Article Category: Speaker Habits

Do You Provide Great Customer Service to Your Audience?

Customer Service - Public Speaking AudienceWhen you deliver a message to your audience, you are providing customer service.

Do you provide good service, or bad service? More importantly, does it matter?

Customer Service at Home Depot

Recently, I visited Home Depot to purchase a table saw. I found one in my price range that seemed to have the features I desired.

  • I asked the salesman (“Salesman A”)to answer a few questions. He told me that he couldn’t leave his station. (The saw was about 30 feet away from his station.)
  • I asked the salesman for the saw specifications. He told me to go home and look it up on the manufacturer website.
  • When I returned (hey, it was a good price!), I asked him to have the saw brought out to me. He told me that I’d have to wait for the forklift operator to get one down. I waited ninety minutes. The forklift never arrived.
  • When I threatened to leave unless I received better service, he blamed “Atlanta” (head office) for short-staffing. I walked out.

Customer Service at Southridge Building Supplies

Contrast this with my experience at the local tool store, a store that I initially didn’t expect to even carry table saws because they were so small.

  • I didn’t see any table saws I liked out front. The salesman (“Salesman B”) left his “station” and walked to the warehouse with me.
  • The saw was (as before) up on the top shelf. The salesman ran (yes… ran!) into the back lot and yelled for the forklift operator, who then appeared 20 seconds later.
  • Since this was not the same model as the big box store, I asked about the specifications again. He didn’t know… but for the next 45 minutes, he did Internet searches, looked through about about 50 product binders, and rifled through filing cabinets to find the answer. [Eventually, he gave up. But, I appreciated the effort.]
  • He didn’t blame anyone. Instead, he told me that he would call the product distributor on Monday to get the answers for me.

Eventually, I got a much better product at a much better price (the Delta model, pictured above). Because of the great customer service, I’ve returned to buy kerosene, deck screws, and sandpaper, and will continue to give my business to them.

Can these lessons be applied to public speaking?

What is Customer Service for Speakers?

Three ways to compete with competitors in any industry are to offer the lowest price, highest quality, or best service. It’s difficult to accomplish all three simultaneously.

These concepts have parallels in public speaking too:

  • Price
    Your speaking fee, and also the “opportunity cost” your audience pays to listen to you. (i.e. if they weren’t listening to you for an hour, what else could they be doing?)
  • Quality
    The intrisic value of your message, because this is the only thing your audience takes away with them. How much will their lives or their businesses improve as a result of applying that message?
  • Service
    How easy are you making it for them to receive your message?

Let’s focus on this third element — customer service — and ask some questions.

The level of customer service you provide distinguishes you from other speakers.

1. Do you provide necessary background information?

A poor speaker:

  • assumes that their audience has the background knowledge
  • expects them to look it up themselves after (Salesman A)

A good speaker:

  • performs audience analysis to determine what the audience doesn’t know
  • devotes the necessary time to bridge that gap early in the presentation. (Salesman B)

2. Are you willing to meet your audience half way?

A poor speaker:

  • will not customize content, slides, or delivery for a given audience
  • will put the message out there with facts and figures, but it will be inaccessible to the audience just like the table saw on the top shelf was inaccessible to me without a forklift

A good speaker:

  • uses language that is familiar to the audience
  • chooses examples that will be understood
  • adopts a delivery style that is comfortable to the audience/event
  • employs metaphors, analogies, or other devices to make the message understandable

3. Are you flexible, both with the audience and with the event host?

A poor speaker:

  • refuses to go beyond what it says in the contract (like Salesman A who would not leave his station)
  • insists on using their full planned time (e.g. 60 minutes), even if the event is behind schedule
  • ignores questions that arise during a presentation

A good speaker:

  • adapts to the situation
  • understand that compromises are necessary; (e.g. “okay, I’ll only speak for 40 minutes, and deliver extra material via email to audience members”)
  • allows questions (within reason) during the presentation

4. Do you accept responsibility when things go wrong?

A poor speaker:

  • blames outside factors (e.g. traffic, the airline)
  • blames the audience (e.g. “if you had paid more attention earlier, you’d know this”)
  • blames the event organizer (like Salesman A who blamed Head Office in Atlanta)

A good speaker:

  • considers what can possibly go wrong, and is prepared when it happens
  • arrives early to allow time to implement alternate plans when necessary
  • absorbs responsibility for the problem, rather than passing the negativity on to the audience

Why does it matter?

Event planners and audiences have a choice when they book speakers or listen to speakers. In many situations, there are dozens of speakers who can deliver the same message. The level of customer service you provide distinguishes you from other speakers. Often, it determines whether you get called to speak to the same audience again.

What level of service do you provide?

How else can a speaker provide great customer service? Share your ideas in the comments.

For inspiration, you might like to consider these 10 stories of customer service and think about the parallels for public speaking.

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Add a Comment

Comments icon4 Comments

  1. Vivek Singh says:

    Very interesting way of looking at presentations. What you have written applies to every presentation.

    But presenters should remember one thing. By giving good service to the audience, they are not doing anything great or any favor. It is the presenter who stands to gain most by delivering the right kind of service.

  2. nick morgan says:

    This is a great article; it makes an important point. The paid speaking industry is a very ‘small’ industry and word travels fast. We have seen over and over again that speakers who provide good customer service get repeat and word-of-mouth business, while divas and prima donnas do not.

  3. Perfect analogy, Andrew. At least Home Depot is consistent. You won’t get good service at any of their stores.

  4. Hi
    Your website is fantastic – seen from a Danish perspective. I enjoy the advice you give, easy to read, relevant and interesting.
    So thumbs up from Denmark.
    Povl Henningsen

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