30 Apr 2018

Two questions you need to ask every client

Back in the 1980’s, I helped start a scuba diving store in Ottawa, Canada. We were young, we loved the sport, we paid ourselves little and we worked like demons. So not surprisingly, within 5 years, our store was certifying hundreds of people every year and we ranked in the top three productive dive stores across Canada.

One day a regular customer walked into the shop. As I was filling his scuba tank with compressed air (not oxygen as many people think) I asked him, “What made you take your course from us originally?”

He thought for a second and then replied, “you guys were the nicest on the phone.”

I was startled. I had anticipated his answer would concerned location, price, and any of the other features upon which we focused.

He went on, “Yeah, I called a few stores in town, they were all around the same price, included the same scuba equipment and you got the same credential. But then I called your store. I forget who answered the phone, but they asked me about why I want to be a diver and I told them how I had tried scuba on a resort course in the Bahamas. So, I decided to go with you guys, because if you’re going to be a scuba diver, you might as well take a course from someone you like.”

Later that day, I talked with my partners. We decided to poll our regular customers and it turns out the majority made a buying decision to take their initial course with us because of our phone manner. That was a revelation, especially as we were contemplating hiring a part-time staff member to answer the phone.

“Why did you buy from us?” Ask your customers. The answer may surprise you. If you don’t know what people value about you, you may stop the behavior and lose customers.

As I finished filling his tanks, and was taking his payment, I then asked, “Thanks for your honesty, you know that we are always trying to improve things here. If we could do one thing better, what would it be?”

Again, he paused for a few seconds and answered, “well, since you asked, you guys are a little hypocritical. You taught us in class to never dive alone but the first thing we saw when we arrived at the quarry for our open water dives was one of your staff members scuba diving out by themselves. You know, to place the dive flag and float out in the middle of the quarry.”

He was absolutely correct. We were neglecting safety under the guise of convenience. The image we were projecting to the customers was counter to what we were teaching. But until I asked, no one had ever said anything. (We subsequently changed our procedures.) It did make me wonder how often businesses disappoint customers but never hear the complaints.

1. “Why did you buy from us?”
2. “If we/I could do one thing better, what would it be?”

Try those two questions with your top 5 customers this week. We’d love to hear if you get surprised and if you gain any insights.

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