Once a relationship is in place you can attempt to effectively communicate the completion of some mission such as selling, servicing, or educating your customer. Many times, salespeople and account managers call an existing customer and begin the conversation with, "How are you doing today?" This is certainly pleasant enough but it really doesn't do anything to develop loyalty in your customer. Remember, the four things people want in every relationship are:
You have an opportunity to fulfill these four things your customers want in every relationship through your effective communication. The beginning of a phone call or the initial greeting when you meet with your customer is a great opportunity to send a message of knowing, understanding, helping, and leading. Instead of, "Mr. Jones, this is Bob with The Ace Realty Company. How are you doing today?" try, "Mr. Jones, this is Bob with Ace Realty. I have a home listed for sale in your neighborhood. I'm calling to ask you if you would like to participate in choosing your next neighbor." At this point you can ask Mr. Jones how he is doing, but you won't need to. Mr. Jones will be more interested in your message than reporting on how he feels today. This technique works just as well or better with customers whom you have a long-term relationship with. This is a way of demonstrating you want to help and lead your customer.
For example, you have done business with Joe. You have even socialized with Joe. Joe's kids go to the same school as your kids. You give Joe a call and say, "Joe this is Bob with Tip Top Insurance. How are you doing today?" The conversation then moves to social chitchat. Joe doesn't have a clue why you called except to maybe shoot the breeze while he is trying to work. He's happy to hear from you, but if he gets another call, Joe will probably put you on hold.
Here is an example with the same people, same relationship, but different words: "Joe, this is Bob with Tip Top. When I got to the office this morning I received some information I need to share with you. Can I see you today?" When you are demonstrating your desire to help and lead your client, whether it is an existing client or not, you are creating and encouraging loyalty.
Another way of demonstrating your desire to give the customer what he wants is to lead in communication. This technique is particularly useful when a customer has a complaint or has an objection to your sales effort.
For example, my mother is a habitual returner. She buys stuff and then brings it back to the store for a refund. I am sure this is an expression of our most fundamental nature of being hunters and gathers. She is really more interested in buying than she is in keeping.
Mom's favorite store is Wal-Mart because of the selection, price, and convenience. But she likes Wal-Mart mostly because of their liberal return policy. It is not unusual for my mother to purchase two or three shirts and then return one or two of them. After she has taken her purchases home, she decides she likes one shirt the best. She puts the two shirts she wants to return back in the blue, plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag and heads back to the store. She walks up to the service counter and the clerk asks, "Can I help you?"
Mom says, "I want to return these shirts."
The clerk asks, "Is there anything wrong with them?"
"I decided I didn't like them," Mom reports.
There is a silent pause as the clerk rifles through the shopping bag. The clerk inspects the shirt as if she might be able to discern why my mother wouldn't like such fine merchandise. I suspect she is also inspecting the shirts to make sure there is no damage or foul play.
Finally, the clerk says, "Okay. Do you want cash or a credit on your charge card?"
Mom takes the cash and splits, only to come back again another day as either a shopper or a returner.
Try this scenario instead:
The clerk asks, "Can I help you?"
Mom says, "I want to return these shirts."
The clerk says, "You want to return these shirts." The clerk makes this a statement not a question. This removes any confrontation from the transaction and demonstrates the clerk knows what the customer wants. This is a confirming statement because it confirms what the customer already knows.
The clerk further confirms the customer's desire by saying, "We handle returns at this counter." This additional confirmation is important because it tells the customer that the clerk understands, everything is going fine, and the customer is being served.
The clerk takes the shirts out of the bag and says, "A lot of people recognize the value of our return policy." It doesn't matter so much what the exact words are. It is just important that the clerk makes a statement that describes the transaction as being common or regular. By making this statement, the clerk is making the customer's concerns or request normal.
By saying, "You want to return these shirts. We handle returns at this counter. A lot of people recognize the value of our return policy," the clerk is showing that she understands what the customer wants and is normalizing the transaction. Now comes the best part. The customer is now receptive to the clerk's leadership because the customer has received confirmation and normalization. The clerk can suggest, "Would you like to see this shirt in a different color, a different size, or would you like to shop for a while to use the credit from the purchases you are returning?"
The steps were confirmation, confirmation, normalization, and lead. "You want to return these shirts," is a confirmation. "We handle returns at this counter," is another confirming statement. "A lot of people recognize the value of our return policy," is a normalizing statement. "Would you like to see this shirt in a different color, or would you like to shop for a while to use the credit from the purchases you are returning?" is a leading suggestion and demonstrates the clerk's leadership. If the Wal-Mart service counter clerk used this confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead technique, more often than not, my mom would choose one of the options offered by the clerk and once again become a Wal-Mart shopper rather than a returner. Your customers will do the same thing. Remember the whole point of customer loyalty is to have your customers buy from you on a repeat basis.
At first, the confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead technique may sound unnatural. It may sound like a sales gimmick or a condescending remark. Actually, it can be very natural. For example, consider your son or nephew or the next-door neighbors' kid falls off his bicycle and cuts his knee. The natural thing for you to say would be, "Awww, you fell off your bike. You cut your knee. Everyone falls when they first learn to ride. You're going to be okay." This is a confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead statement. You probably use it all the time. If you use it with your customers, you will be developing loyalty because it will lead your customers. Customers like to be served by being led if you do it right.
Another example: You have closed the deal on a real estate transaction. A day later your customer announces, "We have thought it over and have decided to hold off on buying right now."
You respond, "You have been thinking about the new home. You have decided to hold off on buying right now. Many people have second thoughts about such a large purchase."
At this point you have confirmed the buyers' positions and have normalized their concerns. They are receptive to what you have to say instead of only repeating their original statement, "We have thought it over and have decided to hold off on buying right now."
They feel their fear and hesitation is natural and they are looking to you for leadership.
You lead, "The home is a wonderful buy. The current interest rate makes it even more attractive. A lot of folks get uncomfortable as they approach a big investment. Can we meet and look at the home again?" Comforted by your words, the customer is more likely than not to act on your leadership and revisit the property. In this situation, the technique of confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead gives you an additional opportunity to assure the customer he or she is making the right decision.
A friend of mine who is in the consulting business told me a story about how she used confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead. She said a client had requested a meeting in their Chicago office with one of her consultants and a group of people from the client-company. The client-company flew several of their top people in from remote locations to attend the meeting. Unfortunately, her consultant didn't show up. The consultant failed to schedule the meeting on her calendar and was a complete no-show. The client had spent a substantial amount of money, disrupted several schedules, and the meeting never happened.
When my friend called the client a few weeks later, after things had cooled down, the client was still angry. The client said they never wanted to do business with the consultants again. My friend replied, "Our consultant didn't show up. Your people had traveled a great distance for nothing and I cannot change what has taken place. At one time the Japanese wre our greatest enemy. Today the Japanese are our greatest trade partners. Will you give me another opportunity to work with you?" She didn't get the okey that day but confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead did get her back in the door and they did do business at a later time.
This confirm, confirm, normalize, and lead technique can be used in any situation where the customer has complaint or objection. Your customer will understand that you are not making excuses. You are not minimizing their complaint and you fully recognize their concerns. By confirming, normalizing, and leading you are communicating to your customers that they are important and you understand them.
Earlier in this chapter I mentioned that the specific words or techniques that we use are not nearly as important as the strategy we employ. Your strategy when you are talking to your customers is to demonstrate a sincere interest in knowing, understanding, helping, and leading. It is this sincere interest that separates you from your competitors.
Knowing, understanding, helping, and leading are linked together. You can't help or lead someone unless you know what they want. When you know the customer and understand how your product or service can benefit them, you are in a position to help and lead them.
Knowing is a description of recognizing the customer's specific desires, wants, and needs as they pertain to your business. Doctors are notorious for treating the illness, aliment, or disease rather than the patient. Too frequently we see in the newspaper that a doctor is being sued because he has performed a surgery on the wrong patient. Would this happen if the doctor spent 10 minutes with the patient learning who they are? This is a dramatic example; however, think about how little attention many businesses direct toward learning about their customers. This is not a discussion about making a single sale. The purpose of knowing our customers is to create lasting loyalty. When customers feel the only thing you know about them is the purchase they are considering, there is no sense of loyalty. They rightfully believe that you only recognize them or care about them as a sale. There is no relationship that encourages their return. When you do this, you are risking the economic equivalent of performing the wrong surgery.
Knowing and understanding your customer begins and ends with listening, speaking and learning. This isn't something you do once. Every time you are talking with your customers, you should use the opportunity to learn as much about them as possible.