Want To Help Your Customer | Man With Taped Mouth

Want to Help Your Customer? Then Just Shut Up

There are two words of advice that all good salespeople and customer service reps know:

Shut Up

Customer service and sales are remarkably similar in this respect. When confronted with a prospect or a customer who has an issue, reps often immediately start talking, offering assistance and mostly trying to avoid the discomfort of silence. Salespeople do it too — throwing out every thing they know about the product and hoping the shotgun approach will work.

Both the customer service rep and the salesperson innately feel that if they are talking then they must be helping the customer. More often than not, they are making it worse.

Sales Lessons for Customer Service… from The Shark Tank

Since I don’t get to talk about sales much on this blog, let’s use this opportunity to look at an example from the sales world.

Want to Help Your Customer | Shark Tank with Mark CubanOne of my favorite shows on television is Shark Tank, which has small business owners pitching a group of wealthy investors for business funding.

The ideas are for real businesses, and the investors invest their own funds if they like a concept.

I recently saw an episode where a very confident (to be nice about it) gentleman was trying to get Shark funding for a corporate sales training program. In his pitch, he basically presented himself as something just short of the greatest salesperson ever born — a pretty gutsy claim to make in a room full of high powered investors.

The funny part was that after a pitch filled with bravado and very aggressive performance claims, Shark Mark Cuban handed the gentleman a pen and gave him the age old interview role play “sell me this pen.” Now, in our own businesses, we have been using a version of this question forever, so I have a very good idea of what to look for when someone gets the question. (Hint: job applicants read below.)

The main thing I always look for is questions. On the front end, questions should be used to identify what the prospect needs. Before I tell you about my line of pens Mark, let me ask you what qualities are you looking for in a pen?

What do most people do? They immediately start rambling about features. What you’ll like about our pen is that it is stainless steel… If you are lucky, they might stumble onto a benefit: This means your pen won’t corrode. I know you live in a humid climate…

Of course, the people who knock the pen challenge out of the park, first, ask questions, then shut up and listen.

What did the greatest salesperson ever born do? He hardly asked a single question, and in fact, Mark Cuban actually had to push him at the end to ask closing questions.

Instead of using careful questioning and active listening to elicit what his prospect wanted, the gentleman kept talking in the hopes that something he said would eventually address the prospect’s need.

This rarely works — either in sales or customer service.

Talking Is Not Solving

Want To Help Your Customer | Man With Taped MouthThere is an old expression in sales: telling is not selling. Well, in customer service, talking is not solving. When a customer shares a problem with you, you have two choices: act on the information or probe for clarification. Sometimes the problem is simple enough that further clarification isn’t needed, but for most situations asking questions is the best way to start. It’s the difference between:

I’m so sorry that you feel the cashier was rude to you. That cashier is one of our best… blah, blah, blah.


I’m so sorry that you feel the cashier was rude to you. Can you tell me a little bit about what happened so I can help assist you with this?

In the first scenario, we have started down the path of listing every reason or excuse in our playbook and hoping one of them sticks, instead of clarifying what it is the client feels or wants. Sure, we know they were aggrieved in some way by the cashier, but we have not delved into what that really means to them.

In the second scenario, we have given them a chance to be heard. We have shown that we care about what they feel — half the battle — and we are gaining valuable information on how to really address their needs in the process.

We’ll discuss some specific techniques on what to ask and how to listen in a future post, but far greater than any specific technique is remembering the most fundamental concept of all when trying to help a customer:

Shut Up

If you let the customer do most of the talking, the few words you do use will have more effectiveness and will resonate with the customer far more.

Feel the need to talk right now? Our comment section is a great place for that!  🙂


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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