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customer service lessons from snake farmer

Customer Service Lessons From a Snake Farmer

The very foundation of outstanding customer service, as well as successful selling, is the willingness and ability to be truly interested in each customer you meet. Interest that goes beyond their immediate needs, and into who they are, what they do and what goes on in their lives that might make your product or service relevant to them.

Basically, you have to actually care.

Customer service begins with engagement

The fastest and most effective way to engage customers — and people in general — is, of course, by asking relevant questions. The thing is, most of us really aren’t very good at it.  

A few years ago, one of our clients brilliantly illustrated the impact that customer service people can make when they improve the questions they ask.  Bill was vice president of a large wireless retailer, and he was getting frustrated at how many of his retail employees seemed completely unable to engage customers beyond a transactional level.

It's not about asking questions. It's about asking the right questions

It’s not that his team wasn’t asking customers questions.  They were.  They just weren’t asking the right kinds of questions.

His salespeople, for example, were great at asking questions like:

“What phone would you like?,” “Who’s your current provider?” and “How much data do you use?”  They were always about the product and service, and never about the customer.

The employees rarely asked customers about themselves — what they do for a living, what sports their kids play, what social media platforms they use, how often they stream videos or podcasts, and so on.

He knew the difference it would make, but had to find a way to communicate this to his team.

A brilliant customer service role-play with a snake farmer

Bill decided to take matters into his own hands. In each of his store visits, he began asking the sales and service people to role-play with him – with him playing the role of customer.  Here’s how the interactions invariably went:

Employee: “What brings you into the store today?”

Bill: “I’m kinda looking for a phone for work.”

Employee: “Sure, what kind of phone were you looking for?”

Bill: “STOP!”

Employee: (looking confused) “Um…Why?”

Bill: “Why don’t you learn a little about me first?”

Employee: “(still looking confused) Okay…. umm…”

Bill: “Why don’t you ask what I do for a living?”

Employee: “Okay. What do you do for a living?”

Bill: “Good Question! I’m a Snake Farmer.”

Employee: “Umm…. okay…… (looks up at Bill in confusion). er…. I really don’t quite know what to say now….”

Bill:  “Well, what do you think about me being a snake farmer?”

Employee:  “Well, I thought it was kinda cool”

Bill: “Then why not just say that??!! What else might you want to ask me?”

Employee: “Er…maybe I’d want to know what you would do with the snakes?”

Bill: “GOOD QUESTION!! I sell them to zoos all over the world. Now what might you want to ask?”

Employee: “Umm. Well, where do you keep your snakes?”

Bill: “Good Question again! I have pens spread out all over 40 acres out back.”

Employee: “How do you keep track of them?”

Bill: “Now you’re getting it! I drive around all day in a golf cart to check the pens.”

Employee: “So, how do you stay in touch with the office?”

…and so it went.

What Bill was getting at, of course, is that the more interest you have in your customers and the more you learn about them, the better a relationship you build, and the better a job you can do for them. Sometimes just two or three great questions can make all the difference.

The sad part, he lamented, is that most people these days are just far too narcissistic.

“We are far too consumed with ‘us’, our needs, our wants, our problems, our little world, and have just stopped caring about the people around us,” he would say.

It’s hard to disagree with him.

The good news is that those who are willing to learn skills for truly engaging customers — and people in general — the future is bright indeed. And you never know when you might bump into a snake farmer who needs your services.

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