Surprise! You’re a Parent (and you didn’t know it): Knowing Your Customers Like a Mother Knows Her Children

One of my favorite books growing up was Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood.  Heckedy Peg is the story of a witch of the same name who lures children from their home while their mother is at the market.  She then turns the children into food to feast upon but is interrupted when the mother comes looking.  Heckedy Peg tells the mother she can have her children back if she can identify them, difficult to do since they’re now food.  The cunning mother, having just bought each child’s favorite thing at the market, knowingly pairs her purchases with the food on the table such as butter with bread and  cheese with crackers.  The children magically turn back into children, Heckedy Peg drowns in the river leaving only her cane, and the family is whole and happy once again.

So what can we in customer service learn from Heckedy Peg?  Know your customers like a mother knows her children.  Just like a child, your customers will never directly tell you what they want but they’ll expect you to know.  So have the good sense to understand that any point of contact with a customer (email, phone, in-person, even a fax) is an opportunity to learn more about them.

Example 1:

I used to work with a customer who had no idea what the internet was.  His son told him to sign up for my company so he did.  He never told me directly “I want to learn what the internet is and what a website is and how this helps me” but this was always the subtext of our conversations.  He would complain “your service is too hard to use” and “I don’t have time for this” but I knew this was his way of saying “Help!  This is a foreign language to me”.  So whenever I talked with him – over the phone or email – I would always include a short tip about the internet or websites in general along with my dulled down instructions.  I would also check in with him regularly and send him articles or book recommendations for further learning.

Example 2:

I also used to work with a customer who was incredible tech savvy.  He was a student, unemployed and young in college, and he would always ask me great questions about the technical aspects of our company as well as send me bugs that he found.  Instead of thinking “this kid is annoying, I’m too busy to give him the time of day” I saw a student who wanted to find some real-world experience.  I encouraged him to send me any bugs or issues he saw on our site (yes this was for my benefit too, free q/a testing!) and I answered his questions in more technical terms and far more in depth than other customers.  I sent him resources where he could learn about the systems we used and I also asked him for his recommendations as to how we could improve our service.  I took an interest in his professional endeavors, asked what he wanted to do after college, and shared what I knew about the tech industry.

Is this going above and beyond for the customer?  Definitely yes.  Can this happen with every customer?  I’ll put my rose-colored glasses on for this one and say yes.  Customers want you to be clairvoyant and they’re extremely disappointed when you’re not.  So get ahead of the game.  Know what each individual customer wants from your company by observing their behavior and listening to what they say and don’t say.  Then, do whatever you can and as much as you can to give them what they want.

Who knows?  Knowing your customers like a mother knows her children might help you save them from being kidnapped and eaten by a one-legged witch… or maybe it’ll just help you keep their business and stop the competition from poaching your customers.  Both scenarios are totally plausible in my mind 🙂