Don’t Answer My Question

A few weeks ago I researched scanners for the office. I’m going to share some thoughts I had when I experienced fast and friendly customer support – that still missed my point and in the end wasn’t that valuable to me.

As their website wasn’t too clear whether one particular scanner could send a scanned document directly to my email address I emailed customer support and asked.

The answer I got was fast, accurate and friendly: We’re sorry, but no.

So far so good. I did some more research and by chance came across a different line of scanners from the same company. They had the exact feature I was looking for. That’s when I started to think about the reply I got from customer support; and in fact it reminded me of many interactions with sales or support staff. At best my questions were answered but few of their replies helped me achieve my actual goal. (In this case to buy a scanner offering that feature)

Let’s do a quick post mortem: What went wrong?

I asked the wrong thing
When I’m looking for any device with feature X and I only ask whether model A has this feature, I as a customer asked the wrong question.
Exactly! But blaming the customer is a bad idea in general and we can’t control how our customers ask for things. We can however control how we react.

They should have asked themselves why I asked this question
Asking “why” often is a good idea. Certainly when you give a customer a “no”. Zappos famously does this by sending customers to competitors when Zappos can’t supply a specific item. They didn’t get your money this time. But they surely solved your problem. And imagine who you’ll be asking for help next time you have a problem!

Any next steps?

Technology can play its role. Computers are increasingly good at analyzing text and in this case could have done a quick check on my question about a feature and the list of models that offer this feature. (In fact this is one of the things we’re working on at replydone)

And when you do answer “no” you should step back and think of the customer’s underlying problem and their goal. Seldomly people are able to phrase their goals in the first place. Even less so in an email to customer support or sales.

But when you really take that step away from the questions and understand the implicit goal of your customer, you will solve their problems. You will help them achieve their goals.

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