Henry Ford is quoted as having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He clearly understood the importance of seeking out the unexpressed needs of his customers. The Ritz-Carlton understands its importance as well. In fact, it is stated in the last line of their employee credo: “The Ritz-Carlton experience…fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”
At FrontLine Service Solutions, we too believe that uncovering unexpressed needs is a critical component of customer service. In addition to wowing customers with your organization’s attentiveness, it will also create extra sources of revenue. Discovering the unspoken needs of customers requires three things: (1) representatives must earn the trust of their customer; (2) they must engage their customer in a conversation full of open-ended questions, encouraging the customer to speak at length; and (3) they must actively listen in order to tease those potential needs out of the rest of the discussion.
Earning the trust of customers should be a priority of anyone working in the customer service industry. Without trust, all else is lost. Some customers will offer their trust more easily based on the reputation of the organization, a relationship with a manager, or perhaps another connection. Other customers, however, will require a representative to work for the trust. This trust can be earned by focusing on building long-term relationships with customers based on mutual respect. As trust grows, representatives will learn more and more about their customers’ lives, offering them the ability to suggest useful products and services that can save their customers time, stress and/or money.
Once a representative has earned a customer's trust, it is critical that they not rush through conversation in order to get to the customer's immediate transactional need. It is during a genuine conversation, in which the representative is actively listening to their customer, that they will discover clues about the customer's financial picture that may allow them to offer a product or service that could be beneficial. Unlike close-ended questions, which elicit succinct answers, open-ended questions will encourage customers to get speaking at length. By showing interest in what customers have to say, even if the information doesn’t induce a referral opportunity, representatives are demonstrating that they truly care about their customers. None of this time spent in conversation is wasted – opportunities will arise in the future. When customers speak at length, clues for referrals will eventually present themselves.
The last step to uncovering needs is actively listening to the customer throughout a conversation. Representatives have to be truly engaged in what the customer is saying in order to pick up on hints of potential needs. The Ritz-Carlton makes this a reality by teaching employees the phrase: “Radar is on and antenna is up.” In having their eyes and ears tuned into the details, Ritz employees are able to uncover needs other service providers may miss. Critically, managers stress this type of behavior at the staff line-up every day so being tuned in is always at the top of every employee’s mind. When representatives gear their listening toward the details, combined with the built up trust and the focus on asking open-ended questions, discovering those unspoken needs will be easier than ever.
Uncovering unexpressed needs is one of the most critical ways to not only set your organization apart from the competition, it is one of the best ways to build long-lasting and strong relationships with your customers. We encourage all service-minded organizations to stress this skill to their customer-facing representatives.