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Connecting With Your Customers

    Whether you run a bustling business, manage a team, or work in sales and service, you know that achieving success boils down to one thing – connecting with your customers. Building relationships, hitting sales targets, and excelling at your job or business all hinge on this vital skill. 

    Every business is as unique as a snowflake, and customer service expectations can vary from a fast-food joint to high-end boutiques. It’s not realistic to expect a McDonald’s drive-thru attendant to discuss your dietary preferences, but when your business requires more than just basic service, forging connections becomes the name of the game. You may have a team of motivated employees and a stack of excellent products, but without the skills to have meaningful conversations, sales or service levels will not reach excellence.

    In this article, we’re zooming in on the art of forging deeper connections, especially crucial for those in sales and advisory services like retail and financial institutions.

    Meaningful Connections

    Now, let’s talk about those generic greetings at businesses – “How are you today?” Do you ever wonder if they genuinely care? Truth be told, small talk alone doesn’t cut it. We’ve all been there, nodding along as someone chats about their cat’s latest escapades. Nice, but not exactly the connection we’re after.

    My own banking stint opened my eyes to this issue. Employees chatted with customers, but it often felt like a scripted or meaningless exchange. When I asked them to suggest a product or service, they’d suddenly get all nervous about selling. But here’s the thing – selling isn’t about pushing products; it’s about having a meaningful conversation that truly benefits the customer.

    Whether you’re closing a single deal or building a long-term relationship, structured conversations are the key. Why? Because failing to connect is the root cause of subpar customer experiences and can make customers hesitate on important decisions.

    Here’s a look at where things can go wrong, followed by a guide to help you and your team get it right every time.

    The Appliance Shopping Saga

    Home renovations aren’t everyone’s idea of fun – especially for people like me who find them more stressful than exciting. So, when I started on a kitchen makeover, I needed expert advice. I thought appliance shopping would be pretty straight forward, so I set out on my own to tackle that aspect. Well, let me tell you how it all went south.

    I walked into an appliance store, hoping for a smooth, hassle-free experience. Armed with a budget and a preference for stainless steel, I thought I was all set. But things took a frustrating turn. The salesperson bombarded me with expensive models laden with features I didn’t need. After some hair-pulling moments, I finally bought what I wanted, or so I thought.

    The Drama Unfolds

    The first blow was the $100 delivery charge that caught me off guard. I assumed it would be free given my substantial purchase, but no such luck. However, they sweetened the deal – free delivery if I signed up for their store credit card and charged my purchase. Reluctantly, I took the bait.

    When the appliances arrived, they asked where I wanted the dishwasher placed. Seemed like an odd question – right next to the sink where my old one was, of course! Surprise, surprise – installation wasn’t part of the deal, and arranging it would set me back $150. So, no dishwasher for another two weeks, and a hefty box as part of my living room décor.

    Still fuming from the installation fiasco, I looked at my kitchen and noticed the gold-colored range hood that clashed horribly with my new stainless steel stove. How could I have overlooked the need to buy a range hood to match? One more shopping trip I had no time for and a budget stretched beyond its limit.

    The final blow came with the credit card bill, complete with unexpected interest charges. Apparently, the card had no grace period, so I was paying interest from day one, and it exceeded the $100 delivery fee.

    Where Did It All Go Wrong?

    It all boils down to poor communication. I was counting on the salesperson to ask the right questions and understand my needs, but they were laser-focused on making the sale. Customers don’t always know what they need or what questions to ask, and if your employees can’t engage in a meaningful conversation, your service, relationships, and sales goals will suffer.

    Fortunately, anyone can master the art of conversation with the right process. Whether it’s a brief sales or service discussion or a relationship-building appointment, here is a guide to help you win every time.

    Connecting One Step at a Time


    Every great conversation begins with a spark – that spark is rapport. This isn’t chit-chatting about the weather or delivering robotic greetings like, “Can I help you?” It’s about forging a genuine connection, a connection that says, “I care, I’m interested, and I want to make your experience exceptional.”

    Now, how much rapport you weave into your conversation depends on your business context. For those quick, single-sales transactions, a simple, “Hi, welcome to (insert company name). I’m Janet. What brings you in today?” can work wonders. Here you have a greeting, an introduction, and an open question that invites customers to share their needs, and it’s miles ahead of the mundane alternatives.

    But if you’re in the business of building relationships, a little extra warm-up time is in order. The key is finding common ground or conversing about something that interests your customer. Try asking, “How has your day been so far?” This small gesture can unlock doors to conversations about work, hobbies, and interests – the things that truly make your customers tick. After all, people love to talk about themselves, and your mission is to make them feel at ease, get to know them, and prove that their story matters.

    Once you have established some rapport, move on to discovery.


    Discovery is where the heart of the conversation begins. This is when you peel back the layers of your customer’s needs and desires. It requires two essential skills: asking the right questions and active listening.

    Now, let’s talk about what we’ll affectionately call the “evil twins” of these skills – assuming and talking too much. Picture this as a showdown where they’re the villains, and you’re the hero. Assuming things about your customer’s needs can lead you down a perilous path, and excessive chatter can steal the spotlight away from your customer.

    In the world of discovery, there’s no magical set of questions or a specific number to ask. Think of it as a tennis match, a back-and-forth exchange where you serve up a question, they volley back with a response, and you react and return with another well-placed query.

    Your conversation is like a funnel, starting broad and gradually narrowing down. As you engage, take notes and highlight those golden nuggets of information you’ll want to revisit. Your goal? To unravel the mysteries of what your customer knows, what they don’t, and what they truly need.

    Reflecting on the appliance shopping mishap – what went wrong? Simple – not enough discovery. The employee catapulted straight into selling mode, bombarding me with features and benefits I didn’t value, and parading appliances that were way above my price range. It felt like a sales pitch, not a genuine conversation focused on me and my needs.


    Next, let’s journey into the heart of understanding – it’s the phase where you’ll unravel your customer’s needs, both tangible and emotional. Both are important pieces and if you discount one you’ll have an unfinished puzzle. Tangible needs? Think of them as the concrete, physical products or services your customer is after. But don’t stop there; there’s a whole realm of emotions swirling beneath the surface. How does your customer feel? Do they trust you to provide the right advice? Are they a bundle of nerves about making a significant purchase? Will they find happiness in ease of use, convenience, warranties, or after-sales service?

    To understand, you need to set aside all the knowledge you want to blurt out and instead, step into the customer’s shoes. It’s all about becoming them for a moment – understanding what’s most important to them, pinpointing the benefits that will satisfy their needs, gauging their level of knowledge, and sensing how confident they are about the purchase.

    Before you even think about recommending a product or service, take a deep breath. Replay everything you’ve heard, or thought you heard. And then, in a sincere tone, say, “Let’s make sure I’m clear on what you need before I recommend anything.” After you summarize what you understand, ask “Have I missed anything?” This is your litmus test, your moment of truth. If you’re not on the same page at this juncture, it’s perfectly okay – just head back to the discovery phase. 

    When you’ve fully immersed yourself in your customer’s world, you’ve achieved understanding.

    Returning to the appliance shopping saga – what was the glitch? The employee failed to grasp that I was a complete novice in the world of appliances. They didn’t even consider that I might need a range hood or that I’d have to organize installation. Plus, my budget was set in stone, factoring in not just the appliances but also extras like delivery and installation.


    If any issues surface during the understanding phase, head back to discovery and address them.

    Recommend and Agree

    Once you’ve traversed the terrain of rapport, conquered discovery, and dug deep into understanding your customer’s needs, the stage is set for the grand finale – recommending and reaching an agreement.

    When you have fully grasped both the tangible and emotional desires of your customer, the recommending part becomes a breeze. Begin by summarizing what you know, painting a vivid picture of your customer’s needs, desires, and expectations. Then introduce your recommendations and show precisely how they align with those needs. But remember, we’re not here to inundate with 16 options; a few well-considered solutions will suffice. Transparency is a must,  there should be no hidden fees or surprises lurking in the shadows.

    You mentioned how important your budget is, and your preference for stainless steel. Well, I’ve got some fantastic options for you – two models that not only fall well within your budget but also have all the features you’ve been eyeing. The total cost includes not just the shiny appliance itself but also taxes, delivery straight to your doorstep, and the hassle-free installation – all comfortably within your budget.

    To finalize the sale, sum it all up and provide a brochure or jot down the information. Highlight everything– the total cost, how it will work, what to expect upon product delivery, how it will look and feel, and all those essential details. With everything laid bare, ask the golden question, “Does this satisfy what you came in for?” When your customer gives the green light, it’s time to proceed with the sale or service.

    Reflecting on the appliance shopping mishap – where did it all unravel? The employee skipped ahead to recommending before truly understanding. They didn’t venture beyond the tangible product and omitted the full disclosure of additional charges.

    Feedback and Follow-up

    Here we are, at the final step that seals the deal. Follow up isn’t just a courtesy; it’s a golden opportunity. It’s your chance to solidify that connection, address any lingering issues, gain customer feedback on their experience, and provide an opportunity to learn and improve. Remember, nobody’s perfect, and there’s always room to grow, enhance, and evolve. Embrace this mindset, and you’ll find that every follow-up is a stepping stone toward excellence.

    Reflecting on the appliance shopping saga, what could have turned the tide? A simple follow-up. If the salesperson had reached out to me after the purchase, they would have uncovered my dissatisfaction with the installation, the range hood dilemma, and the unexpected credit card fees. Who knows? They might have been able to make things right then and there, or at the very least, gathered invaluable insights to drive improvements in the future.


    Great leaders know how to connect, and they pass on this invaluable skill to their teams. Connections are the lifeblood of any business, but many employees in sales and service lack the necessary conversational skills. The good news? With coaching, feedback, and practice, your team can elevate their customer conversation game and achieve greatness.

    So, there you have it – the roadmap to mastering customer conversations. Go forth, connect, and conquer! Your business and customers will thank you for it.

    Ponder Points

    As a manager, your ability to engage in meaningful conversations, as well as guiding your team to do the same, is critical. To enhance these essential skills, self-reflection is a valuable tool. Here are three questions for you and your team to evaluate your communication abilities and identify areas for improvement.

    Are we actively listening to our customers? Reflect on whether you and your team genuinely listen to what customers are saying, without interrupting or formulating responses in your minds. Are you making an effort to understand their perspective before offering solutions or responses?

    Do we ask open-ended questions that encourage meaningful conversations? Evaluate whether you and your team are using open-ended questions that promote deeper discussions. Are you encouraging customers to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns, rather than settling for yes/no answers?

    Are we proactive in seeking feedback and following up with customers? Assess whether you and your team actively seek feedback from customers during and after conversations or interactions. Do you follow up to ensure that their needs are met and to address any outstanding issues or concerns?

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