Tuesday, May 17, 2016

First, Understand

(1:04) I had the pleasure of spending several days last week with Steve Zimmerman, owner of four boatyards along the US east coast and a business owner I greatly admire. Every interaction tells me that he truly gets customer service.

(0:58) We were actually chatting about my Minutes when he told me about a philosophy that he has used for years and has instilled in his staff. Whenever you encounter a dissatisfied customer, the first thing you must do is fully understand their perspective by actively listening to them.

(0:51) This can be difficult if you feel the customer is being unfair, unreasonable, or even unscrupulous. It is a natural reaction to become defensive, particularly if you feel your facility has done nothing wrong. But I think switching that reaction to one of empathy can accomplish some amazing things.

(0:43) In the best of scenarios, it will allow you to more quickly determine the problem and find a solution. You can't do that unless you fully understand the problem. It also helps when the customer knows that they've been heard.

(0:37) Often a business will focus in on the problem they have an answer for rather than solving the customer's actual problem. This happened to me recently at a rental car office until after several go-arounds I stated rather forcefully, "You are not listening to what I am saying. Please listen to me."

(0:28) Listening can reveal problems you are not able to see from your perspective. Sometimes you have to see things through the eyes of the customer to understand an issue you didn't know existed.

(0:23) Projecting empathy for the customer can also go a long way to calming a bad situation. Meeting a customer's frustration or anger with kindness and understanding can change the dynamic.

(0:19) At the core, most unhappy customers simply want to be heard and understood. If I feel you have made an effort to understand my point of view, I will be more satisfied, even if my situation does not change.

(0:14) What I liked most about my conversation with Steve was that he doesn't leave this important skill to chance. He periodically does customer service training where the staff role-plays this sometimes difficult skill. That's brilliant.

(0:08) The next time you or your staff encounters a customer complaint, stop, listen, and repeat the customer's concern back to him. Do this until you get it right. Only then are you in a position to decide how to react.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.