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Why Seth Feels That "May I Help You?" Is Useless

As he does often, Seth Godin grabbed my attention yesterday with his post titled, May I Help You?. It’s short, sweet and to the point. So� here it is in� its entirety.

“May I help you?”

… is almost a useless thing to say.

If you want to end a conversation with a teenager, just ask, “How was school today?”

If you want to end a conversation with a customer, just ask if you can help. Instead, ask, “can I get you a hot drink?” or “what’s the worst thing about your insurance company?” or “one slice or two?”

I couldn’t agree more. You see, your clients/customers/patrons don’t often know what they need. They only know something isn’t working – which is why they’re searching for you in the first place.

If you ask them what they need, they’ll likely give you answer. But that answer will be pointed directly into the problem their facing. It’s highly unlikely it will lead them to a solution. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need you.

It’s much more effective to first listen to their story a bit and then ask specific and pointed questions that will help you identify further their need. The best questions can even get them thinking about the solution as though they thought of it themselves.

I find this the most effective method, when it works. Why? It puts the client back in power over their business. And ultimately as a coach or consultant that’s what you want.

How do you engage your clients/customers that unveil the solution?�

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Comments

  1. Florchakh says:

    Answer for question in post title is pretty short – he does it just because talking about ‘useless’ things is more eyepopping than talking about something that has some value to add. Also, it’s easier in fact. 😀

  2. Florchakh,

    True. That’s why I tried to add meaning to his point. I think his is a good one, and I’d love to hear more from him on the topic.

  3. Brett Evans says:

    I ususually go for open end questions that can not be answered in a yes or no format.

    That way they have to think a little before they shut you out.

  4. Brett,

    Absolutely. I usually let my prospects do most of the talking, actually. I think of that initial contact as me interview them even more than they interviewing me.

  5. I’d read Seth’s post also and felt a bit queezy about it. We don’t ask if a prospect comes into our shop “may we help you”, but rather “How can we help you?”.

    A slight different wording, but IMHO a big difference in starting a conversation. Prospect is looking for something, 9 times out of 10 doesn’t know exactly where he/she is looking for – so many choices in wood types, floor types etc. And that’s where we come in, not?

    Karin H. H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  6. Karin H.,

    Yeah…being a big proponent of semantics, I find language is really important. The words we say directly shows how we feel and think.

    Seth’s point is an interesting one. Often, I don’t think the client/customer knows what they need. It’s our job, then, to help them.

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