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A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.

Quick! Name the most powerful sales tool a business can have — one that costs nothing to buy, takes little to maintain and can leave your competitors reeling. No idea? Then chances are you’re missing out on it.

The answer is customer service. If people are treated well, three things happen. They buy more, they tell others, and they come back more often. We don’t need a Harvard study to tell us that when people are treated badly they buy less, tell others, and go somewhere else.

Unfortunately, most companies, from the mom-and-pop shop to the multinational corporation, spend heavily on advertising, facilities and inventory, and then work as hard as they can to drive customers away by subjecting them to poor service. As one person said, “We’ve entered a service economy, and the only thing missing is service.”

In fact, I am astounded. Some companies advertise their great customer service, but they’ve never trained their employees to deliver great service. Apparently, they’re hoping their employees see the ads and get the idea.

There is good news, however. If you will remember that every customer has four basic needs, and if you do something to meet those needs, the results can be magical.

=> 1. To Feel Understood

Whenever a customer comes into your presence, remind yourself, first and foremost, that the customer is coming to you with a problem. He’s looking for a solution. And he won’t be open to your products or services until he’s convinced you understand the problem.

So don’t start off your interaction with a bunch of fancy pitches. Don’t waste your time on the features of your products or the benefits of your service. Look for the customer’s pain — first. Find out what’s missing or what’s not working. Ask questions and listen carefully. You have to connect before you sell.

In essence, you want the customer to feel that you really understand his situation — that you really care. You want him to feel that he can work with you. Indeed, he wants to work with you.

And you get lots of opportunities to make your customers feel understood. If you ever pick up the phone and hear someone say, “You’re the third person I’ve spoken to. Does anyone know what is going on around there?”, you know that customer needs to feel understood. It’s your turn to listen and deal with the customer’s emotions, whether or not it’s your official job.

=> 2. To Feel Welcome

Look around your organization. If you were a customer, Would you feel welcome coming into your workplace? Would the employees be easy to find? Would the employees make eye contact with you? Would they offer a greeting within a few seconds? And would the employees even bother to learn and use your name?

British Airways studied the impact of using a customer’s name. They kept their overall service program exactly the same, but they added the tiny detail of name usage. When a ticket agent handed the ticket back to the customer, he would say, “Have a good trip, Mr. Jones… or … Hope you enjoy your flight, Ms. Watts.” British Airways found that their customer satisfaction scores rose a phenomenal 60% when they used the customer’s name. It made the customer feel welcome, and the payoff was incredible.

=> 3. To Feel Important

Up above, I said, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.” It’s a nice saying that I see hanging in various offices across the country. But the saying goes on. It says, “He is not dependent on us; we are dependent on him. He is not an outsider in our business; he is a part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him; he is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.”

In other words, the customer is terribly important. Yet, in business after business, the employees don’t even thank the customer for her business. I see it all the time. More often than not, I end up thanking the clerk for waiting on me, when he should be thanking me for doing business with them. Something is wrong with this picture. Whatever happened to common courtesy?

A manager at one of my workshops shared this example. He said he had gotten a call from a customer who had come in that morning to pay $212 on a purchase. The customer reported that the clerk barely made eye contact with her, handed back the receipt, and did not thank her for her prompt payment. Immediately afterwards, she said she went to Wendy’s and ordered a 59-cent hamburger. The clerk was so enthusiastic that he almost jumped over the counter and thanked her three times for her business. She asked, “Where do you think I felt more important – at your store or at Wendy’s?

=> 4. To Feel Comfortable

Discomfort can get in the way of the positive relationships you’re trying to build with your customers. And tension can stifle your long-term business with those customers. So ask yourself, “What does the customer need to feel comfortable?” Then provide those things.

Maybe your customer needs to sit down or needs a beverage. One restaurant makes sure there are plenty of chairs in the lobby so their guests can sit while waiting for a table. Another restaurant even offers free hors d’oeuvres to their waiting guests.

Maybe your guest needs privacy. If so, do you provide it? I remember sitting in a hospital lobby when a nurse came out and loudly proclaimed, “Mr. Reese, it’s time for your urine sample.” The old gentleman looked horribly embarrassed and uncomfortable as he followed the nurse into the lab.

Superb customer service is not a mystery. It’s as simple as looking at every customer and knowing that each one of them has one or more of the four needs I just outlined. All you have to do is meet those needs, and the results will please you both.

Action: During the next 7 days, when you are interacting with an internal or external customer, when you are interacting with one of your friends and family members, look carefully at that person. Listen intently. See if you can figure out which of the four needs is evident in that person.

Then do something to meet that need–right there and then. There will be an immediate improvement in the relationship and as well as your business.