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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

Give your Customers what they Truly Want


ONCE UPON A TIME, YOUR WIDGET BROKE. You went to The Widget Store to buy a new one, maybe something fancier than your old one.

But there was a problem. When you walked into the store, none of the employees or managers looked at you, spoke to you, or acknowledged you. You had to walk up to one of them and ask for help. She acted as if you were imposing, and demonstrated this attitude by refusing to make eye contact, rolling her eyes at your explanation, looking at her cell phone, chatting with other employees who walked past you, failing to explain the differences in the models of widgets you could buy, or walking off without showing  you where the widgets were displayed.

To make matters worse, the employee at the check-out also said nothing, took your payment, put your widget in a bag, turned around and continued his conversation with another employee.

You left the store with your new widget and realized you had just been the victim of bad customer service. Now you are wondering how often this happens in your organization, and if you are honest with yourself, you know exactly who has customer service issues among your staff.

You should ask yourself a couple of very important questions:

What are the causes of poor customer service, and

What can I do to establish a WOW customer service experience in my store?

Frequent causes of poor customer service attitudes:

  • Poor emotional intelligence/empathy
  • Poor people skills
  • Lack of motivation to serve or help others

Solutions for these attitudes:

  • Better hiring practices based on understanding the individual through assessment
  • Understanding what your customers truly want
  • Training or coaching to develop or refine your customer service team and program
  • Give customers what they truly want - A positive experience

A service provider who has:

  • Empathy
  • Understands how they feel
  • Creates strong points of connection

Don't confuse your product or service offerings with this basic human reaction. To prove this point, recall a time you had to make a purchase and you were treated with disrespect. Did you go back to that company the next time you needed that product? Or did you go someplace else to buy it?

96% do not return if they are treated with disrespect. Many times you don't hear of the issue from your customers because that adds to the hassle. You simply lose a customer. But you also lose the revenue from that sale, and the potential revenue from repeat sales and referrals you could have had.

The way to understand what your customer wants is through open-ended questions that encourage them to tell you their reason for purchasing your product or service. Don't make assumptions based on your own likes or wants.

Instead, give your full attention to your customers and demonstrate that they have your attention by following these steps:

Establish eye contact if you are dealing one-on-one.

If on the phone, keep your tone of voice pleasant and friendly.

Reflect back to them what they have said in order to verify your understanding (Example: so you are saying that your widget broke and you need a new one?)

Empathize with your customer using questions. (Don't share your similar widget experience. They aren't interested in you.)


The definition of empathy is to understand. The customer is not always right, however, he or she always wants to be understood. You show that you are interested and you understand, or empathize, with them when you ask questions like these:

What is on your mind today?

What have you considered so far?

What is your primary concern?

What has been done to solve your problem?

Empathy is putting yourself in the other person's shoes, trying to understand where they are coming from and how they feel. Empathy is the most important tool to understand your customers.  

How to establish an emotional connection with your customer

People communicate their emotions through verbal and non-verbal cues, so listen to what is being said, how it is being said, and observe the body language. Remember, you are not trying to be their best friend and you are not requesting or providing personal information. Using empathy does not mean you have to listen to all their gripes and complaints. It means you display through your words, eye contact, and actions that you understand what they are telling you. You cannot control their emotional state and may not even agree with it, but to be effective, you must seek to understand it.

We create an emotional connection with people through points of connection. Most buying decisions are not based on a need but rather on an emotion. There is an emotional and personal reason why someone selects one product over another.

Customer interaction is always an experience that generates an emotional response. If the customer is happy, the interaction will be easier. If the customer is angry, you might have a tougher job ahead.

Connecting with the customer depends first and foremost on you, the customer service provider. You must set the tone. Use your smile, sincere and shining eyes, as well as warm and open body language to establish the right atmosphere. The energy in your voice can also make a positive difference. Research shows that customers feel service providers don't realize how much their tone of voice impacts the customer's experience. The words may be fine, but an insincere, robotic or angry tone makes a greeting worthless and leaves a negative impression.

What are you saying with your posture, eyes and facial expressions?

Are you saying:

  • Welcome! I am glad you are here!
  • I want to create a positive experience for you.
  • We value your business.

Or is your body language saying:

  • Talk fast because I have another customer
  • Do you realize that you are the 25th person to ask me that question today?
  • Obviously, you were not paying attention when I explained that to you.

Behaviors and body language that express the things your customer values include:

  • A genuine smile
  • Using a person's name
  • Taking a real interest
  • Listening carefully
  • Saying thank-you
  • Keeping commitments
  • Putting the customer's needs ahead of your own

Without customers, your business does not succeed. Developing the strategic mindset of exceeding customers' expectations and arming your staff with the tools and authority to make a difference while they serve the customer will make a big difference in the growth and success of your organization.

Begin your understanding with you

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned one of the solutions is an assessment to help you understand the underlying causes. The best way for you, the decision maker for your business, to determine if this solution is a good fit is for you to try an assessment of yourself.

Sue Hays Barr is Executive Director of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry association, as well as a Certified Business Coach. She works with executives of small and large companies to help accelerate new business concepts.