Thomas Bandt

Empathy

About the importance of understanding and speaking the language of your customers.

Published on Wednesday, 25 December 2019

A couple of days ago, I went to a wine store with my significant other to get some last-minute Christmas presents for our families. To be honest: We don't care much about wine and mostly buy, if at all, random bottles from the supermarket around the corner, often chosen by the design of their label…

So we went into the store and waited until one of the salespersons approached us. I told him about our intention and our background, hoping for a quick transaction. But I could see the irritation in his eyes, and what followed was a bit awkward for all of us.

He led us to a tasting counter and started to tell what seemed to be a story of a thousand and one nights to me. What wine people typically do: Who was producing the wine, where, how, why. The typical marketing story.

When finally asked to taste what he recommended, I didn't even know how to do it without looking like a complete idiot, but I played along. Luckily, another customer got the attention of the salesperson, so he left us alone and went into another corner of the store. We stood there for another minute or two until we decided to leave.

I went straight to another store in our neighborhood, repeated my story, and went out with all I ever wanted after five minutes.

And the moral of this story…

Throughout my career, I attended a lot of meetings where tech people had to discuss with or even pitch to business people. This kind of encounter often is a sad play. Because almost always, at least one side is not able to map their own domain language into words that are easily understood by the other side.

I, therefore, always found it invaluable to work with people who can read people and adopt their own language and even "sales strategy" to the situation. Often I refer to the metaphor of building a bridge here. A bridge between two mostly distinct worlds that helps to overcome communication problems.

I can't say for sure if the salesperson in that first wine store was a one-trick pony who only knew how to talk to "wine connoisseurs." Or if he did not care to sell to people who do not fall into that category. But from reading his facial expression, I was under the impression that he was overwhelmed and unable to cope. What led to an awkward situation where neither of us felt comfortable. And eventually to the loss of good revenue which could have been easy money...

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