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Speak Their Language. Not Yours.


Recently a customer calls a car rental company to make a change to their reservation. For this based-on-true-events story the name of the company has been changed to “Rides”. When the customer service agent picks up the phone, they ask the customer for their Rides Membership number to look up the reservation. The customer does not have the membership number on them and does not have the number memorized. Next, the agent searches the reservation using the customer’s full name. That doesn’t work so the agent uses a home address. No reservation. Then the agent searches using an email address and finally a driver’s license number. Nothing comes across the screen. A frustrated customer and a surprised service agent, who can’t believe the customer doesn’t carry their Rides membership number with them wherever they go, are in a pickle.

Though the story does not end here, it’s easy to guess the final tone of the car rental exchange. An inconvenienced customer and a committed customer service agent were on two very different pages. Rides is a big company that has built an entire system around their membership number, which has little to no value to their customer, outside of using it for Rides. When a customer has a negative experience with a product or service like with Rides, they’re likely to move on from that business. In fact, 79% of customers would take their business to a competitor within one week of a poor buying experience. This is something to think about when meeting customer needs.

More than it being about membership details or company policy, this story is about companies speaking their customer’s language.

What that Means

Communication between businesses and customers is and always will be key in any successful business venture. It allows businesses to find out what language their customers are speaking, meaning who they are and what they need. The tips below will help in avoiding situations similar to the Rides story by creating services and products that work for the customer, not the other way around.

  • Begin an inviting, open-ended dialogue between business and customer, which will help you gauge if your service or product is needed and what the best way of delivering will be. A big part of that practice is finding out where your customer is coming from, what they’re looking and how your product or service may help them.
  • Find out who your customers are and adjust your product or service to that. Once you’ve opened a dialogue, use online surveys, social media interactions and research to collect customer feedback while also finding out more about the type of people your customers are.
  • Establish a relationship with your customer by effectively using the results of your research, surveys and digital interactions. Meld your business plan and customer needs together to optimize your success and their satisfaction.
  • Show customers you’ve heard what they want and need. By adjusting your service or product to the customer feedback it proves your understanding of who they are and what they need. Ultimately, the customer will see how you’ve taken both their accolades and criticism and restructured your business plan to provide the most useful and easy product or service for them.

The next customer complaint, suggestion or compliment that is received should be used as a way to gauge how effective your product or service is. Adjusting to customer feedback lets customers know your business values their insight and involvement in making your product or service the best it can be.