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Small Biz Book Club: Unmet Wants

Author: Arianna Hermosillo Date: April 11, 2014

What is good customer service: providing emotional fulfillment.

The Business Owner: 

Virginia Lenneville, owner of VJ Books, an online bookseller based in Tualatin, Ore.

The Book: 

How to Win Customers & Keep Them for Life, by Michael LeBoeuf

Why I Read It: 

Back in the 1990s, I worked for a Fortune 200 organization that manufactured microfiche for high-end users. We realized as managers that not only do the customers need to be considered, but also the staff. Then, for the past 17 years, my husband and I have co-owned VJ Books. And [this book] has been our absolute guiding mantra for 20 years. I think that that’s why we’re one of the remaining independent booksellers that are successful.

Biggest Takeaway: 

LeBoeuf wants small business owners to know that although they can’t necessarily provide a product or service for all their customers’ needs, they can work to understand and address customers’ “unmet wants.” Customers could be seeking comfort or validation. Over time, I have realized that customers want flexibility, such as reassurance their order requests are proceeding in a timely manner when dealing with an online company they can’t see.

The same is true for employees. They, too, have unmet wants, such as wanting to have passion for what they do. And managers should fulfill those wants as well. So I treat my employees as customers because I get more from my staff that way.

I don’t necessarily think that I can solve everyone’s problems, but I need to be aware of what the unmet want is and try to address it to the best of my ability. Or really be upfront with them and say, “It’s just not something we can address right now.” And hopefully they’ll come away feeling heard and respected.

Applying Lessons Learned: 

[For example, customers might ask], “Where’s my book?” For the casual observer, that means they want to know where their book is.

But customers can go to their account and see all the information concerning their order. So I had to start thinking through that. Why are they asking these types of questions?

What I have realized over this 20-year period is that what they really want to know is, “Have I made the right decision?” So I will not only answer that initial question, but I also answer what I perceive to be the deeper issue in the communication. That could be something as simple as commenting on the book that they’ve ordered or what I know about the author.

Who Should Read It: 

I think small business owners would obviously benefit from it if they are more employee-driven and customer-driven, as opposed to quarterly report-driven. I think [LeBoeuf] gives some very good examples to help change your approach to the customer and your staff.

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And [this book] has been our absolute guiding mantra for 20 years. I think that that’s why we’re one of the remaining independent booksellers that are successful.

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