How to find customer’s wants, needs, and desires

July 1, 2014

The second step of the retail selling process is the interview. During the interview, the optician attempts to learn the customer’s unique set of needs, wants, and desires. Notice I did not say just needs or wants. Both of these are important and strong motives to buy, but desire is even more important. In fact, without being able to increase desire to purchase a product, an optician will have a great deal of difficulty establishing value in the product(s) being offered.

In the introductory article to this series, we discussed that there are seven parts to a retail sale. If an optician uses all seven parts and does them skillfully, the likelihood that the customer will purchase increases dramatically. The reverse is also true.

The second step of the retail selling process is the interview. During the interview, the optician attempts to learn the customer’s unique set of needs, wants, and desires. Notice I did not say just needs or wants. Both of these are important and strong motives to buy, but desire is even more important. In fact, without being able to increase desire to purchase a product, an optician will have a great deal of difficulty establishing value in the product(s) being offered. 

Assessing the customer

There are a few techniques that help an optician determine what a customer’s needs, wants, and desires are. Assessing is the process of critically observing a customer. Some assessment clues are:

How the customer is dressed. What a customer wears can provide a good deal of insight into what she is looking for. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, handbag, hairstyle, makeup, and current eyewear are all clues to what the customer may be looking for. It also can provide some idea of how important fashion trends and looking good are to the customer.

How the customer speaks. What the customer says, how he says it, and the words he chooses to use are all clues to the customer’s education level, socio-economic group, and desire for status. These in turn can be clues to what the customer views as desirable. 

Physical attitude. Is the customer focused and engaged in the discussion or is he disengaged, distant, fidgeting, or tense?

When training sales people, I often ask them to assess customers as they sit in the waiting room. The opticians guess as many of the customer’s attributes they can come up with. When serving that customer, we see how close the assessment was. Questions I ask often are:

• Is looking fashionable very important, somewhat important, or not important to this customer?

• Is this customer seeking luxury brands, designer brands, or not interested in branded products?

• Is the customer a member of the upper class, middle class, or lower class?

• Is the customer single or married?

• Does she have children?

• Does he have a college education?

• Does she have a white collar or blue-collar job?

• What kind of car does he drive?

• Does she own a house or rent?

Asking the right questions

When an expressed need or want is matched with an appropriate product, the likelihood the customer will purchase goes up. The goal then is to get the customer to express his or her needs, wants, and desires.

The optician begins the interview by using what her or she surmised during the assessment. Armed with that information the optician begins to ask a series of probing questions. What questions should be asked? One optician I know asks the same basic set of questions to every customer. She then follows up with a set of unique questions based on her assessment or the customer’s responses. I tend to use a more freewheeling approach. I do however ask every customer, “What do you like most about your current glasses? What do you like least?” I also ask, “What have you seen that has caught your attention?” 

Whatever questions you choose to ask, they need to be open-ended. They must always encourage the customer to explain something in detail. Questions must get the customer to explain how, when, where and why he or she uses their eyes and eyewear each day.  In fact, you could start each question with one of those key words. “How often do you…? How many hours a day do you…? When did you begin to notice that…? Why are you looking for…? How important is looking fashionable to you? What brand of progressive lenses are you wearing now?”

I always ask questions about wardrobe and color preferences. “Do you always wear your hair that way? What color do you look best/worst in? What types of clothes do you prefer to wear-business, casual, or sporty? How would you describe the shape of your face?” I find that getting the customer focused on her appearance and how it might be enhanced takes the focus off of price. In fact, it is unusual for customers to ask me how much the frames cost.

The interview continues until the optician feels she has a command of what the customer needs, wants, and desires. Only then can she begin to recommend products. Making recommendations before this point could result in losing the customer’s interest simply because the product offered is not specifically what the customer is looking for. Remember, you are looking to increase a customer’s desire for the product(s) you recommend. The desire will be highest for the product the customer has in mind, that is, what the customer sees as the most valuable.

Bill Borover was an ophthalmic consultant who some readers might remember. One of Bill’s favorite expressions was, “Practice does not make perfect. Practice only makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Bill’s axiom applies to learning to conduct an interview that finds out what a customer is looking for. It is much easier to get the customer to open up if and when the optician has done a good job of opening the sale.   

I can tell you that most of the interviews I observe are woefully incomplete. The optician generally asks one or two questions and then quickly will move on to demonstrating products. It seems easier to “let the products do the talking,” so to speak, than to ask a lot of questions. The merchandise approach to selling, however, is an error because it is too random. What works better is to use what you learn from the interview to recommend products.ODT