Once a year, I volunteer to strain my vocal chords and serve as the auctioneer at my sons’ school’s fund raising auction. When I was asked to help in this role a few years ago, I knew little about the dynamics of an auction. I figured it was all about talking fast and continually repeating the last bid.
But from personal experience and observing others over time, I’ve come to realize that many basic customer service and sales “best practices” are applicable whether standing in a bank branch or in front of an auction audience.
For instance, it’s important to smile. People like smiles and tend to return them. And smiling customers are easier to talk to.
Humor works. If you can make a person laugh, he or she will be listening to the next thing you say. And research has even shown that being comfortable enough to laugh in a person’s presence suggests an increased level of trust.
The bear-of-a-man, perpetually-smiling gentleman who served as my spotter would periodically remind the audience, “This is a fundraiser, not a garage sale. Dig deep folks!” The more folks laughed, the higher the bids tended to get.
Being serious about our jobs doesn’t mean being solemn in our jobs. Customers are drawn to folks who brighten up their days with a little humor.
Also, people don’t like feeling pressured. One of the worst things an auctioneer can do is lean hard on or “call out” a person who has reached the end of his bid range on an item. Intentionally or not, making a person feel pressured changes the way he’ll respond to you in the future.
In an auction, the person who feels he was overly pressured for a bid tends to bid on fewer things going forward. He doesn’t want to be put in that situation again.
But if you actually thank the unsuccessful bidders (preferably by name) for helping the cause, they almost always bid on more items.
It’s the same dynamic when we talk to customers about considering our products and services. A certain amount of enthusiasm and persuasion is appropriate. But smart salespeople know that being too aggressive not only loses a sale today but the possibility of future sales as well.
I’ve often reminded frontline folks that they have to know when they are at a point that a sale is not going to happen today. All they can do at that point is either give themselves a chance to make that sale in the future or ensure that they never get the chance to speak to that person again.
However, when we sincerely thank people for taking their time to talk with us, even if they don’t “buy” something from us now, we increase the likelihood that they’ll choose to talk to us again in the future.
Through the years, I’ve also noticed that folks tend to be willing to pay higher margins for experiences than for tangible things. If you’re auctioning a barbecue pit that anyone can Google a price for on their iPhones, you’re not likely to get much of a premium on it.
But if the item is an “experience” with or something personalized by (in our case) a favorite teacher, the perceived value of that item is almost always higher than the “hard dollar” cost of it.
We’re working in an increasingly commoditized industry. With all due respect to the good folks who design our products, that is not where true or defendable differentiation happens in our branches. Products, services, features and rates are easily copied.
And like it or not, many of the most important products and services we offer have, over time, been priced at “free.” If we are serious about having customers place a higher value than “free” on these products, it’s going to come from their personal interactions with us.
Providing memorably positive customer experiences is what will or will not justify customers choosing us over the myriad of similar options available to them.
Looking for a short list for your team to start with? Strive to generate smiles from your customers and inject humor into their days. Enthusiastically keep them informed of the services you are able to provide, but always be respectful not to pressure them. And thank folks for their time and their business in a manner that shows you actually appreciate both.
It’s not a long or complicated list. But try to list which businesses you deal with on a regular basis that consistently deliver on those simple actions. (That’s not a very long list either, is it?)
Be one of the few places that would make the list of the next customer you encounter, and your value to that person will be bid up accordingly.
What do you think? Let me know!