet the INTANGIBLE need, which creates real value for the customer. Think of intangible needs as customer motives. We are all humans and desire engagement at the human, versus business, level.

Here are some examples of intangible needs:

  • Staff who are understanding, knowledgeable and helpful
  • Feeling safe
  • Feeling important (personally valued)
  • Social opportunities and interaction
  • Self-esteem
  • Acknowledgment of urgency

CHALLENGE:
HOW CAN YOU CREATE VALUE WHEN MEETING NEEDS?

Jayne Kowal, Director/Owner of Customer Service Works
http://www.customerserviceworks.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Jayne_Kowal

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