“We need to educate our customers”

A mindset that could put you on a slippery slope

I met with a business owner recently who declared, “I know what we need to do to improve customer service here. We need to educate our customers!” He went on to say, “Our customers call us all the time with stupid questions. We answer their questions and then they call back a month later with the same stupid questions. If our front-line staff would just take the time to educate them, maybe they’d [go away].”

Be careful what you wish for because, yes, with a mindset and approach like that, they might just “go away” … for good.

The right way to educate
Gallup PollAccording to Gallup, there are four levels of customer expectation that – when acted upon carefully and thoughtfully – might just be powerful enough to turn prospects into advocates. And if meeting those expectations can convert people who might just be thinking about using your business into “fans,” then imagine what it might do for your existing customers and clients.

In ascending order of importance, they are: 1) Accuracy; 2) Availability; 3) Partnership; 4) Advice/Learning. There are only four levels, so each is important. However providing advice/learning is the highest level of customer expectation. In other words, when strategically administered, providing advice and/or learning opportunities for your prospects and clients can pay great dividends.

PNI logoEver notice how home improvement stores offer free classes on everything from gardening to tile grouting? Or how some smart restaurants offer wine pairing and/or cooking classes? Payroll Network, a local professional services firm in Rockville, Md., offers a knowledge center for its customers, prospects, partners and vendors. Up to three times a week, experts are brought in to present a (complimentary) session for the first 25 people who register.

The benefits of such practices are clear – not only do you establish your company as a reliable source for information in your field, whether it’s ceramic tile or Chardonnay, you bring existing and potential patrons into your business. If you do it right, they go out and tell their friends and neighbors what a great time they had at the event and how much they learned. Not only do they become advocates, they’re also likely to become repeat customers – and to bring new prospects in with them.

Defining “Educate”
While it makes good business sense to provide advice and learning opportunities, I certainly don’t recommend subscribing to a culture of “educating” customers if the intention is ill placed. If you catch yourself or one of your staff bemoaning the need to educate customers, I urge you to take a closer look at your corporate culture. Try to figure out why that attitude prevails, what it says about your company’s philosophy toward its clients – and whether it’s time to make some changes.

Engineering a customer-centric culture means doing the things that are best, right, easy, thoughtful and efficient for your customers; not necessarily for you. Staging such events can be risky – they cut into budget and personnel time that could be spent on other pursuits. However, if you develop a best practice that happens to make everyone’s lives easier – customers and staff alike – the payoff can be well worth it. What’s been your experience with this?