BSBCUS301 – Identify Customer Needs Copy
Use Appropriate Interpersonal Skills to Accurately Identify and Clarify Customer Needs and Expectations
Assess customer needs for urgency to determine priorities for service delivery according to organisational and legislative requirements
Know Your Customer
When working with customers, either directly or indirectly, we all require a sound understanding of the legislation and laws that govern our workplace and how they impact on the way we work with our customers.
There are several types of legislation and relevant regulations at all levels of government that may apply to a company and its business operations, such as:
- Anti-discrimination legislation
- Ethical principles
- Codes of practice
- Privacy laws
- Financial legislation
- Health and safety legislation
- Consumer law
In a situation where you are providing a service, an important maxim to remember is that it is your business to know your customers’ business. If you can take the time to attempt to get to know your customers, whether they are large or small, you will be able to best meet their needs and wants. Some of the things you may think about attempting to ascertain are:
- Their needs
- Their preferences
- Their requirements.
Managers are looking to establish a high level of satisfaction among their customers. This requires you to know exactly what it is that they are seeking and how you can assist those customers in getting there. Think, for example, about buying a cake. The actual ingredients generally do not matter, and the technical names are not known, but the actual end product – the cake – is what is most important in these processes. It is this that will bring about the level of required satisfaction.
So, think about the products that you sell. Generally, the actual benefit behind any product you sell does not change over time. What does change, however, are some of the basic attributes like colour, features, and quality.
A company that looks solely at the way it produces quality benefits for its customers is more likely to be profitable. Organisations work to enhance these benefits to make their customers willing to spend more on those products.
An important consideration is why a person purchases a given product. This reason may seem logical for the customer but may be impossible to work out for the organisation.
Everyone is Different
Every one of your customers has a unique set of needs that require a unique set of benefits to be resolved. Consider carefully:
- The pressures a person feels when choosing a product
- The considerations they make
- The benefits they want to achieve
- The perceptions of a customer.
By carefully examining the benefits they want to achieve, you can put yourself in a position of meeting and even exceeding those needs.
Customers, however, can be complicated to work out. They often hide the exact reasons why they are making a purchase – in some cases, they may not even know themselves – or you may find that there are multiple reasons for a given purchase. Think about purchasing a new house; you may want:
- More room
- A nice garden
- Lower council rates.
In some cases, reasons work together, and other times they are opposed. The reasons are often complicated to work out.
Reasons could be trivial, reasons could be intimately related to just not liking a specific brand, or store selection may be completely random. However, knowing the rationale behind buying decisions, no matter how they are made, is critical.
As a service provider, you will find that your customers will have expectations of how their needs should be met. It is essential that you try to find out what their expectations are and exceed them with exceptional customer service. This is the best way of winning customers who will remain customers for life. Exceeding expectations is the best way of providing good quality customer service.
Customer service aids profitability and ensures that you, as a company, are in the best position to provide your customers with what they want to meet their needs.
To accomplish this, you will need to:
- Establish a trust-filled relationship with your customer base
- Determine what your customers expect from you
- Ensure that you meet these basic expectations and plan to exceed them wherever possible
- Provide friendly service as much as you can.
Improving Your Skills
So far, we have looked at the importance of getting to know your customers and their needs and wants. We will now look at ways in which you can go about attempting to use interpersonal and communication skills to learn about your customers. Communication is the key. If you can communicate effectively, it becomes much simpler to ascertain what it is your customers want or need.
Principles of Good Communication
A good customer service representative thinks from the point of view of the customer. They take responsibility for what is being communicated, how well it is being communicated, and how well it is being understood. Rather than blaming the customer for not understanding what you are saying, good communicators look back at themselves first and ask what they could have done to improve the quality of the communication that they are sending.
We all communicate with others at work, at home, with friends, or with colleagues. It is an essential life skill, and as we have already mentioned, crucial to success in customer service.
When we communicate with customers or clients, we expect some form of result:
- We expect the customer to respond in some way
- We may expect them to change their attitude, their behaviour, or their beliefs
- We sometimes expect them to do something – hopefully, this response is a sale.
We assess the impact of our communication (that is, what response they give based on our communication) by listening to and evaluating the response or feedback from the customer. That feedback may be silence which may indicate that they have not heard or are not interested, a smile or a shrug of the shoulders, or a verbal response. In any organisation, the outcomes of effective communication are essential ingredients of a positive organisational image, a positive environment, and satisfied customers.
When we communicate, we draw on several communication methods and forms. When giving information to a client, for example, we combine verbal and non-verbal methods of communication. We talk to the person, and we make gestures. We may enhance our communication by showing an illustration or providing some data, or giving the person a brochure, or perhaps giving a demonstration. So we draw on verbal and non-verbal methods of communication. The verbal methods can be expressed in either written or oral forms, and the non-verbal method can be expressed in ways such as body language, graphic design, use of space, and sound.
Let us now look at some of the major forms of communication that we may use when delivering a service.
Use Effective Communication to Inform Customers about Available Choices for Meeting Their Needs and Assist in the Selection of Preferred Options
Identify limitations in addressing customer needs and seek appropriate assistance from designated individuals
By oral communication, we mean not just talking, but also listening and watching. Communication implies a two-way process, and so, while someone talks, another person listens. Effective listening is an essential quality in attempting to determine a customer’s needs or wants.
Provide an Opportunity for the Customer to Confirm their Request
Confirm customer satisfaction in 2 easy steps:
- State what action will be taken
- Ask a closed question to confirm agreement and understanding.
Question to Clarify and Confirm Customer Needs
You need to use appropriate questioning techniques.
There are 5 main types of questions:
- Open questions: These are used to obtain more information, so you will get a longer answer, containing more detail. They usually begin with question words such as: how, why, when, who, what, where.
- Closed questions: Closed questions usually lead to yes or no answers, or short specific answers from a customer. They are useful for obtaining accurate, detailed information. They are used to direct the customer or conversation. Closed questions don’t encourage elaboration.
- Probing questions: Probing questions are used to discover more details about a customer’s needs. Probing questions are non-threatening but encourage the customer to provide further detail.
- Reflective questions: This type of question prompts your customer to start thinking about the benefits of your product or service. Reflective questioning helps establish the benefits of the product you are offering.
- Clarifying questions: Clarifying questions are used to verify information you have received during the call. They ensure that you and the customer are in agreement. Clarifying information with your customer also demonstrates how clearly you have identified and addressed their needs.
Seek Feedback from the Customer to Confirm Understanding of Needs
Paraphrasing is an effective form of verbal feedback to use when listening. However, it is not merely repetition or ‘parroting,’ but restating another person’s statement in your own words to gain understanding. Use your own words to tell what you think the speaker meant, not what they said. Paraphrasing enables the listener to clarify the speaker’s meaning, and it conveys an interest in what the speaker is saying and helps create a supportive environment for the conversation.
Summarize to Check Understanding of Customer Message
At the end of the discussion, or at certain times during longer discussions, you can summarise what has been said covering the main themes and feelings. This acts as a check for both parties and helps to clarify any further misunderstandings and to keep the discussion on track.
Oral communication is about talking, providing information, sharing ideas, and communicating feelings. If you do this effectively, you can ensure that the information can be put to good use by the organisation in ensuring that the service level is enhanced.
Listening is not merely hearing the words that someone says to you. Listening certainly involves hearing, but it is a far more active process than that. It involves you as the listener participating through:
- Hearing the words
- Attempting to understand the meaning
- Providing feedback
- Seeking clarification.
The listening process also involves giving feedback, both verbally and non-verbally.
An active listener:
- Faces the speaker, where culturally appropriate, and maintains their full attention on what the speaker is saying
- Keeps regular eye contact with the speaker (looking away sometimes so as not to create discomfort by staring)
- Uses silence constructively, waiting until the speaker has gathered their thoughts or explained fully
- Does not continuously interrupt the speaker
- Notes the words used by the speaker and the feelings behind them
- Gives non-verbal cues — nods of encouragement, ‘Mm’ and ‘Uh-huh’
- Follows up with clarifying and expanding questions relevant to what has been said
- Finds a quiet place to communicate your message
- Directly faces the other person and is at their level when they do this
- Uses eye contact to show your interest
- Leans forward to them – this shows they are interested in what the speaker has to say
- Isn’t too casual, as it can show disinterest
- Always maintains interest – does not look away continually or fidget
- Tries to imagine what the other person is saying
- Makes a note of important points in their mind mind
- Nods or makes affirming noises
- Summarizes what has been said
- Is objective and does not cut off the speaker too often
- Avoids having preconceptions about what is being said
- Understands the message from the speaker’s point of view
- Listens to what is being said, not what they think is being said
- Watches the speaker’s body language and does not just listen to the words.
To be an effective listener, you must see the world through another’s eyes, to take the time to think how they are thinking.
It is common for people to now know how to really listen to a given message. People may think they can, but when it comes to the crunch, they often just do not have the right skills. It is easy to let your mind wander or to start doing something entirely different. There are a range of blocks to listening, which we will look at here:
- Rehearsing: Thinking about what you are going to say while the other person is making their point – making it very easy to forget what they are trying to say
- Anticipating: Ignoring what they are actually saying because you are busy trying to imagine what they could say
- Day-dreaming: Thinking about something else related to what they are saying
- Thinking you know what the person is like: Based on the little information you have on them
- Using your experiences to judge the person: Finding a similar event in your life and basing your discussion on this
- Derailing: Butting in and changing the subject
- Interrupting: Listening very briefly and then butting in and interrupting with something that you think will help the discussion.
Some other barriers are presented in the diagram below:
As we said earlier, there are 5 types of questions that can be used depending on the type of information we require or the type of communication process that we want to engage in:
These are exploratory questions designed to give the person answering an opportunity to explain clearly and in detail about something that could be quite complex. ‘How’ and ‘what’ can be useful starting words for open questions.
“Sir, how can I help you today?”
“What do you think of the style of this item?”
“What specific needs do you need this product to address?”
Open questions could also be used to allow people to think out loud about ideas without getting too specific. Using only closed questions will result in a short, specific exchange. Open questions can generate far more information in a more conversational style.
These are questions designed to obtain specific, factual information.
“Do you have a copy of our latest catalogue?”
“What is your budget for this purchase?”
“What brand do you generally prefer to buy?”
These questions are not just about clarifying specific details. Instead, they dig much deeper than the surface. An effective probing question helps to get a person to talk about their personal opinions and feelings and promotes critical thinking.
“What exactly did you mean by ‘XXX’?”
“What, specifically, will you do next week?”
“Could you tell me more about YY?”
Reflective questioning means that you take some information you gathered previously and use it in a question. Reflective questions can work very well because they show that you have been listening and help you to focus on determining the exact needs of your customer.
“As you were talking to your customer earlier and asking questions, he said that he wanted to make sure his new leather jacket was good quality.”
“You mentioned earlier that you wanted a good quality jacket – are you intending to wear it a lot?”
Clarifying Questions are straightforward questions of fact. They clarify the dilemma and provide the nuts and bolts so that the participants can ask good probing questions and provide useful feedback.
“Is this what you said…? “
“What resources were used for the project? “
“Did I hear you say…?”
Speaking and writing is just a part of the entire communication process. There is also the highly important area of non-verbal communication to consider. This area of communication accounts for a considerable amount of the information you are attempting to communicate – some studies have found it could be as high as 80% of all communication that is non-verbal in nature. You may have had experiences where you have been trying to say something, and the words appear to be right – but the other person completely misunderstands what you are saying, and you have to respond with:
“Yes, but that’s not what you really mean.”
The non-verbal messages you are giving just may be completely different from the actual words you are saying. This results in contradictions in the mind of the listener, causing them a lot of confusion about what is really trying to be said.
The relative contribution of several factors to the total impact of a message:
When a message is both verbal and non-verbal, the non-verbal message may have more impact on the receiver than the words themselves.
Non-verbal communication is sometimes called body language. In other words, the way we stand and move, the way we present ourselves, and where we place ourselves when communicating with different people.
Some means of non-verbal communication or body language we all tend to use include:
- Facial expressions
- How we make eye contact
- Our appearance (clothing, hairstyle, make-up, jewellery)
- The way we use space and territory – for example, how close we stand to someone
- The use of gestures
- Our tone of voice.
Effective customer service is all about communication, and in particular about the way that you use questioning and listening skills to get your point across.
To improve customer service:
- Understand what is actually being said, not what you think is being said
- Take the information given and use it to adapt your service offering to meet their needs.
You will find that the process of retaining an existing customer by giving them good levels of service is much more cost-effective than attempting to gain a new customer – which generally requires considerable levels of marketing and advertising to achieve (combined with sales promotions and service when in-store).
Losing a customer has even higher implications for an organisation – unhappy customers are much more likely to tell others of their poor experience, and this may lead to perceptions of your organisation falling quite considerably!
- To deliver service to your customers that meets their expectations – it is important that you can ascertain exactly what their needs are.
- You can identify customer needs by listening actively and asking appropriate questions.
- The needs of your customers should then be assessed for priority, and this should be used to ensure that customers are provided with the maximum amount of information to assist them in making an informed choice.
- Ensure that you are aware of any limitations in your service delivery so that you may use this to improve your skills.