Cooking with Customers: Multiply the Value of Your Service by Teaching.

We’ve all heard this phrase before: “Knowledge is power.” But what makes it so powerful? In the context of a customer interaction, you’re providing some service to a customer, you’re not there to teach them. But let’s consider a parallel situation in which a parent is making dinner for their children (if you don’t have kids, I’m sure you can relate to being hungry while waiting for mom or dad to make dinner). The one thing that’s in all parenting books about teaching children to appreciate a home-cooked meal is to get them involved in the cooking process. Have them help prepare the vegetables, supervise the saute, measure out seasonings together, and so on. These are basic tasks but the net effect is that 1) the meal becomes more valuable to your kids if they have a hand in creating it, and 2) they’re less likely to complain when it doesn’t meet their expectations of what the ideal dinner should be, namely pizza and chicken nuggets.

A mother bird feeds breakfast to a bunch of baby birds.

They grow up so fast. (Image Source)

Teaching isn’t part of your job description, but it should be. Knowledge transfer adds value to your service and enhances the experience for the customer, along with a slew of other helpful benefits. As you go about giving that haircut or massage, explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You already have the expertise, sharing it takes only effort and by doing so you’re adding value.

First, let’s debunk a myth

It’s a myth that most customers just want to be left alone. Customers are interested in what you’re doing because they have a stake in the outcome. They want their haircut to turn out great, they want the back massage to work out all the knots, they want the repair to go off without a hitch. By explaining your process, you position yourself as an expert to be trusted, inspiring confidence in the customer that they can expect a good outcome. This also grants you more flexibility to make changes or alterations with the customer’s endorsement, because they’ll trust that you know what you’re doing.

It’s a team effort

The foundation for most relationships is built on a common goal. You spend time with friends to have fun together, you get in a relationship to start a family, you partner with colleagues to work on a project. However transactions between you and your customer start out, by default, to be oppositional rather than cooperative.

Oppositional dynamic (default):

Two cats fighting, the black cat lands a hit on the orange tabby.

Customer Concerns – Unfair prices, poor service, failure to deliver on expectations.
Provider Concerns – Combative customers, bad reviews, unrealistic expectations.

When new customers enter a transaction, they’re guarded against potentially unfair prices and poor service. Likewise, service providers are guarded against combative customers and unrealistic expectations. But when you turn a transaction into a learning experience, you assign a common goal that both customer and service provider are working towards. Like the child at the elbow of a parent, both are invested in creating a delicious meal.

Cooperative dynamic (with teaching):

Two cats grooming each other.

Customer behavior change – Actively communicates desires, forgives mistakes, has more empathy.
Provider behavior change – Better understands customer desires, more open to customer input, more confident giving advice.

The mode of cooperation changes how both customer and service provider meet challenges or unexpected problems. Whereas in an oppositional dynamic, customers will blame the service provider when something goes wrong, in a cooperative dynamic, customers will have greater understanding and empathy, and are more likely to forgive mistakes with the service. A good example of this is how doctors with great bedside manner are far less likely to be sued, even if they statistically deliver the same quality of care as doctors who are more likely to be sued. As it turns out, cooperative care counts for creating a memorable customer experience, and it also counts for bad experiences too.

The mood equalizer

In a perfect world, you would have total control over your customers’ moods, and you’d always jack that dial up to maximum contentedness. In reality, people walk in the door with their own emotional baggage and that means sometimes there’s no way to please a ticked-off customer. But the good news is that knowledge transfer is another item in your toolbox to influence customer moods. Generally speaking, your customers enter into a transaction with one of four emotional outlooks:

  • I’m here to relax (e.g. massage, haircut, waxing, etc.)
  • I’m here to fix an urgent problem (e.g. broken water heater, flat tire, etc.)
  • I’m here to learn something new (e.g. business consultation, singing lessons)
  • I’m here to have fun (e.g. skydiving, go-karting)

And each of these feeds a baseline of anxiety about whether or not they’re going to get what they want. Learning and logic has a tendency to usurp the more emotionally-driven side of our brains. Think about the cold logic of Mr. Spock from Star Trek–you’re trying to tap that part of your customer’s brain as a means to deactivate the cortisol-producing stress centers. This is how knowledge transfer helps iron out the emotional wrinkles:

  • I’m here to relax – teaching and learning has a calming effect (henceforth the “Bob Ross Effect”)
  • I’m here to fix an urgent problem – explanation provides reassurance that the expert knows what they’re doing and you’re going to have a positive outcome, and fuels confidence in the transaction and the business.
  • I’m here to learn something new – Great! That’s what we’re here to do.
  • I’m here to have fun – We’ll make sure you have the training to stay safe.

Great explanations

Expertise is your renewable resource. It doesn’t cost your business anything to start teaching your customers and it amplifies the value of your service. It’s important to weave this concept into your company culture, and encourage the use of teaching among your staff members. Everyone on your team will have their own teaching style, but the following techniques will make them more effective and deliver a better experience for the customer:

  1. Don’t get lost in the details, also explain the big picture. Most times it’s difficult for a non-expert to visualize what the final outcome looks like. That’s why you should explain how what you’re doing in each phase or step will contribute to the final goal. This will not only reassure the customer, but also grant them the opportunity to give input and course-correct when necessary.
  2. Use visual aids for visual learners (i.e. most of us). I’m surprised how often a stylist or technician will try to communicate a complex idea using only hand gestures and clumsy descriptions. A simple, laminated booklet of diagrams or swatches will help people learn faster, and empower customers to be able to communicate their wants with a comparable level of expertise as the service provider.
  3. Remember that you’re educating smart people. This should go without saying, you never want to talk down to a customer. The easiest way to prevent this is to remember, and encourage staff to remember, that they’re teaching people who are just as smart as they are.

Knowledge is a feedback loop

We’ll close with one final point: knowledge transfer is all about equipping your customers with some know-how, as in the classic “give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish” parable. But it does one more thing on top of this: it teaches your customers to respect the need for the appointment in the first place.

Hair stylists, for example, should be teaching customers how to maintain and style their hair at home, while also explaining the need to come back for regular trims. Likewise car mechanics should be explaining why checking your oil levels is important, and setting up the need to come back for regular oil changes every 6 months. The effect of teaching compounds over time, and increases the customer’s lifetime worth to your business. In other words, put more value in and you’ll get even more value out.


-The Setmore Team

Can you recall a great learning experience you had, either as a provider or a customer? Let us know in a comment below!

by Cassandra @ Setmore

Writer, editor and scheduling product expert at Setmore Appointments.

young lady smiling

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