Four Little Words That Can Reveal a Lot: “Why do you ask?”

A recent experience I had, contrasted with a similar experience my husband had a few years ago, made me consider how easy it can be to not only gather key marketing research intelligence from customers but also to improve the service experience, generate positive word-of-mouth and, ultimately, increase sales.

My husband and I were at a restaurant for lunch in a resort area on our way back home from a conference. I ordered a glass of wine and it was served in an attractive glass with what I considered to be a nice logo/design incorporating the restaurant’s name. I said: “Let’s stop in the gift shop to see if they sell these.” We did. They didn’t. Slightly disappointing, but no big deal except that the young lady at the gift shop counter who I asked about the glass had to literally tear herself away from a conversation with a coworker (also behind the counter) to deal with me and, when I asked my question she rolled her eyes, frowned and said simply: “no!” Okay, sorry I asked…

Contrast that to a similar situation at a restaurant for dinner one evening where my husband had a martini that he really liked and, like my wine in the previous example, it was served in a very nice glass with the logo of the restaurant. When the server stopped by on one of his many trips to check on us, my husband asked: “Do you have a gift shop here?” The response: “No, I’m sorry we don’t.” But, then he went on: “Why do you ask?”

My husband responded that he’d really enjoyed the meal, really liked the glass and would like to buy one. The server than said: “Oh! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed dining with us. Let me go get you a clean glass that you can take with you to remember the experience.” (No charge–although we would have gladly purchased the glass!)

A striking difference! And, important to marketers in any setting for a couple of reasons:

  • Does it ever pay to treat customers in a condescending, “why are you bothering me?” manner? No. While you can’t always be there to observe how your employees are interacting with customers, you can establish both specific expectations and methods to gather feedback on their performance.
  • Whenever a customer asks about purchasing something that you do not currently sell, that’s a good source of marketing research. Now, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to respond to every request that you receive by adding a new product or service but, if you don’t take the time to learn more about what they’re asking–and why they’re asking it–you may be missing out on great customer intelligence.
  • Good service matters. Exceptional service matters even more and creates loyal customers who “spread the word” through positive word-of-mouth which leads to new customers and new opportunities to satisfy–or delight them!

The server at the second restaurant would have satisfied us whether or not he had asked: “Why do you ask?” But by asking that simple question he gathered some important intelligence that allowed him to:

  • Better serve our needs.
  • Gain some insights into new products or services that other customers might be interested in.

Surveys and other forms of formal research are great. But whenever you have the opportunity to gather intelligence from customers face-to-face, in real time, make sure you’re doing so! Train yourself and your staff to respond to customer inquiries with those four simple words: “Why do you ask?” You might be surprised by what you learn!

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