Take Your Customers Where They Need to Go, Not Where They Want to Go

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On a recent trip to Africa, I had the pleasure of meeting the Governor of Oyo State, Nigeria, the Honorable Abiola Ajimobi. He had a commanding presence and shared many insightful thoughts. I asked what made him successful, and he quickly responded with the following response: “Good leaders don’t take people where they want to go. They take them where they need to go.”

We continued the conversation about how he was elected to a second term as Governor, which was not that common. He always has his state and country in mind when he makes decisions. He knows what’s good for his people and Oyo State. He knows there could be some pain involved in giving them what they need, which often is different than what they want. This was a leader sharing his philosophy, and my mind was racing with ideas about how it applies to customer service and the customer experience.

It’s really quite simple. When we find out what our customers want if it’s not what they need, and we know it, are we willing to tell them? Here are a couple of examples to make the point:

Years ago, I was working on a project with an attorney. We were discussing different approaches to the problem, and I had an idea. He said, “If that’s what you want, I’ll do it.” I told him, “I don’t know if that is what I want. I’m just sharing an idea.” And, he followed up by saying, “As I said, I’ll be happy to do it.” His mindset was to do what his client asked for, not necessarily what was best for his client. And, that was the end of that relationship.

I went to my local Ace Hardware store. I came in with a special hinge for a swinging door. I asked if they had one in stock. The salesman could have simply said, “Yes,” and sold me what I asked for. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, he asked me about the kind of door I was going to use. He made a suggestion of another type of hinge, which was much less expensive. He said, “This is what you need. If you replace what you have, you’ll be back here in a year or so to replace it again.” Had he not asked me how I was using the hinge, he would have never known to sell me the other, less expensive hinge. He sold me what I needed versus what I thought I wanted.

The lesson is simple. Good customer service isn’t always giving a person what they want. It’s giving them what they need. It’s nice when they are the same, but that’s not always the case. Need versus want. And, the best people in customer service know how to do it with tact and diplomacy – in a way that gets the customer to want to come back.

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