One of my favorite things to do is watch failure happen. That doesn’t sound very leader-like, does it? I’m not saying I like to trip toddlers or give team members impossible assignments. But how we handle failure is an immediate barometer of our leadership.
Sometimes, people don’t want to tell us what they need. Maybe they’re embarrassed or afraid. Maybe they simply don’t know. Regardless of their reasons, most people let their needs go unspoken and, consequently, unmet.
As I meet with families at the end of a loved one’s life, there is often more baggage to unpack than our time together will allow. While I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist, I can generally sense when there’s something unresolved that may hinder a healthy grieving journey.
You can sense it, too. When a customer seeks your product or service, you know he or she doesn’t just need a widget or to enjoy your company. They have unspoken needs that drive them to seek you out.
Find these unspoken needs by:
- Building Trust: It takes more than expertise to bring down walls and barriers. Gain trust by genuine dedication to the best interests of your client, advocating for his or her needs, validating his or her feelings, and humanizing yourself. Follow through on your promises, make personal guarantees, and always be honest.
- Using Low-Risk Probes: I often start arrangement conferences with a general question: “What did Mom like to do with y’all when you were kids?” “What were Dad’s hobbies or passions?” “What’s the first memory of Mom that comes to mind?” These are low-risk questions or requests that not only help me get to know Mom or Dad but also can uncover regrets or injuries a family may need to deal with. You can use general, low-risk probing questions to begin conversations or exchanges that uncover unspoken needs.
- Speaking to the Experience: Unless you want your interaction and relationship with your clients to be short-lived, your conversation can’t focus merely on the short-term. By speaking to the broader experience rather than to the time-limited interactions you may have, you are promising the client that you’re in for the long-haul, interested in his or her long-term satisfaction. Additionally, a broader view of the experience will require that you step out of your role as salesperson and pull together the intangibles that make your service successful without necessarily including monetary gain.
- Letting Them Know It’s Ok to…: People sometimes require permission to grieve. I remember the first time I was bold enough to offer someone such permission. A thirty-something woman was seeing her father for the first time after his passing. Stiff-lipped, she refused to let a tear break the brim of her eyelids. In the past, I might simply have stood in the corner, silently waiting for the discomfort to pass. This time, though, I stepped forward, making myself available. “I told him I wouldn’t cry. I told him I’d be strong for the kids,” her voice quaked. “The kids aren’t here now. It’s just you and your Daddy. And it’s OK to cry.” She was waiting for permission, for validation. When a client reveals their needs, sometimes it’s all they need.
- Make Thoughtful Recommendations: Once you’ve uncovered the unspoken needs of your client, be brave enough to put yourself out there by making thoughtful recommendations and suggestions. You’re the expert…right? If you believe it, you should be confident enough to assess the needs of your client and make suggestions. What we’ve tried to do at our funeral firm is go from “Order Takers” to “CARE Takers”. Take your time, name the needs of your client, and act on them.
The last step is the most important; without meeting unspoken needs, uncovering them is useless. But when we meet the unspoken needs of our customers, guests, or clients, a deeper relationship is formed that goes beyond sales metrics. Seeking this kind of impact takes us back to our own unspoken need in the workplace: to connect our products or services with a need in the community and do work that matters.
In the comments: What keeps you from making thoughtful recommendations? Are you afraid to help your clients face their own fears?