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Being present with the customer: just a fad or great new way of thinking?

Every so often a new way of thinking comes around, advising you that you are missing a trick and that if you do X you will achieve Z.

Some of these new-fangled ideas are just that – new, fangled and little more than a fad. But others are worth paying attention to. So if you’ve not heard of ‘being present’ then you might want to take note.

Being present is something that I have heard a lot about in the recent years, and a Google search brings back over a billion results! So is it one of those buzz phrases or could there be something in it?

We live now in a society that feels like it is getting faster; it’s 24/7, 365 days a year, and our businesses seem to be reflecting society’s need to have an anything, anywhere, anytime approach. But if we take a step back how does this always-on-the-go culture affect our relationship with our customers?

Picture this scenario – and I am sure we’ve all done it: you’re having a conversation with someone, and then you get to that really awkward moment, when they ask you a question, and you realise you’ve drifted off and haven’t been paying attention. Suddenly alarm bells start going off in your head: what were they talking about? You wrack your brains for some sort of clue to aid your response ... but there’s nothing. Instead you swerve it and buy some time by saying you will get back to them, or you need some time to mull it over. The person you are dealing with knows you swerved it too.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: how would you feel if you were chatting to someone who had clearly drifted off and had their mind on other things? Again, we all experience this at some point. It feels unpleasant to know that you were talking but were not being listened to. You feel frustrated, as if nobody values what you’re are saying.

In stark terms, not paying attention – not being present – with your customer, is almost as bad as texting, or checking your phone while they are speaking. And you wouldn’t do that – would you?

So why does that happen? Why is it that we are not ‘being present’? Being too busy and too preoccupied must have something to do with it.

I looked up the definition of being present and was promised all sorts of things from Zen oasis-like thinking but actually what felt right was this: “the period of time now occurring - they are happy and at peace, refusing to think beyond the present".

At work we are constantly juggling tasks, responsibilities and priorities, pushed from pillar to post to deliver our KPIs but often to the detriment of ourselves and others. We don’t take lunch breaks, we start earlier and work later. In fact on Radio 4 this week, I heard we work the longest hours in Europe. But it’s not enough, we are still fighting to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. No wonder we are poor at being present.

So perhaps we need to take a step back, pause, take a moment to reflect and then think about how we can achieve ‘being present’ with our customers. Because if we aren’t in this frame of mind, they will pick up on it and very likely hotfoot it to the next dealership that pays proper attention.

Here are five ways of being present with the customer:

• If you’re about to pick up the phone or to greet a customer who has come into the dealership, just stop a moment. Compose yourself, and concentrate on what you are about to do. Concentrate your efforts and attention on the customer and put everything else out of your mind. Not easy, with the temptations of phone/tablets/laptops and a shed-load of work to do, but try to resist.

• Take deep breaths before you begin conversing, and also between chats with different customers. You don’t need to start chanting, or sitting in a Yoga position on the floor – you can compose yourself discreetly! As you exhale, thing about the person you are about to speak to and put the previous conversation out of your mind.

• Keep a clean and tidy work station. If you have an organised desk you’re more likely to have an organised mind. Also, messy desks do not give a good impression to the customer.

• Smile! Even if you’re having a bad day. Smiling not only makes it look like you are paying attention, it will actually make you more likely to pay attention.

• Put your customers first, and treat them as you wish to be treated. You may have heard similar moans/comments/anecdotes many times before from other customers, but for each customer, they are telling their own personal story, so have the courtesy to pay attention.

It’s a given that we should take heed of metrics, goals and targets, but we seem to do so at the expense of other things. They are important of course, but they mustn’t take priority over the customer. In this highly competitive world, where customers have so much choice, make them feel important by being present with them. Because they are important – without customers, you don’t have a business.

ABOUT SARAH MICHALIK

Sarah joined RTS Group in 2014 and is senior learning and development consultant. Sarah works closely with a number of our clients to design solutions which perfectly fit the needs of their business. She’ll design everything from product launches to senior sales manager training programmes.

Sarah’s career has always been in automotive learning and development, having herself delivered training, but her first ever job was as a teenager, shucking oysters in a steak and oyster house!

A mum of one, Sarah – who describes herself as “bubbly” - spends her spare time with her family. She enjoys running and has also taught herself to crochet - she is well and truly hooked.