No one knows everything, but sometimes it feels like we’re expected to know the answer to every question a customer asks. It’s not, however, our ability to answer every question that matters as much as our ability to handle every question with grace and aplomb and ultimately provide a complete and accurate answer.

I recently had two experiences which illustrate what I’m talking about. In the first experience, my wife and I were shopping for a new car and we went for a test drive. The sales person appeared to be new in his job and was not able to answer most of our questions about the car. Instead of admitting that he was new and offering to take notes about our questions and get answers when we got back to the dealership, he made up answers. His answers were flat out wrong and we felt disrespected that he thought he could get away with such behavior. We actually liked the car, but as soon as we got back to the dealership we left without giving him our contact information and went to a different dealership to buy a car. It would have been fine if he would have admitted being new and not knowing all the answers. It was not fine that he was dishonest with us. In the second experience, I was in an office supply store to purchase a new printer and, after having had bad experiences with other printers, I was interested in an extended warranty on the printer I was considering. I asked a sales clerk about the terms of the extended warranty and she started speculating about the terms of the warranty. It was obvious that she didn’t have a clue how the warranty worked. She was wasting everyone’s time by blathering on without knowing what she was talking about. It would have been really simple for her to say something like, “You know, I’m not sure of the exact terms of the warranty. Let me get a manager who can answer your question for you.”

Here’s the thing: It’s perfectly okay to not know an answer to a customer question. It’s never okay to be dishonest or mislead a customer. People have gotten really good at detecting dishonesty and have no tolerance for it. Even if we mean well by trying to guess at an answer we’re not sure of, we’re always better off offering to look up an answer or find someone who knows the answer.

At Walt Disney theme parks, when a guest asks a cast member a question, even if that cast member is the person sweeping the sidewalks, he or she will either provide an accurate and complete answer on the spot or they’ll find the answer. I was delighted to learn recently that Disney even expects that of their contractors, even IT staff who might just be walking through a park, as well as their cast members.

It’s really pretty simple. As usual, we must put ourselves in our customer’s position. We certainly don’t want anyone to mislead us. We just want a complete and accurate answer and we’d much rather wait for that than waste our time listening to speculation or dishonest answers. And that’s what our customers want from us.

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