A Quick Question?

No, take your time, for best results.

I was once told that there is nothing more attractive than someone who is attracted to you. I think there is probably some truth in that and, in fact, anyone showing interest in you, or in your opinion, is quite compelling too. We all want to be valued and so we find it difficult not to respond when someone asks us for help, or for our opinion, where our specific and independent judgement is valued. This common need is a point of vulnerability for us all in the sales process.

Requests for help do need to be genuine though, as we are all pretty adept at spotting this now familiar sales engagement ploy. “Have you got time for a quick question?” asked by someone with a clipboard on the High Street just signals that they want to sell you something  and we also know that, because of the context, it is going to be a quick and crude sales process. The same applies with phone calls asking to update your directory database, or similar requests, as we know that it is just a preliminary to a sales proposition too.

Big business integrates and automates feedback requests into its customer processes these days to the extent that I wonder what, if any, useful data comes out of it. I don’t want to fill out an online pop-up survey, or spend time on the phone, just to be yet another anonymous data point in some routine and often meaningless market research. As far as “customer engagement” goes this sort of technology isn’t very engaging but it seems to be growing exponentially. In fact, I came across an article recently about “2014’s seven key technology indicators for successful customer engagement” which were: smart agent desktops; big data integration; extending beyond the contact centre; customer service apps; viral IVR technology; putting web capture to work; and simplifying complexity with web chat technology.  Oh dear.

I think we are all missing something here. In the same way that is it ineffective for a leader to say that something is “very important to me” without putting any time in her diary to prove it, it is fairly useless to try and seek meaningful customer engagement using a piece of software.

This all became clearer to me recently when I had a request from a business I am a real fan of The Harbour Gallery Portscatho. To date, I am more of an observer of this business than a customer, but I think that may change soon, as it not only has some of the best modern seascape art I’ve seen but I like how it is run. I am a bit of a best practice nerd and always on the look out for businesses doing things well. Anyway, I was asked if I liked the new zoom facility on its website to help see more detail on the paintings. Mark, the owner, said he wasn’t going to add it unless his target audience thought it was worth doing so it was a credible question and it was nice of him to ask. The dialogue that Mark has developed with his target market is well judged, a gentle drip feed of communication that has not been too much of a hard sell, so I actually read what he sends me.

The other event that happened recently that made me realise the power of a well judged question was on the Warwick Business School discussion group on LinkedIn. One of the group members said he was having difficulty now that he was working from home. It seems that his wife expected him to do more of the housework now he was no longer commuting and he didn’t understand why she couldn’t see that he was actually working. He simply asked for help. I’m not going back to count just how many responses he had, to a multi-party conversation that went on for some days, but it was a little phenomenon in terms of discussion group behaviour. Several people answered the apparently genuine request with words of wisdom from their personal experience, including me.

Both events made me think about just how great customer engagement works and I have the following conclusions: it needs to appear to be a genuine question, not a ploy to get you into some sort of buying discussion; it should be personal and pander to our self esteem; and there should be no time pressure, or, better still, no pressure at all for a response.

To genuinely engage with your target audience, you need to: establish a dialogue about a real issue, not a made-up one; make it personal; and take your time. This is something that small businesses are much better equipped to do than big ones, so why not leave the technological solutions to them and think how you might develop this natural competitive advantage over you bigger competitors?


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One Response to A Quick Question?

  1. Nici Stanford December 13, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    HI Mark
    As usual enjoyed your blog. All makes great sense! I loved that gallery too – in fact fell in love with something in the window and meant to get back to buy it and never did. Love the whole village.
    Hope all well with you. Have a great christmas

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