What Your Customer Really Wants – Lessons Learned From Taking Customer Support Calls

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While our online wedding linens store doesn’t get a ton of inquiries, we do receive our fair share of customer calls throughout the day. And after you’ve answered the phone long enough, you begin to develop a certain sixth sense about the type of customer you’re dealing with.

My wife and I have only been running our business for 3 years but I would say that I can get a pretty accurate read of the customer within the first 30 seconds of the conversation.

And within that 30 seconds, I can usually tell whether the customer will make a purchase and whether the order size will be decent.

You Can’t Always Listen To The Customer!

phonesupport

Photo by KrystalChu

What’s funny is that I’ve always been told that the number one rule of customer service is to always listen to the customer. But the reality is that sometimes the customer has misconceptions about what they want.

Sometimes, they might be exaggerating or lying to get a better deal. Sometimes, they are just looking to talk things out. Here are a few customer types that we deal with everyday.

I Want A Discount!

If I hear the words “I want a discount on a bulk order” within the first 30 seconds of the phone conversation, then nine times of ten: a) The order size will not be that large and b) The customer is only interested in getting the best deal and not with our products.

Perhaps it is because of our target market, but I can’t remember the last time a bulk order discount request actually turned out to be a significant order.

Generally, all of the large orders that we receive are from event planners or hotels and they are mainly interested in whether we’ll be able to deliver product in timely manner.

Price doesn’t even come up until the very end since serious buyers are more concerned with whether we are legit and whether we are reliable.

Hell, just the other day we had one potential customer call us up for a price match on some of our linen towels towards a “huge” purchase!

First of all, most of our products are not branded and several of our items are unique so it’s impossible to find an identical price match.

Second of all, the order was far from “huge”. In any case, this lady wanted us to match a price that was over 50% off. When I asked her why she didn’t just buy from the other website, she dodged the question.

Be warned, if the conversation begins with price, then chances are the order will be a dud.

I Need Things Exactly Perfect

Since we are in the wedding industry, our customers generally have high expectations with our products. And because everyone wants their wedding to be unique, we often get special requests.

Every now and then, we’ll receive a call from an especially demanding customer dangling a wad of cash in our face with a large custom made order.

My wife and I are human. We’ve been lured into the trap of doing custom work for a customer at an added cost before. But in almost every case, catering to a demanding customer hasn’t been worth the money.

Sure, the payoff is attractive but the amount of mental anguish required to get everything right to their exacting standards has taken years off of our life.

The moral of the story is that if you have a demanding customer on the line, be wary. If they want something custom or out of the ordinary from you, then stay away. In most cases, the extra work will not be worth your time or money.

I Need Advice

A good portion of our customer calls are from people who have questions about our products. In many cases, they are calling because they want our opinion on a purchase that they are about to make.

In the beginning, I used to think to myself, “Why in the world is someone calling me for advice on linens for their wedding?” Weddings are very personal affairs and I used to be very hesitant to give my advice because I didn’t want to make a mistake and ruin their wedding.

But sometimes, you need to tell them how you truly feel otherwise you might lose them to a competitor.

Sometimes the customer is just looking for a sounding board for their wedding choices. Sometimes they just want affirmation or just an honest opinion from someone in the industry.

These days I always give my opinion and I usually try and bring up additional products that they may be interested in as well. Not only do we sell more products this way but the customer feels good about their purchase as well. It’s a win win situation.

I Just Want To Talk

We also receive our fair share of calls in which the customer just keeps talking and talking and talking and talking…. It’s the type of call that you want to abruptly cut the person off and just ask, “Do you want to place an order or what?!?”

But strangely enough, the customers that like to talk tend to purchase a lot of product. I can’t explain the psychology, but perhaps the customer is calling to make a connection to you or your store.

Perhaps the customer is looking for affirmation that your company is someone they want to deal with. Perhaps, they need confidence that you can deliver on your promises.

In any case, whenever I encounter a talkative customer, I generally try to make conversation back and ask questions. I wasn’t always this way.

I used to try and get off the phone as quickly as possible. But you know what? Interacting with pleasant customers can be quite rewarding.

If you are passionate with your business, then this will translate to the end customer and that customer will tend to make larger purchases. This effect is difficult to quantify, but easily observable in practice.

Practice, Listen and Interpret

Dealing with customers is an art that can only be perfected over time. There are people who are naturals and there are people like me who have to put a little more effort into it.

But the more practice you get, the more efficient you will be at reading into what they want. Dealing with and being able to read into the customer’s intentions is an extremely valuable skill to have no matter what the business.

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9 thoughts on “What Your Customer Really Wants – Lessons Learned From Taking Customer Support Calls”

  1. Great tips concerning customer service from someone who has actually been there.

    The “I just want to talk” customer is the most disturbing in my opinion. You know that they are probably lonely, but you have a business to run.

    1. Rocky says:

      There are two main types of buyers. Transactional and Relational.

      Transactional buyers don’t want a relationship. They are bottom line, agressive and unemotional types. They will shop for the best price, milk you for information and if they do buy from you and then when it’s time for the next purchase, they will shop prices again. Profit margins will be lower with the transactional buyer, they’ll often beat you up over details and generally, they can make life a bit miserable.

      This type of buyer will most often not come back nor will they refer friends or family. If they do refer their friends, they tend to be “price grinders” too.

      The transactional buyer will focus on price. You want to get off price and onto value and the ‘true cost’ of a product purchase.

      I’ve had to fire this kind of customer from time to time as they ruined my day just by talking to them. I direct them to the business of a competitor so that they can make their day miserable.

      Relational buyers are looking for long term relationships with people that they can trust. They may spend more time to know you until they ‘feel’ comfortable. They want your expertise and advice. Basically, they want you to tell them what to do and then they’ll follow your advice.

      Your profit margins will be higher and you’ll enjoy serving the relational buyer.

      This buyer will come back again and again and will often refer friends and family to your business.

      My above comments are based upon 14 years on the phone and in person with thousands of individuals and couples.

  2. LOVE that antique phone in the photo! 😉

    You know, I learned that too: the number one rule of customer service is to always listen to the customer — that the customer is always right.

    Thanks for sharing your insight, Steve!

    1. Rocky says:

      Definitely ask questions and listen to the customer.

      The customer is ALWAYS RIGHT? Yes…up to a point.

      I’ve seen a quote, “You can be right or you can get paid.”

      When a problem customer affects the quality of service to other customers, affects our mood and makes us wish we didn’t come to work today, then it’s time to help them find another supplier. The money’s not worth it.

      Chronically bad customers actually cost money because they suck up time, emotional and mental resources that could be devoted to happy paying customers. If we are in an irritable mood due to a bad customer, then it affects how we relate to other good customers.

      My comments are based upon my experiences in high pressure situations, involving lots of money and where absolute perfection was required.

      Other situations could call for a different view point.

  3. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests for trade outs. I don’t mind them, but the landlord won’t let me trade out for the rent. I’ve been working on this problem for a while now. Any suggestions?

  4. This is really helpful information!, I like the “I need things exactly perfect” advice.

  5. “You Can’t Always Listen To The Customer!” -right, some customers just want to take advantage of the fact that they are “customers”.

  6. The adage that the “customer is always right” is out the window. It doesn’t give them a license to belittle the customer service agent.

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