When are people in charge of their lives and experiences? Chances are, not very often. So they seek to feel in control of their experiences and certainty in their knowledge of things in small areas, like their transactions with companies. For as many times as those in customer service have heard “the customer is always right”, the customers have heard it, too, and they want to be in the driver’s seat of their experience with us.
Recently, at a home improvement store, an elderly woman was looking for a “mat you put under your microwave”. Rather than hearing her and trying to sort out her actual need, the associate began to tell her what it was she was looking for and led her to a section of shelf liners. They were precisely not what she was looking for, so she began to lose her patience. He then began to tell her that she should go to a different aisle to find microwave covers to keep the food from splattering. That was also not the product she wanted help in finding, so she became very upset. What followed was a lady many decades older than the man “helping” her, throwing a sizable fit in the middle of the store. Was it because she was inherently difficult? Was it because she was just having a bad day? Perhaps. But to chalk the scene up to a personality flaw on her part is to overlook the responsibility of the man who was tasked with helping her: he did not take the time to listen to her and clarify her needs so that he could properly help her in the manner which would have kept her happy. Instead, he continually jumped to conclusions and tried to lead her to solutions that were only obvious and helpful to himself. This customer did not want someone else’s ideas, she wanted to be in charge of her experience, and the resistance to letting her be the expert sent her right over the edge.
The temptation to lead customers doesn’t necessarily come from a dismissive place. It can just as easily be motivated by an over eagerness to help provide a solution as quickly as possible, or a certainty that we see where this is going. But we are better providers of service if we can remind ourselves to pause as soon as we think we know what solution is needed, let the customer finish their request, and then ask any needed follow up questions to ensure we are not heading down the wrong path for them. Then and only then, once the listening portion of our jobs is complete, can we jump in to lead them to the correct answer. When we can do this consistently, both we and our customers are the happier for it.