A Tale of Two Computers: making customer service simple

On Friday morning, I opened my 6-year-old MacBook computer, clicked on the browser icon, and waited for it to open. But instead of opening, the icon just bounced in place. Thinking maybe it was the app and not the computer, I tried opening another. Same thing. I turned the computer off and on. Nothing.  I even ran the disk utility. Still nothing. Eventually, something worked (still not sure what) and it started functioning normally. But I knew the end was near.  It was time to buy a new computer.

So, Friday afternoon I headed over to Store A. I was a bit nervous about doing this purchase in German, but the sales associate spoke really good English – I was impressed.

I told him that I needed a Mac with a lot more space as the old one was nearly full – only 7GB left on a 121GB hard drive. He showed me a model he thought would be good for my needs and proceeded to tell me all about it. That’s when he lost me.

Numbers. Acronyms. The size of this and the speed of that. SSD, retina displays, security chips, and something about the core processor. I literally had no idea what he was talking about.

Then I asked him how much it cost and I nearly fell over. It was way over my budget – a budget I thought was very realistic. Since I didn’t understand anything about the product he wanted to sell me – and I couldn’t afford it anyway – I thanked him and left the store.

As I was making my way home, I passed Store B and thought I’d stop in – just in case. What a different experience that was! Instead of showing me all the whizz-bang features of the computer, the first thing Sales Associate B did was ask me what I needed my Mac to do. Then he asked a few follow-up questions. Then he recapped what I had told him. It was communication perfection. The conversation went something like this:

So, what do you do on your Mac? Tell me about a normal day.
I use MS Office. I make short videos for online courses. I also have a website. I have a lot of online meetings – that kind of thing. And photos. I’m a keen photographer.

What type of software do you use for the videos – iMovie or professional software? 
Only iMovie. Nothing big or fancy.

What do you do for a living? 
I teach Business English.

Great. Do you play video games? 
Oh, no. Nothing like that.

So, what you’re saying is that you use your computer only for regular business things. But no games and no high-end graphics. 
Correct.

Let’s breakdown why this conversation was so perfect within the context of customer service.

First, he established what my needs were before recommending anything. In my mind, it showed me that he was more interested in helping me than making a quick sale. This established trust. Then, he summarized our conversation. Recapping a conversation not only demonstrates active listening, but it also helps avoid errors because of miscommunication, especially if you are speaking in a language not your own.

The computer that Sales Associate B recommended was €400 under budget. I was thrilled! (The computer the first guy showed me had technology and space I didn’t actually need.)

Speak my language

As Sales Associate B explained the features of the model he was recommending, he did so in a language I could understand. He told me how the new solid-state hard drive was faster and less likely to break than the old type of hard drive. He then pulled up a picture of both to show me the difference. He explained how the new processors made the computer more efficient and showed how the new displays make the pictures clearer.

It’s really important to note here that Associate B’s English was not as good as the guy in the first store I visited. In fact, Sales Associate B’s English was intermediate (B1) at best. But he was the one I could understand because he spoke MY language – the language of a business owner, not a technician.

I was in Store B for a total of 20 minutes and I left a very happy customer. I know that if I need any type of technology in the future, I will go back to that store. I will also recommend that store to my friends and colleagues.

Why?  Because the associate there made a very complex purchase simple.

And he did that because he had excellent communication skills. Not perfect English skills. But great communication skills. And this is what people want. It is what they need. And it is what will help businesses thrive in the face of competition.

What are your biggest communications challenges? Leave a comment, message me, or send an email to laura@marshallsayenglish.com. I’d love to hear from you.


My name is Laura Marshallsay, and I help professionals improve their English so they can present themselves to the world with confidence. Check out my website, www.marshallsayenglish.com, and download my free guide “Top Tips for Conference Calls.”