Attention all shopkeepers: Do you remember the first day you realized that your customers knew more than you, had expert knowledge that you lacked?
It was probably a humbling, and, I hope, illuminating experience: a teachable moment, with you as the teachee, for how to approach customer service and building a customer experience that suits the customer in front of you, no matter how comparatively expert.
Auto dealers have had these encounters for years with obsessive gearheads who come armed with stats beyond anything for which a commissioned salesman is likely to have had the time to research rebuttals. But now, for all of us, the advent of The Google™ and the transportability of that google via mobile phones has turned your garden variety customer into an expert. Simply through the power of her thumbs. And soon, with Google Glass, through the power of her augmented eyeballs.
To illustrate: Let’s cast me as the customer, rather than the service provider or customer experience designer, for a moment. What follows is a true story. Only the names have been, you know.
One Saturday morning, I found myself trekking to the guitar store uptown because I needed strings for a ‘‘Baby Taylor.’’ (A Baby Taylor is a reduced-sized version of a standard acoustic guitar.) The clerk, who was knowledgeable in an approximate sort of way, told me he thought that medium-gauge, full-length guitar strings would work well: just cut off the excess length as needed to make them fit the ‘‘baby.’’ I had a hunch that his answer might be incomplete, and I vaguely wondered why the clerk didn’t look in his system for Taylor’s ‘‘manufacturer’s stringing recommendation’’ before advising me. I didn’t wonder for long, though, before turning the issue over to my iPhone. With just a few thumb strokes—‘‘What kind of strings should I use on my Baby Taylor?’’—
I found an official, enthusiastically detailed description of which strings to use and why the decision matters:
[Here at Taylor,] we install light-gauge Elixir NANOWEB strings (.012 on high E) on Baby Taylors. We recommend you stick with lights when you replace them . . . our ever-vigilant repair guys, who are the ultimate judges of what works and doesn’t work on our guitars. . . [say that] using anything but light-gauge strings puts too much . . . ‘‘pull’’ on a Baby, [and] the intonation and one’s ability to keep them in tune become problematic.Thus, by using self-service to address my situation as a customer, a very particular situation (probably only one out of hundreds of guitars that come into that store each year is a Baby Taylor), I found the precise answer that potentially saved my guitar from never sounding quite right.
In many service situations, it’s inevitable that the customer knows key information himself, feels he knows it himself, or has more time to invest in addressing his own situation than the human service provider does.
So what to do? Well, accept the situation. Figure out the areas where you can still exceed your customers in knowledge or,perhaps more likely, awareness and depth of sensibility. (I can read the GQ guide to men’s style til I’m blue in the eyes, but my saleswoman at Nordstrom still knows better than I that”Papaya and Neptune are great colors for you in jeans, Micah,” [thank you, Joanne Hassis at the KOP Nordstrom] because she has a better awareness of me than I ever will of myself.
In a more tech centered situation, like the apple Genius Bar, the solution is to be as up to the minute as possible (if you’re a Genius) but also to unabashedly consult your resources – tech bulletins and so forth- rather than risk giving your customer inaccurate, in opportune, or incomplete information — just for to eh sake of looking like you’re driving without a net.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, customer service keynote speaker, and author.