- Proves good listening,
- Demonstrates critical thinking, and
- Uses humor to soften a pointed probe.
The best questions force your respondents to better understand their condition, reply with honesty, and discover a bit of truth they did not otherwise accept. While the best questions are specific to a discussion with a prospect, client, employee, or vendor, some questions are timeless classics, applicable in any situation. Here are a few of my favorites:
- “Tell me about a situation where you have failed and what it taught you.” If they respond by saying they have never failed, ask them why they have set their goals so low.
- “If you know it isn’t working, why do you keep doing it?” The key here is to break through the person’s resistance or conventional thinking and start changing his perception of reality.
- “What is the one question you hope I don’t ask you?” This question, asked at the end of a discussion, often reveals hidden agendas or information you may have missed.
- “You are telling me this for a reason.” When confronted with highly emotional individuals, this question coaxes from them the reasons they feel as they do.
- “If you were going to tell me this, what would you say?” As ridiculous as this sounds, an uncooperative person may just divulge confidential information if you let her speak next after delivering this question with a straight face.
- “What’s your best and highest use®?” While this is my trademarked, signature question, your version will provoke many people to ask you what you mean. So, develop your own icebreaker to engage anyone in a far more personal and revealing discussion.
Starting with Socrates and Plato, the art of questioning to gain knowledge, develop agreement, and communicate expectations is critical to any of the leadership roles you play.
Good questioning comes with practice, maturity, and business experience, but most of all through your growing confidence. As a business owner, learn to ask good questions. As your questions become better, next work on your timing, your ability to pause for an answer, and finally, on ways to control your environment in doing so.
Why should you ask great questions? If you need a final reason, just watch a rerun of the great TV master detective Colombo. Peter Falk made himself into a household name and turned the phrase “door knob question” into a buzz word, ending every show by asking “There’s just one more thing I don’t understand…”
“Reprinted in Honor of Peter Michael Falk (September 16, 1927 – June 23, 2011)”
(Image courtesy of Columbo Television Show)
When business travelers or leaders need an icebreaker, a surefire subject is to share war stories of inferior customer service. No topic builds rapport faster than that of the inept waiter, the inaccurate reservation or the incompetent returns department. Recently, while participating in such a discussion, I wondered if customer service was so bad during the boom years, what do we have to look forward to in tighter times? With cutbacks and spending freezes, how does a business leader determine the appropriate investment in customer service? If service is great, should it be scaled back to save money? If service is deficient, will further investment create a competitive advantage?
Obviously, there is no easy answer. But before thinking about how to spend more or less money serving customers, step back and remember the reasons for customer service.
Customer service has taken on a life and importance well beyond its mission or purpose. Thanks to commercials, gurus and lawyers, when you make mundane everyday purchases like buying supplies you are told to expect a near-religious experience. With such high expectations, it’s no wonder that disappointment soon follows. Just one critical misstep by a vendor and their otherwise excellent performance is ruined. Conversely, when you get a defective product repaired or upgraded, you may become an overnight advocate for a company and its products.
Given the consumer’s irrational expectations, what is a business leader to do? How can an intelligent investment in customer service be made? To start, every firm should individually define customer service for their business by customizing this generic statement: The goal of our customer service is to enable customers to effectively purchase and consume more products or services.
Simply stated, if you can create a relationship between better service and increased sales, it is possible to measure investments and expectations for the delivery of customer service.
While there are countless ways to measure customer satisfaction and service, consider this: If a customer demonstrates satisfaction when he or she spends more, makes a referral of you to another customer or serves as a reference for your firm, then your firm’s customer service is effective.
While this definition may be trite for many customer service experts, the value of this approach is the financial connection it creates. Take your total investment in customer service and divide it by the value of incremental referrals, references and sales traceable to your investment in customer service. That will allow you to derive the cost and value of your customer service.
You can expand the above equation to accommodate the reactive nature of the times. During tough times, business owners are more concerned with saving sales and customers than growing sales and finding new customers. Compare this cost and value to other investments and cost-cutting initiatives under consideration. To fine-tune the analysis to your individual circumstances, here are some of the examples of measurements of customer service in tough times. Which one is best fits your business’s challenges to justify investments in people, money, resources and time?
- Number of orders saved
- Number of referrals made
- Number of references sought
- Number of reorders secured
- Number of cross-sales/up-sales made
- Number of lost customers saved
Today, when sacred cows are suddenly suspect and scapegoats are many, customer service is often sacrosanct or too poor to cut further. Rather than make an arbitrary decision, examine what you expect of your firm and develop clear measurements of value. You may well be surprised with the answer you get. Not only will you feel you have a better handle on this area, but one that should stay relatively constant in good times or bad.
And, if all else fails, do not despair. Remember how poor customer service is throughout this country. What would it take for your firm to stand out? If added customer service could create measurable results, consider doing what it takes. Your customers will thank you and your bottom line will as well.
If The Economy Is Slowing, Is Your Business Growing? 12 Tactics To Ensure Your Business Does Well During A Slow Economy
Filed under: Business Growth, Profitable Growth, Top Line Growth, Uncategorized
By now, there’s no question the U.S. economy is mired in an economic slowdown. While your specific industry may actually be strong, slowdowns are epidemic in nature and have a way of leaking into otherwise solid sectors.
All of this has put business owners in a precarious situation that they haven’t witnessed during the roaring ’90s. But that doesn’t mean your business has to stop growing just because the masses are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Here are 12 tactics to help ensure your business doesn’t follow the downward trends.
Warranty and maintenance contracts that extend the useful life of the status quo.
Programs/products and services that promise reduced costs and greater efficiency will be more attractive than those promising increased sales.
Channel power will go to those with paying customers or the ability to retain their margins.
Loyalties and relationships of convenience/laziness will be broken. In times of stress, relationships either deepen or disappear. Pick and choose your partners on both the supplier and the customer side. You can’t be all things to all people.
The transition from having not enough people to having too many people may be sudden. “Bargain-price” human resources can help increase customer service or search for new customers.
The challenge of focusing on your best and highest use, your target market and your customer pain becomes all the more imperative. As demand slows down, every purchasing decision will be questioned. The practice of finding the best suppliers may be replaced by finding the one lowest cost supplier.
As people become more risk-averse to selling on the basis of fear, uncertainty and doubt will be effective.
Capital goods will be harder to get approved by customer finance departments. If so, they will be prioritized in the following order:
- Those that improve profits
- Those that increase sales
- Those that decrease production costs
- Those that decrease administrative costs
Technology factors. When tech capability greater than the market’s capability to absorb it, then price falls when everyone beyond the early adopters stop buying it. The minute the technology isn’t used, the value drops. Technology starts being given away and revenue streams devalued. Inevitably, the technology is adopted and price goes up, or more likely the next great thing replaces it as the cycle repeats itself.
Outsourcing may or may not decrease but the need doesn’t.
Leverage goodwill if you already created it with your customers.
Rethink the time versus money tradeoff. People may have more time to spend on tasks they formerly might have paid others to perform.
While there is no surefire way to avoid a slowdown, if you’re proactive in your approach odds are you’ll be better off then your not-so-prepared competitors.