Speaking the Language of Your Customers

The kitchen and bath industry isn’t the only business where entry-level customers ask some very basic questions that, to the expert, can seem downright stupid at times.

In the cruise industry a number of simplistic questions always seem to come up once the passenger sets foot aboard the ship. Some of these questions are downright ridiculous. For instance: “What time is the midnight buffet?” “Will I get wet if I go snorkeling?”

“Does the crew sleep on board?” and “Is there water all around the island?”

Now, in spite of some of these ridiculous inquiries, the crew and cruise agents are trained to treat them all as valid questions and not to ridicule, laugh or treat the customers as fools. If a passenger asks, “Do these stairs go up and down?” crew members don’t respond, “Were you born in a cave? If they go below your feet they are going down; if they’re above your head they are going up!”

Instead, a crew member will probably say, “Yes they do. They start on A deck and go up to Lido deck. Can I help you find where you are going?”

Then the passenger tells all their friends after they get back home how nice the crew was. And they recommend the ship to their friends.

The captains on many Carnival ships may talk about the bow or stern over the ship’s P.A. system, but they follow up by saying, “The bow…that’s the pointy end, in case you were wondering.” This draws a mental picture, and it’s easy to remember.

Faking The Point

The truth is, sometimes customers are afraid to ask questions. They don’t want to appear stupid. As a result, they just stand there and nod their head while you’re talking, then they are relieved when they get to escape. There’s no sense in admitting they don’t understand what you were saying. That would make them appear ignorant.

Case in point: I called a company a few weeks ago to repair a dock at a summer place I have. I am not handy. I need help with anything that requires a hammer and saw. A couple of fellows showed up and started talking about how they could repair the dock, but it wouldn’t last through the winter, and they didn’t want to do any work that wouldn’t hold up.

They said I needed to rebuild the dock using “H-beams and rip-rap.” I listened to them use a lot of other jargon and nodded my head intently in all of the right places. After a few minutes, the one said, “You don’t understand anything we’re talking about, do you?” I meekly replied, “No.”

He said, “I could tell. Sit down and let me draw you a picture and explain it to you so you can see it in your brain.” And he did, literally. We sat on my tilted dock, and he explained in simple words and drawings what was wrong, what had to be done and what they were going to do. He told me why spending a few more bucks would save me a lot of money in the long run. Then he said, “Just picture yourself on the deck next summer watching the boats go by, cooking on the grill with one hand and holding a drink with the other. You’ll love it more on a sturdy deck that you can be proud of.”

That I could understand. I believed him. He spoke my language. I told him just to do it. I didn’t even know what the final price was going to be.

Painting a Picture

Now in the kitchen and bath industry, not only do we know everything about the cabinets, countertops, appliances, plumbing fixtures and other products we sell, we know about design, as well. We can expound about everything from the floor up. We know our brands, the competitive makes, and every neighborhood where we’ve done installations.

We know list prices, sale prices, knock-off prices and our competition’s price sheet.

Most customers, however, don’t know all of this. After all, they aren’t in the business. They might have an idea of what they want, but they haven’t much of an idea of what it’s going to look like when finished. These people need to be talked to in easy-to-understand terms, even if you have to draw them a mental picture.

Plans can be hard to read for customers. Even a product on display may look different when it’s finally installed. That’s when you really have to paint a picture in your customer’s mind. You need an arsenal of descriptive phrases and verbal fortification. For example, instead of “We can have a whirlpool go here,” you might say, “Picture yourself after a hard day at work in your own whirlpool bath. We’ll take care of making sure you get the right hot water heater to accommodate it so it’s always the right temperature, and we’ll help you with the fixtures every step of the way. Just think of how great you’re going to feel!”

Or, instead of “You can have a kitchen island in that space if you tighten up the eating area,” you could say, “Just think of how easy it will be to prepare meals for a family on the run with an island that has comfortable stools for everybody.”

The point is, what’s on paper is not necessarily what’s in your customer’s brain. You need to paint a mental picture, as well.

When customers come in who don’t know the first thing they’re looking for, make sure you and your staff are cordial and understanding. Talk in layman’s terms. Don’t make fun if they ask something silly. Answering the “silly” question in simplistic, logical terms may be necessary, even if you have to draw a picture in your customer’s mind.

Remember, the question may be dumb to you, but it’s not dumb to them.

Not everybody shares our knowledge and talent, but we can certainly help them learn. And, sometimes, that can be good for the kitchen and bath industry as a whole – and your business in particular.