Customer Profile Sheets Work
by Craig Cochran
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Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, profoundly affected me when I read it as a young adult. It made me realize that everyone thinks he or she is the most important person in the world. Isn’t that the way you feel? Your troubles are the most pressing, your triumphs the most tremendous, your challenges the most daunting, your interests the most riveting and your loved ones the most special.
These truths hold for your customers as well. They think the tasks they’re working on are the most critical imaginable. They don’t care what you’re doing or what you’re interested in.
Is this bad? No. It’s just human nature.
I applied some of Carnegie’s concepts when I took my first customer service job nearly 20 years ago. I was determined to take a personal interest in every customer and potential customer. In keeping with Carnegie’s guidelines, I did this with sincerity and avoided sounding premeditated or false in my interest.
In fact, I went so far as to develop a tool to help me focus. I called it the customer profile sheet. This was nothing more than what it sounds like: an up-to-date profile of a customer’s projects, products, interests, hobbies, family details and other salient facts.
Does this sound like intrusive meddling? It shouldn’t. These were issues my customers cared about, and they were happy I cared about them also. I captured the information in a smooth, incremental manner, a little at a time. For instance, you might never learn about a client’s children, but you might discover that the client is an avid fly fisherman. Gather what details you can and revise the information as it changes. Over a period of months, I’d assembled a database of information to prompt me when conversing with the customer.
Before I spoke to a customer, I always pulled up the profile sheet to remind me of whatever was on the customer’s mind the last time we spoke. I’d ask him or her about it--whether it was fly-fishing, Girl Scouts, running or volunteering for charities--and I never failed to create a strong bond. Of course, my interest was genuine. Self-centered or cynical people shouldn’t attempt this human-relations technique until they’ve learned to take an interest in something other than themselves.
The customer profile sheet has more practical benefits. Knowing your customers’ projects, customers, location and organizational philosophies will help you guide them to the correct products and services.
Empathize with your customers’ challenges, and then propose solutions offered by your organization. You’re adding value to the interaction by creating a deeper understanding of your customer’s needs and expectations.
The components of the profile sheet can comprise almost anything. Here are some typical pieces of information that might be included:
Local sports teams
Preferred method of contact (e.g., phone, e-mail, fax)
Recently purchased products
Current projects and/or products
Current challenges and obstacles
Primary customers and applications
Primary contact person
Pets, if any (especially for those without children)
Interests and/or hobbies
The profile can be on hard copy or electronic, but the latter choice offers fast and easy access.
The only caveat to using a customer profile sheet is that you must have had prior contact with the customer, at least with regard to personal information. If a friend or acquaintance asks about daughter Judy, it’s touching and thoughtful. If a stranger asks about Judy, it’s alarming and inappropriate.
Use good sense with this tool. The best application is to make employees responsible for maintaining profiles for their regular customers. Companies should encourage their use.
Craig Cochran is a project manager with Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Institute. He’s an RAB-certified QMS lead auditor and the author of Customer Satisfaction: Tools, Techniques and Formulas for Success and The Continual Improvement Process: From Strategy to the Bottom Line, both available from Paton Press (www.patonpress.com). Cochran is also a member of the Center for International Standards and Quality, which can be reached at (404) 894-0968 or on the Web at www.cisq.gatech.edu.