“Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.” ~Mark Twain

horse whispererIn 1995 a novel came out called The Horse Whisperer. Three years later, it was made into a feature film starring Robert Redford. Redford’s character seemed to have a special gift for communicating with horses, thus the moniker.

Since then, a lot of other whisperers have shown up on the scene. I did a Google search for “whisperer”. The results? Number one, a definition for the word “whisperer”. Number two, the horse whisperer. Ok, no surprises so far. But three, four and five? The ghost whisperer, the dog whisperer, and even the chicken whisperer. The chicken whisperer? In fact, I misdirected you a bit. The chicken whisperer came in higher than the dog whisperer. This is what we have come to, my friends.

The Whisper Trend

So where was the customer whisperer in my extensive Google results research? It didn’t show up in the first ten pages and I will admit I got bored with looking after that. We humans have some strange fascinations. We are impressed when someone can relate to a horse or a dog or even a chicken. And yet it is far less likely that someone can relate to a customer with such effectiveness and connection that we would term them a “customer whisperer”.

To make it even stranger, as entrepreneurs we all care desperately about customers and at the same time every one of us is a customer him or herself. Yet we are more likely to have a special understanding of a pet or a barnyard animal than something that we are ourselves.

You Are Not Your Customer

We think we know our customers because we believe we are just like them. But here is a newsflash: your customers are not like you. Hold up, you say. “One of the big perks of being an entrepreneur is I get to choose my market and I choose people like me,” you might insist. But they are not like you in one critical way. If they were actually exactly like you in the areas you find so important they wouldn’t need you, they would be you. It is our proximity of interests masquerading as a precise matching of interests that fakes us out.

This is how you know your customers are not like you in the most important of ways. You are likely not interested in doing business with someone else who delivers the results you offer. You do what you do better than anybody. Why would you go somewhere else? I realize there are exceptions. If you run a restaurant, you might enjoy being served in another restaurant from time to time. But if you run a restaurant and you eat all your meals elsewhere, you need to seriously rethink what business you are in.

Even on your occasional forays out into the restaurant scene, you as a restauranteur are having a very different experience from your typical customer as you analyze the dining room layout and the menu design while awaiting your martini. No, your customer isn’t doing any of that. But you know what they are doing because the pre-restauranteur in you used to do it. Remember that person, or conjure him up out of whole cloth if you have to — because you have to.

You Are Here And Your Customer Is There

It doesn’t take much self-discipline to recognize you are not a chicken and that to think like a chicken you will have to get outside yourself. But when it comes to customers who share a similar (but not the same) set of characteristics with you, it requires some real compartmentalization.

We love to talk about ourselves. Don’t people have to know about us before they will do business with us? Of course. But it is not the first thing they want to know, or the second. In fact, it is the last thing they want to know. Don’t get caught in this trap. When they are ready to learn more about you personally or professionally, they will ask.

Evidence your expertise and your credibility, don’t proclaim it. If you want to be a customer whisperer, you cannot expound about yourself ad nauseum. When I say “yourself”, understand that includes talking about yourself, your company, your products, your services or anything else that can be prefixed with or preceded by “your”. Customers don’t care, at least not yet.

But My Feature Has A Benefit…

We have all grown up enough as business people to know that we can’t just jabber on about features. Now let’s go one step further. Let me take issue with a big fairy tale in the marketing world. Customers don’t care about benefits either. I’ll give your brain a moment to stop saying, “No, no, no…” Customers care about results. If your benefits get results that they care about, they might be interested. If your features create those benefits, it might have a mild effect on them. But why go for the second cousin of their needs? Go straight to the one thing that matters: results. You are not a result, so don’t make it about you.

Let me cite an example. Our present home page uses “you” related words (you, your, etc.) 16 times. Do you know how many times it has “I” related words (I, we, etc.)? Zero. Our home page changes from time to time and I won’t say that an “I” word will never show up there. But I can guarantee it will always be seriously outgunned by “you” words. Why? Because of one vital fact: my customer is not me.

No, my customers are not a bunch of self-serving jerks — they are a bunch of self-serving nice people. Self-interest is not a sin, it’s not even a flaw. We have an obligation to care for this package carrying us around. The sooner we focus on the the self-interest of the other self, our customer, the sooner we will find our whispers being heard.

“Would you like to become a customer whisperer?” click to tweet

Here is a clarity tip, it all boils down to this: start caring about the results your customer cares about. It is incidental that you too might care about similar results or even the same results. Incidental data is irrelevant data. You are not a chicken. But you need to think like one if you want to be a chicken whisperer. Wait, did I say chicken? I meant customer.

Are you a customer whisperer? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Photo credit: rubyblossom

How to Become the Customer Whisperer
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