How May I Help You?

ImageIf you provide service as part of your value, the first opportunity you have to learn about your customer’s needs is to ask one very simple question, “How May I Help You?”.  These five words will enable you to define the pain and opportunity. Carefully listening to the response opens the door for how you can provide the greatest value, how you might actually help!

Asking someone how you can help them may be viewed as a conversation opener. It does provide a moment to engage.  Engagement is critical in moving a target to a potential buyer or consumer of your goods and services.  What better way to get the dialogue started by asking how you might fulfill a request or need.

Asking someone how you can help them is different than using professional etiquette to ask, “How are you today?”.  Though this is a nice sentiment, it doesn’t require you to stop and listen. In fact, most people use this as a long form hello or welcome.  Many will respond with a trite and unemotional “good”, when in fact it may not be how they are at all. It limits your engagement.

The better way to open up a dialogue with a potential customer is to ask how to help them.  It requires you to pay attention.  It means you have to participate in a conversation that will have to use your perception skills, your listening skills and your problem solving skills.  A much higher demand upon your brain than a rehearsed canned response of “good”.

A person skilled in the art of providing outstanding service will anticipate the potential requests that will ensue from the question of how you can help.  The proposition of providing outstanding service also demands that the response demonstrates how you plan to deliver the help or better qualify the type of help that will best serve the customer’s needs.

Expectations of your engagement will be defined when you ask how you can help someone.  It is up to you then to determine how you can deliver that help or point them in the right direction.  The first impression is set by your willingness to open the door, invite someone in and learn of their requirements.

Here are some easy ways to remember how to create the greatest value of HELP:

H = HOW the person defines their need when you ask how you can help them. It is your opportunity to determine how you can be the best in serving them when you ask the question.

E = EXPECTATIONS are set when a person is asked how you can help them.  Knowing exactly what is expected gives you the opportunity to WOW them with your determination to provide outstanding service.

L = LISTEN carefully when you ask someone how you can help them, as they will assume you will hear and understand their needs.  Your first response will be their first impression of how good you will be in helping them resolve their problem or attain their goal.

P = PREPARE to deliver when you ask how to help.  Every request may be unique; however, you have standard services that will fit the needs with or without some customization.  Know your responses and the value that you will provide in helping them.

Most important, when asking someone how you can help them, is to respond with honesty.  If you cannot help, tell the person you are not able to help.  It is a measure of your integrity.  If you can extend yourself by giving them a referral to others that can help or pointing them to another resource, you will be a better service provider.  Your value to help does not require you to actually provide the help, only yield to a pathway that gets the person to where they can get the help they need.  Then you are truly a great service provider.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.  ~Mohammed Ali

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Who Makes the First Impression for Your Business?

Who Greets Your Potential Customers?

First impressions for your business are made by people that open doors, make cold calls, attend networking meetings and answer your phone.  They are delivered by your marketing communications like social media and websites.  How confident are you that your potential clients are greeted warmly and with a direct invitation to do business?

Years ago businesses paid someone to sit at a front lobby desk and answer every inbound call and greet every walk-in appointment.  The receptionist qualifications were measured by friendliness, service-orientation and attentive disposition.  The standard phone greeting of this time was “Thank you for calling, how can I help you?”

When is the last time were greeted this way?  Today we are often met with automated attendants and empty lobbies.  Some businesses have completely eliminated any dedicated space to a welcome station and filled it with another cubical. My impression is that first impressions are not a priority for this business.  The decision that customer experience may be too costly to employ a dedicated person, may be costing you business.

It is not difficult to think back to a bad first impression.  I recall three in the past weeks.  One top restaurant asked me to wait outside in 110 degrees because they did not open for four minutes, yet the door was unlocked.  Another restaurant hostess asked me to stand until my party arrived even though every table was empty.  A technology company, which had a sitting place upon entry, left me for 20 minutes while employees stared at me.  Not one person asked why I was there or if I needed help.  I remember all of these first impressions, vividly.

Noted in a recent New York Times article Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Sited from Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University in a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.”

How your employees are greeting the public, networking, making introductions, and opening doors for others is a direct reflection of hiring skills, company culture and leadership.  Business owners, CEOs and managers own the customer experience.  Every employee is responsible for making a positive first impression.  How are you reinforcing how positive first impressions are made in your business?

Customer experience is a financial decision in business, unless revenues are low on the priority list.  Reputation management is critical and costly.  A bad review is hard to overcome.  You can’t erase the Internet or someone’s memory.  People use others professional and personal experiences as a reason to buy or not buy. Bad experiences are viral, whether online, through social media, on sites that track reputations or by word-of-mouth.  Once word is out, it is permanent.  You own it!

Welcome!

Every experience starts with the greeting.  Take time to review how your potential and existing customers are greeted today.  This applies whether you are selling B2B or B2C, for every industry, in a building or online.  Use “secret shoppers” and have them rate how inviting, caring, and enthusiastic they were welcomed to do business with you.

Customer service is a pillar to good business.  Customer experience starts when the phone is picked up, the door is unlocked or a web site is visited.  We may not all have the luxury of hanging up a flashing “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to greet everyone.  We do have the luxury to manage and train our messengers to provide an outstanding first impression.

Invest in your greeting.  Define, train, test and continually reinforce how you want to insure a positive first impression.  It your opportunity to create a long-term valuable relationship with your customer.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.