Identify Customer’s Needs by Asking “What does a man in the desert need?”

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What does a man in the desert need most?


In my onsite classroom customer service training sessions, I ask my participants to imagine they’ve come across a man stranded in the desert. “What do you think the man in the desert needs most?” I ask. The immediate answer from the entire group is always water.

I then explain to the company I’m training that meeting customer’s needs will get them to “average” customer service at best. To go above and beyond, companies have to do more than meet the most obvious or most essential customer needs.

Going back to the man in the desert analogy, I ask, “What else might the man in the desert need?” In the workshop I delivered last week in Baltimore, here are the responses I got:

  • Food
  • Sunscreen
  • A ride out of the desert
  • A cell phone so he can call his family
  • Sunglasses
  • Shade
  • Someone to talk to
  • A camel

They were absolutely on track. Beyond the obvious water, we can think of several other things a man in the desert might need.

Just the same, when serving customers, we need to not only answer their questions and meet their expressed needs, we need to work proactively to identify and meet unexpressed needs. We can create a more valuable and memorable experience for customers by thinking about what else they might need.

The “Man in the Desert” analogy in action

Recently I had trouble checking my checking account balance online, so I called my bank. I started the conversation with, “I usually look at my account online, but I couldn’t get into my account today. Can you give me my balance and last five transactions?”

The representative on the other end of the phone was polite and quickly gave me the requested information. He gave me the “water.”

Before hanging up, he said, “You mentioned you couldn’t get online to check your account. If you have a second, I can reset your password, and we can test it out right now.”

That was the extra…The food, the camel, the shade, the sunglasses, etc.  I was impressed. So often, representatives are eager to disconnect after giving the water. But this gentleman delivered a great experience by taking the time to identify a need that wasn’t directly expressed…and by meeting that need.

Use this “Man in the Desert” analogy in a short training session with your employees to inspire them to not only meet your customer’s expressed needs but to look for ways to identify and respond to their unexpressed needs.

When your employees use the Man in the Desert approach, they will consistently surprise and delight your customers and ultimately, increase customer loyalty.

Now you can get even more tips for the telephone call flow! Sign up for my free on-demand webinar and learn 4 ways to establish rapport with callers, discover Disney’s “3 o-clock Parade” strategy and see what Gumby can teach you about the telephone customer experience. Watch this 60-minute video now or share it with your employees.