Bring customers' needs to life

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I hate to generalize, but I think many service providers are suffering from E.D.S.-Empathy Deficiency Syndrome. This disease is characterized by apathy, the ability to look right at a customer and see nothing, and the inability to say, "I'm sorry." ¶ Partially caused by a lack of caring, it's exacerbated by managers who don't take time to make customer concerns real and meaningful to their teams. It's the manager's job to get people engaged in and excited about interacting with customers. How? Let them walk in the customer's shoes!

Staff from the software company Intuit (marketer of Quicken) used to follow customers home from the store and watch them use their products. Back at work, they made recommendations for improving the "how to" instructions based on what they had seen. People from 3M's surgical division go into operating rooms, donning gloves and gowns to watch medical personnel using their products.

As you get a customer's eye view, the customer becomes more real. How can you make your customers more real?

  • Send staff into the customer's office. Allow them to experience how your product or service fits into the customer's business. After each visit conduct a show-and-tell meeting.
  • Bring customers into the office frequently. Teach your staff to ask customers questions that will help them form vivid pictures of what the customer's life is like. When employees are touched by their customers' real-life challenges, they're more likely to respond to them with care and enthusiasm.
  • Take pictures. Audiotape or videotape customer feedback sessions and play them at meetings. Take photos of customers using your product; hang them on the walls and use them in your newsletters.
  • Host customer-run meetings. Have them pick the topic and design the agenda. That in itself will give you feedback.
  • Reserve a chair at the table. Pretend that a customer is always at your meetings and watch how everyone's language and demeanor change.
  • Send staff shopping. Give them money and a checklist of service behaviors to watch out for, and let them be customers. Then have them report on their experiences.
  • Celebrate "Customer Day" monthly. Celebrate one of your customer's successes.

Managers who implement these simple, inexpensive techniques can eliminate EDS and inspire employees to care for customers. The result? Happy customers and higher profits.

JoAnna Brandi is the publisher of Customer Care Coach, a weekly e-mail training and coaching program for managers. She can be reached at [email protected]

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