Stacy Allison – First American woman to climb Mt. Everest

Building Relationships

It is the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But in today’s globally diverse workplace, is it a rule you can live by? Perhaps not. Time and time again I am told that the most successful sales people are the ones who build solid relationships with their customers, clients, and co-workers. It is a foundation built on that age-old adage, but with a twist: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

In other words, they respect, honor, and even hone differences in others. It works in business. It works in sales. It even works when you are climbing mountains – a lesson I learned 15 years ago.

Our team had just landed at the airport in Katmandu, and we were eager to get our 460 boxes of food and equipment out of customs so we could begin our journey to climb Mt. Everest. In fact, we were so eager that we did not bother knocking on the customs agent’s door. We burst through.

The agent greeted us. “Namaste.”

We responded, “Namaste,” and added, ” We would like to get our gear.”

He asked us to sit down, but we just looked at one another. It was a 17-hour flight to Katmandu and the last thing we wanted was to sit again. “No thank you. We would like to get our gear, please.”

“You must come back this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.,” he said. “Your paperwork is not ready.”

We turned and left, knowing we had many other things to do before we could begin our expedition. But, again at 2:30 p.m. we burst through the custom agent’s door.

“Namaste,” he said. “Please sit.” This time we did, and were surprised when he ordered tea. Tea? How could he not understand that we had more important things to do than to sit and drink tea? “No thank you. Could we please get our gear?”

“Your paperwork still is not ready. You must come back tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.,” he said.

We left. And again, in we came and out we went – a pattern we followed for seven days. It was then that we realized we were doing something wrong.

We did not take the time to discover what was expected of us. How many times have you gotten so caught up in your busyness of business that you forgot to sit down and drink tea? And consequently, misunderstood what your customer wanted?

In these economic times, it’s even more important to drink tea with your customers. You need to take time to learn what they need, expect, want, and respond appropriately.

Usually a customer will tell you what they need. Occasionally, they don’t know. That is when you have to be prepared to step in with an arsenal of probing questions and the right answers in hand.

Customers want and expect solutions to their problems, fast delivery, quality products, competitive pricing, personal assistance, and most of all a true sense of caring a commitment on your part.

Some aspects of customer service are easily measurable – how quickly was the product shipped? How does the pricing compare to a competitor? However, personal assistance and caring and commitment are more intangible. Only the customer can measure your success in those areas, each of which has a different personality and list of wants and needs.

Therefore, it behooves us to take the time to learn what is important to our customers and how they want to be treated. Step back. Listen, hear, and observe. Mirror their communication style. If your customer is cheerful and wants to small talk before getting down to business, do the same. If your customer walks in the door and wants to get right to business, do the same.

Match their pace of conversation. If they act concerned, show empathy. It is your job to make the customer feel comfortable – take care of their needs. If you do not do this, your customers will become indifferent. And an indifferent customer is not a loyal customer.

We all have different beliefs, values, goals, and needs that require different solutions. We can build solid relationships with our customers by understanding them on their terms – not ours. As I have learned, the only way to listen and really hear what people need is by taking the time to sit down and drink tea.

Unfortunately, it took us 11 days of negotiating and a $2,000 gift for us to learn this valuable lesson. Always do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

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