Welcome Guest Blogger: Steve Yastrow – The Encounter Habit


 I really enjoyed this from Steve Yastrow and received his permission to share it with you.  Eliot


The Encounter Habit

Comment on this newsletter at yastrow.com

Each day, relationship-building encounters are the most important product you produce.

Yes, this is true. Why?

First, because “We” relationships are the true differentiators in today’s business world. Differentiating your products and services is very difficult these days, because customers see ours as a “land of plenty,” where one product can be substituted by another.

Second, because most of us can impact our relationships much more readily on a day-to-day basis than we can impact our products. If you are a salesperson, you will have a much easier time today making your customer happy by building your relationship with him than you could by improving your product’s specifications. If you are a real estate broker, it’s much easier to build a relationship with a client than to change the prices of available properties. Even if you are a doctor, it’s easier to impact your patient relationships today than it is to improve the efficacy of the latest drug treatments. You can make a better relationship easier than you can make a better product.

We relationships are built one encounter at a time. Each time you come in contact with a customer, you have the opportunity to improve– or degrade– your relationship. This is something you can affect every day, at every moment, you are engaging with a customer. You do it by constantly monitoring how well you are integrating the three elements of a relationship-building encounter into your interaction:

  • Are you and your customer both fully engaged in the moment?
  • Are you creating conversation, a true dialogue and not an exchange of monologues?
  • Are you creating a fresh, unique moment, an unscripted interaction between two unique people?

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about this minute-by-minute encounter management and self-awareness. I realized that this theme was woven in three blog posts I published over the last few days, each covering one of the three elements of an encounter:

  • I wrote this post, Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional, about how we have the power to shut out distractions and remain engaged in the moment, no matter what is tugging at our attention.
  • This post, The Conversationometer, focused on the importance of monitoring the quality of dialogue during a customer interaction.
  • Be Irreplaceable was published on tompeters.com, and generated some interesting comments from the Tom Peters community. This post focused on bringing your personal uniqueness into a customer encounter.

The Yastrow Conversationometer: From monologue to dialogue
Download the full-size Conversationometer(Adobe PDF)

When I teach people these principles of relationship-building encounters, they rarely resist the concept and, in fact, are able to give me clear examples from their own business lives of when they did, or did not, create relationship-building encounters. But… people admit to struggling with creating encounters on a regular basis.

Why? Why don’t we create encounters all the time, if we know how to do it, and we know it is important?

When we don’t create encounters and slip into relationship-eroding transactions, it’s usually because we are not alert to the fact that we’re missing one or more elements of the encounter:

  • We lose our attention to the moment, or don’t realize that our customer has become unengaged.
  • We monologue and don’t catch ourselves.
  • We miss what makes the other person unique, and they infer we don’t understand them, or we use prefab scripts in a way that makes ourselves seem generic and stiff.

Like so many important parts of life, creating relationship-building customer encounters takes practice. Practice leads to habit. Habit leads to progress. Progress leads to strong relationships. Strong relationships lead to business success.

So how do we create the encounter habit?

Pay attention, at all times during a customer interaction, to the state of your encounter.

  • Are we both present, at this very moment, in the interaction?
    • If you become distracted, notice it, and focus in on details of the interaction you are in, to bring yourself back into the moment with your customer.
    • If your customer’s engagement starts to wane, notice it and bring her back in.
      (For more ideas on how to engage yourself in the moment, and how to invite your customer into the moment, see pages 47 – 69 in my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship, or pages 10 – 14 in my free ebook, Encounters)
  • Are we, at this very moment, engaged in true, genuine dialogue?
    • Use The Conversationometer, described in the blog post and the graphic above. The Conversationometer requires no batteries, no electrical current, and you can never misplace it. All you need to do to use The Conversationometer is to be aware, at all moments in a conversation, of how things are going, and then act on what you notice.
      (For more ideas on how use conversation in customer encounters, see pages 73 – 88 in my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship)
  • Are we, at this very moment, creating a unique, authentic moment between two unique, authentic people?
    • Am I noticing, and honoring, the “spices” that define what makes my customer and his situation unique?
    • Am I being irreplaceable in the way I engage; interacting in a way that could not be duplicated by someone else, even if they were providing the same service I am providing?
    • Does the moment itself seem fresh and unique, and not as if it was scripted and “pulled from inventory?”

One very important idea for this moment-by-moment attention to customer encounters is to recognize that you can always improve a customer interaction, at any point, no matter how well or how poorly it is going. If the encounter is in full-swing, use that as a chance to take it to an even higher level. On the other hand, if your interaction has degraded into transaction-land, don’t give up. No matter how far down a customer interaction has slipped, you can use the 3 encounter elements– engagement in the moment, conversation and uniqueness– to help bring it back on track.

As with any habit, the encounter habit takes practice. Use every encounter as a chance to improve. Remember, if you get 1% better at creating relationship-building encounters every day, you’ll be twice as good in 72 days. (Relationship habits grow at a compound rate just like cash!)

I’m speaking from experience here. I started researching and writing We four years ago today, on June 15, 2005. As I listened to hundreds of people tell me about their relationships, I saw this theme of encounters, and of the 3 encounter elements, emerge. It fascinated me, and I began to practice. I have a long way to go, but now, when I inadvertently end up with a transaction instead of an encounter, I can always look back and see exactly where things went awry. This puts me into a position to improve. Immediately.

So look at every customer interaction as a practice in improving your ability to create encounters. Not only will the immediate encounter be better, your future encounters will be better, leading to better relationships and better business success. As they say in yoga, “practice makes practice.” Develop the encounter habit, and you will find yourself, every day, in richer, more productive, more rewarding customer encounters.

Steve Yastrow
Join the conversation! Comment at yastrow.com
P 847 686 0400

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