Few would argue that the past 18 months qualify as tough and uncertain times. The economic fallout from the pandemic has created tough times for many industries. The disruption of global supply chains has impacted business and pricing. Inflation has forced many organizations to increase pricing, creating tough times for sellers.
During these times, some companies and brands flourished while others struggled. Some brands seemed to have business models that were right for the times. Companies like Amazon and Zoom were in the right place at the right time.
Others were not so lucky. Some went out of business. Some barely hung on. Then there are some you would have expected to fail, yet somehow they came out ahead. What did these organizations do differently?
Paul Reilly, the author of the recently released book, Selling Through Tough Times, has a theory. The success comes in asking the right questions. While his focus is on salespeople asking the right questions, I believe it goes far beyond sales. It includes customer support and goes all the way up to C-suite. The key is to understand your customers, what they want, what they need, and what they think, especially during tough times.
And don’t just ask customers. Ask employees as well. The people on the front line, which includes sales and customer support, have direct interaction with customers and can bring their experiences and feedback from customers to leadership.
With that in mind, here are some of Reilly’s favorite questions that will help you achieve more success during tough and uncertain times. I follow the questions with my comments and feedback.
1. What’s missing?
Find out if there is something more the customer needs that you could provide. Maybe you have already offered it, but the customer doesn’t know it. It doesn’t have to be about what you sell. It can be about the process that customers experience. Find out what’s missing that could make the customer experience better.
2. On a scale of one to ten, how is our support during these tough times? What can we do better?
This is a two-part question. Business as usual is a history lesson during tough times. Customers have different needs and concerns. Some will even exhibit different emotions. They will answer this question differently in tough times versus historically normal times.
3. How could we further customize our solution for you?
Customers like a personalized experience. Our customer experience research shows that 75% of customers in the U.S. are more likely to be loyal to a company or brand that delivers a personalized customer experience. If you want to know what customers want in a personalized or customized solution, just ask them.
4. What weaknesses will our competitor find in our solution?
This is a question for the team. I like to ask the question, “Why would a customer choose to do business with a competitor over us?” If we can find a weakness or flaw in what we sell, it’s only a matter of time before a competitor spots it and uses it against us. And, if a competitor is noticing a weakness, it’s likely the customer is noticing as well.
5. If we started from scratch, what would the ideal solution look like?
This question is also for the team. All you have to do is take a look at how businesses have adapted during the last 18 months, and you’ll see how some companies have actually redefined themselves. You may not need to create an entirely different business model, but you can use a What If question to kickstart a creative and innovative conversation.
6. What additional problems or challenges are our customers currently facing that they weren’t facing before?
It doesn’t take a pandemic to create new challenges for customers. Challenges can come from competition, changes in the economy, or just changes in the times. This question can create some great conversations with both team members and colleagues.
7. How can we make it easier to do business with our company?
I saved this one for last. This is a powerful question for both the company and the customer. Customer experience is at the forefront of business strategy. Specifically, the experience proving to be a tiebreaker in business is about being easy and convenient. All things being equal, the easiest company to do business with wins.
These questions will help drive more success for you and your customers. Customers want the companies they do business with to be solid as a rock. They want certainty and stability. Doing this right in the B2C world creates consumer confidence, driving repeat business and loyalty. In the B2B world, you move your relationship from a vendor toward becoming a partner.
Spend time discussing these questions—and more—to help thrive, not just survive in tough and uncertain times.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Shep Hyken’s Forbes page.