Nobody Noticed

The Little Things Matter in Customer Service

A few years ago, when living in Australia, I flew from Melbourne to Singapore. Just another day, another international journey.

Except that it was not just another day. It was my birthday. And nobody noticed!

As a result, the airline and the hotel that I encountered that day missed a huge opportunity to provide this customer with an extraordinary experience.

Instead, I only received their “ordinary good, everyday customer experience.” And yet, there was really no excuse for this.

While checking in for my flight, the customer service person at the counter used my passport details to create the “Express Lane” immigration card that they give out to all Business and First Class customers. That card has my birth date details.

This airline is one of my two favorites, and I had already attained Platinum Level status in their frequent flyer program, because of my loyalty and the number of long-haul trips I had made that year between Australia and Asia. Their main competitor on the Australia to Asia sector sent me a birthday card that arrived two days before this journey. But I did not receive anything from this particular carrier.

Upon arrival in Singapore I proceed to the well-established, five-star Asian hotel chain where the three-day workshop I was conducting was being held. This time the lady at the check-in counter took my passport and completed the various boxes on the hotel’s registration card. I noticed that she properly recorded both my passport details and my date of birth. Again, there was no correlation to entry of the data and the fact that it coincided with that particular date.

In reflecting upon this, I see that the hotel staff had been well trained to fill in forms quickly and efficiently. But they took no notice of the information that was being recorded. I was just another customer to be moved as quickly as possible from the check-in desk to the hotel room.

Now I did not expect birthday cakes and birthday songs from either of these organizations.

I did think, however, that they would have had systems in place so that a personal greeting would have been proffered. On the airline, the Chief Cabin Officer always walks around, introduces himself/herself, and personally welcomes aboard their FFP customers. And while this did take place during the flight, I would have been extremely pleased had he quietly said, “Oh, Mr. Howard, I see that today is your birthday. Happy Birthday from all of us at XYZ Airlines.” Instead, he only checked to see if I needed an immigration form for arrival into Singapore.

The same goes for the hotel. Why don’t they have a system in place for the General Manager or the Resident Manager to send a short birthday note to the rooms of the guests who are traveling away from home on their special day?  I am not suggesting that they need to send flowers or a bottle of wine, but just a personal note (or even better a phone call) would go a long way in telling the guest that they are not just another customer in residence on a typical day.

There was nothing to fault in the normal service delivered by either of these two service providers. Both were efficient, friendly, and up to standard.

On any other day, the service delivery would have been proper and sufficient.

But this was not any other day. It was my birthday.

And hence the opportunity for an extra-ordinary customer experience was missed. By both.

KEY POINT:  a customer’s birthday is a great opportunity to provide an extra-ordinary level of personal attention and/or service.

TAKING ACTION:  are you capturing data about customers that could be put to better use?

Are your people real good at completing forms, yet taking no notice of the information being collected? How can you put to better use the information on customers you collect?

What important events in your customers’ lives are you overlooking?

How can you make a special day in your customer’s life even more special?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, which is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Tell Me More

Three Simple Words Provide Depth to Sales Questions

When you ask a customer, or a client, a question, there is a great tendency to take the customer’s response at face value, making the assumption that the answer given is a full and complete answer.

Many times this simply is not so.

Customer responses are a bit like swimming suits. What they reveal is most interesting. What they keep covered, however, is vital.

Few customers are going to tell you everything about how they feel and think, or everything about their needs, wants, and desires.

It is up to the inquiring professional sales person to dig deeper into customer responses through probing and follow-up questioning.

Good sales people are like journalists chasing a good story. You do not just want the facts. You want to know the who, what, and why behind the story (in this case, the customer’s response).

Sales people need to be taught the same basic requirements as journalists:  do not come back until you have discovered the 5 Ws and 1 H. This is the who, what, where, when, why, and how that gives you the story behind the story, or the deeper answers behind the stated responses.

Or, to use another analogy from my favorite pastime (scuba diving), you cannot understand the whole structure of a coral reef by only snorkeling around the top of the reef. To really see the beauty of the reef, and its full composition, it is usually necessary to dive a bit deeper.

The same is true with customer situations. In order to ensure you fully understand the customer’s situation, and all of the factors impacting that situation, you need to dive a little deeper through your questioning tactics.

Of course, one does not want to be seen as an inquisitor, or as a busy body, when having a discussion with a customer.

That is why the direct approach to question asking often does not work very well.

Instead, try the indirect route.  My favorite way of asking a follow up question to a customer is the simple phrase, “tell me more.”

This not only signals to the customer that I am listening, but that I am interested in what they have to say.

Being interested in what the customer has to say, of course, is an extremely valuable way of building credibility, trust, and confidence with a customer or prospect. After all, it is human nature to want to be listened to.

Speaking of listening, I often tell sales people to remember that “God gave us two ears and one mouth, and we should use these in that proportion.” In other words, a good sales person will listen twice as often as he or she talks when engaged in a discussion with a customer.

Sales people have a great tendency to jump into the conversation, and often rush to present solutions and ideas before the real needs of the customer have surfaced in the conversation. This is a common mistake and often results in the customer walking away saying that they are not ready to buy yet (when what they really mean is that they haven’t found someone who has listened thoroughly enough to understand their problem or situation).

It takes a great deal of discipline to hold off from presenting solutions you believe are viable for the customer and to continue probing. But this discipline will lead to better understanding of customer needs, and higher successful closing rates.

Three simple words:  tell me more.

That is all it takes to be a good journalist, or a good sales person.

Good luck, and good selling.

KEY POINT:  being interested in what the customer has to say, by asking good follow up questions, is an extremely valuable way of building credibility, trust, and confidence with a customer or prospect.

TAKING ACTION:  what other phrases can you use to get customers to tell you more about their wants, needs, and desires?

Evaluate the probing skills of your sales staff. Where are there areas for the most improvement? Who is in the best position to coach them on probing skills?


This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.

Succeeding in Sales

11 Core Competencies for Sales People

Not everyone is cut out for a career, or even an assignment in sales.

Additionally, it is often difficult for people to make the switch from “Customer Service Officer,” a role with an emphasis on serving the customer, to that of “Customer Sales Representative” and a need to be a professional sales person.

However, in today’s world, where customers have numerous choices of service and product providers, an organization without a sales culture featuring a core of well-trained, highly motivated sales professionals, is not going to be as successful as it would with these two ingredients.

Selling is a people business. So what does it take to be successful in selling?

A partial, and admittedly by no means complete, list of personal criteria for succeeding in selling includes:

Customer Focus and Concern ─ a successful sales person will build relationships based on trust, honesty, integrity, and concern for his customers. They have to be able to understand, from your customer’s perspective, the needs, wants, and desires of each individual customer. What are your customers’ key needs, wants, and desires and how can your organization satisfy these cost efficiently, or through adding value, or both?

Loyalty to the Needs of the Customer ─ having the ability to be an internal advocate and fighter for the customer, and being able to lead (directly or indirectly) internal teams and processes toward the absolute satisfaction of your customers.

Accepting and Learning from Rejection ─ everyone in sales experiences rejection. A sales person cannot take rejection personally, but must use each instance as a learning experience. Those who allow sales rejections to upset them personally and emotionally are likely to carry these emotions into their personal lives. An unhappy or emotionally distraught person is unlikely to find success in a sales career.

Understanding the Value of Selling ─ customers today cannot be expected to know all there is about your products. When they need more information, they turn to your sales forces to help educate them. This is why consultative selling approaches, rather than the old fashioned hard sell approaches, are working best in so many industries. Selling is a value-added process, when it is done right. Each sales person needs to be a critical component in this value adding job function.

Being a Constant Student ─ successful sales people are not born, they are well trained and tend to be constant learners. A desire to constantly upgrade one’s skills is a key criteria for success, resulting in a self-propelled drive to read, listen to audio recordings, or watch DVDs, from successful sales people and others about factors that impact their selling skills and personal self motivation.

Believing in themselves, your products and your services ─ customers can easily tell when a sales person does not fully believe in the products and services they are selling. Success requires a complete belief in what you are selling, including full confidence and belief in one’s own consultative selling ability.

Commitment ─ at a minimum, a three-level commitment is required:

a) A commitment to continuing trying, no matter what the odds or what one’s recent experiences have been.

b) A commitment to focus on the needs of the customer, not only on the needs of one’s own organization.

c) A commitment to one’s self to constantly upgrade skills and to constantly monitor one’s own motivation requirements.

Goal Setter ─ the old adage that “what gets measured gets accomplished” is very true in sales. A successful sales person will set his/her own stretch goals, ones that focus on the selling process (number of attempts/calls, hours spent upgrading skills, etc.) as well as on outcomes (sales, success ratios, etc.).

Honesty and Trustworthiness ─ one cannot build a long-term career in sales without being fully honest and trusted. As in point number one above, client relationships must be built on honesty, integrity, trust, and a true concern for one’s customers. After all, customers prefer to purchase from those they can trust.

Keeping Outgoing Personality Under Control ─ many people think they will be good at selling because they have an outgoing personality and they enjoy interacting with people. While it is true that an extrovert has many tendencies and qualities of a good sales person, it is also important to remember that one of the most critical selling skills is that of listening. An outgoing personality that asks interesting questions is far more likely to be successful in sales than a person who only likes to talk about themselves and/or their products and services.

Enthusiasm ─ last, but certainly not least, is to have positive enthusiasm for one’s job, products, company, and even life in general. Positive and enthusiastic people are so much more pleasant to deal with that we all find ourselves buying from them just because the sales/buying experience has been so enjoyable.

There are many more personal criteria required for being successful in sales, but this list is a good start. And without these 11 criteria as one’s core personal competencies, all other personal attributes will not lead to the kind of success one is capable of achieving.


KEY POINT: successful sales people are well trained and are constantly learning how to upgrade their skills.

TAKING ACTION:  what can you do on a regular basis to upgrade your selling skills?

Are you setting sales goals strictly on final outcomes (i.e. sales targets) or do you also set goals for each step of the sales process?

Do you have a regular process for reviewing rejection, so that each sales rejection becomes a learning experience?

Where can the selling process (which is the buying process from the customer’s perspective) add value to the customer? Are you placing enough emphasis and resources in this area?

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.