“How Can I Help You?” Really

By Stacy Cornay for the Times-Call
Publish Date: 10/19/2014

“Thank you for choosing to do business with us. How can I help you?”

I was greeted with those words and a warm smile when I recently ventured into a new business relationship. “Great beginning,” I thought to myself, “we're hitting things off from the get-go.”


As I explained how the salesperson could help me, the salesperson nodded in agreement, then turned the tables on me. What I wanted done could be done, the salesperson confirmed. But it had to be done their way. That was company policy.

The business made it clear that it wasn't interested in my answer to the question the smiling salesperson asked. “How can I help you?” It no longer was about the smiling salesperson helping me. It was about me helping the business make a sale by doing things the way the business wanted things done.

In an instant, the question – “How can I help you?” – rang hollow. The business, it seemed, was more focused on doing things its way than it was on helping the customer. What happened to the customer always being right? Whose wishes prevail when customer policy conflicts with company policy?

“How can I help you?”

Those five little words encompass the philosophy of every business that asks the question. The customer's answer strengthens or damages public perceptions of the business doing the asking. When you ask the question, is your business prepared and positioned to deal with the customer's answer?

Rules and policies are necessary for the efficient conduct of business. They assist both customers and businesses in navigating the sea of commerce. Ideally the rules and policies change to keep pace with changing times. That doesn't always happen.

When was the last time the rules and policies of your business were reviewed? Should some be revised or repealed to better conform with current conditions? Do all the rules and policies really make sense? Is there solid reasoning behind them or were the rules and policies put in place simply to keep doing things as they've always been done? Are some just archaic holdovers from days gone by? Are rules and policies weighted or do they serve the best interests of both buyers and sellers? Are the rules or policies absolute or is there built-in flexibility to accommodate unique circumstances? If push comes to shove, which takes precedence – the policy or the customer?

Doing business isn't easy. The demands are many and growing – everything from coping with an economy still struggling to fully recover to finding ways to stand out from the competition in print, electronic, and social media. New technologies, automation, massive regulations and aggressive competitors challenge all businesses to stay on the cutting edge. To falter is to fail. The strength of the bottom line always is dependent on attracting, retaining and satisfying customers.

Customers really aren't interested in bending their wishes to fit with arbitrary rules. Customers are wary if forced into cookie-cutter molds. Customers want to know that the business listens, that the business understands, that the business will work with them to deliver what the customer wants. Customers are into empathy and performance.

“How can I help you?”

Successful businesses always ask that question with a smile. They listen closely to the answer, anticipating a new opportunity to provide answers or be of service. That's how those businesses built success – by smiling, asking and anticipating.

For the record, no -- the customer is not always right. Every business person knows that.

The successful business people also know that right or wrong, the customer always is the customer.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.