Last week, I had the privilege of spending five days and four nights in our Capital City of Pierre, South Dakota. Between holiday celebrations with clients and friends, trips (not one, but two) to see the fabulous Christmas trees in the Capitol building, and a great week of meetings, I learned a valuable lesson about client service.
As I was drinking my morning joe in the lobby of the Clubhouse Hotel & Suites (excellent property by the way), I was multi-tasking. As is my routine, I was reading the Argus Leader, followed by the Wall Street Journal, finalizing a presentation, checking email and watching the talking heads on TV. As I was consuming both my morning media and my breakfast, I was appalled as I read and listened to the process by which our elected leaders were discussing the so-called fiscal cliff.
As I was trying to stomach the news, I was struck with a mini moment of anxiety as I realized that my flash drive, necessary for my upcoming presentation, was in a suit back home. As was my back-up drive. I approached the young man working the front desk of the hotel, interested if he had a flash drive I could use. His answer, unfortunately, was “No”.
The young man followed me back to my table. He asked why I needed the drive and when was my presentation. He took a genuine interest in brainstorming a solution. Ultimately, he wasn’t able to remedy my problem, but his approach left me feeling like he had.
As I went throughout my day, my morning experience stuck with me. The juxtaposition of a young front desk clerk and our elected leadership was stark; the simple act of attentive listening, and taking a genuine interest in the need of the other led to a positive experience that made “no” feel like “yes.”
There is a lesson here for anyone in the world of client service. While the answer may not always be “yes”, the way we approach “no” makes all the difference. The next time you’re about to tell a client “no”, try these three steps.
1. Ask Three Questions Before Answering.
Start first by acknowledging the idea/question/request on the table. “That is an interesting point. Let’s talk about it. Tell me what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking that way.” By taking the time to demonstrate a desire to understand the question, without outright dismissing it, you’ve suggested that the topic, and person bringing it, is important to you.
2. Listen, don’t just hear, the responses.
All too often we are hearing an answer simply waiting for our opportunity to jump back in with a response. Point, counter-point, with no real dialogue. Stop it. Take time to really listen to the person you’re talking to. Be focused on what they are saying and ask additional questions without just waiting for your chance to make your next point.
3. Offer options.
Start by making sure you are on the same page, before a suggestion is offered. Start with statements like “here is what I’m understanding, blah blah blah, can you confirm that is accurate?” Once you have clearly articulated and agreed to the discussion at hand, you can bridge to a couple of suggestions, but never before.
Three simple steps that can dramatically change how people receive your answers and perceive your attitude. It’s a basic lesson, but sometimes the basics are easy to forget.** Photo courtesy of South Dakota Tourism.