Strategy & Leadership

Think Like a Chess Master to Stay Ahead of Your Customers

In the past, I’ve written about proactive customer service and how it raises the perceived value of what you offer. The example I always like to use is when a server in a restaurant notices that a guest’s water glass is half-full and refills it before the guest has to ask for more. Being proactive makes customers feel like you’re really paying attention and are focused on their needs.

I recently discovered a phrase that takes things a step further: anticipatory customer service. It’s a step above proactive customer service, but there’s a gray area between the two.

Proactive Service Isn’t Enough

Being proactive means noticing something and responding to it, such as refilling a glass of water that’s half-full. Anticipatory customer service, meanwhile, is about being one step ahead. It’s intuitive. It’s not just noticing something, but predicting something. For example, you call a customer and he responds by saying, “I was just getting ready to call you.” You were one step ahead.

When I was a teenager, I had a thriving birthday party magic show business. My dad used to tell me that I always had to be at least 20 minutes early for the party. Why? He said the parents would start looking at their watches 10 to 15 minutes before the party was about to start, and if I wasn’t there, they would start to worry I wouldn’t show up at all. It didn’t matter that I knew I would be on time.

Channel Your Inner Chess Master

Anticipating your customer’s needs is like a game of chess. The best players don’t just think of the next move they have to make; they visualize what the next four or five moves will be and anticipate how their opponent will react to each move. Similarly, you should always try to be at least one or two moves ahead of your customers.

Anticipatory customer service is about being in tune with your customer, getting them what they need before they ask for it — or even before they know to ask for it. It shows that you are customer-focused and strive to deliver an amazing customer experience.

This article first appeared on Shep Hyken’s Customer Service Blog and was written by Shep Hyken. You can read the full version here.

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