How well do you anticipate your customers’ needs?

One of the hallmarks of a great customer service rep is someone who knows his/her customers so well, s/he can understand what the customer may need, often before the customer does. This is not an easily taught skill. I learned some of what it took from various jobs.

Decades ago, I was an administrative assistant for a great boss. I loved working for him and did everything I could to make his life easy. After working together for six months, he said to me:

“We’re like a surgical team. I’m the surgeon and you are a great surgical nurse. You anticipate my needs and have the instruments ready before I ask for them. Here in the office, you always have everything I need before I have to ask you for it. If someone cancels an appointment, you immediately reschedule. I always have all the files I need for my appointments for the day. You ask if I want you to do something I haven’t even thought I needed yet.”

When I hear of superb customer service providers, I often hear stories of how they anticipate their customers needs so are prepared, sometimes before the customer even knows s/he will need something. They think of the customer often before the customer calls or comes in.

One summer during college, I was the sole clerk in a small donut shop. The goods were delivered from another shop run by the owner, but other than bringing 30 dozen donuts each morning, I never saw him. Although I read and embroidered my way through each day, I relished when customers came in, as it relieved my boredom.

Soon I was recognizing customers and noticed what they ordered. The majority ordered the same donuts and coffee each morning. So I began to have their donuts bagged when they walked through the door, asking, “Would you like your regular order, or something different today?” Nearly all of them smiled and said, “The same, please.” I’d pour their coffee, handing them their bag as they smiled and paid. Soon they started bringing in friends; I figured it was to show off to their pals that they were important enough for this gal to remember their order.

And if I suggested an add on — to take a dozen to the job site, office or home — they’d be more receptive, as long as I didn’t do it every day, and made sure to say I’d include some of their favorites.

I took glee in knowing it made them feel special by my not only remembering what they usually wanted, but to already have it ready. I made it a game to see how many regulars’ orders I’d have ready when they arrived.

Learning what your regular customers want isn’t all that difficult nowadays. Many companies have databases that track their orders and with a few keystrokes you can easily search their last few orders to see their patterns. Then when you suggest an add-on or additional quantity based on their buying trends, you’re really stepping into the role of consultant.

But what if you can’t access their previous purchases — they’re new or your business doesn’t provide that info? You can always make suggestions based on what others who’ve made the same purchase have bought. does this with great success. You can, too. My sister was a supermarket butcher, and after helping someone pick the right steak, she’d say, “Do you have steak sauce for that?” Or “The Jack Daniels marinade is fabulous.” Or simply, “I love twice-baked potatoes with that.” She was simply suggesting an item that would enhance the customers’ purchase experience.

The key is to pay attention to what your customers are buying, and if possible, why. Then be assertive is asking questions to uncover if what you have in mind would be appropriate. Then make the suggestion. If they say no, oh well. If they say yes, you’ve better served a customer and made another sale. It’s a win/win all around.


1 thought on “How well do you anticipate your customers’ needs?”

  1. Two great lessons here. The anticipation of your customers’ needs allows you to deliver “proactive service,” which is giving the customers what they want before they even ask for it – or even know they want it. The other lessons is the customer service add-on. It is a disservice to not offer the customer something that will enhance their experience. This isn’t an up-sell, it’s an upgrade!

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