In the world of sales and customer service, what people say and what they mean are not always the same thing. Take these phrases, for example:

“Maybe in six months.” “I’m just looking.” “I can get it on sale somewhere else.”

Sound familiar? Do you understand what people mean when they use these objections?

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share these red flags, identified by customer service expert Kate Zabriskie. Pay attention when your prospects say these words.

1. When customers say “maybe,” they often mean “no.” Maybe we’ll place an order in six months. “Maybe” may mean never. When you hear that word, keep asking questions. Don’t wait six months and then act surprised when no order is forthcoming. You have your customer or prospect’s attention now and a chance both to clear up some misconceptions and make a sale or at a minimum to understand why he or she is resistant.

  • I understand that you’re on the fence and ordering now isn’t in your plan. Between now and the time when you might order, how will you get ABC done?
  • When you place an order six months from now, tell me a little about how you will use XYZ product in your business.
  • What other solutions have you considered to accomplish ABC?

Any of those follow-up questions will give you some insight into the other person’s needs and decision process. The better you understand people and what motivates them, the more likely you’ll be able to help if there is a fit or to get a straightforward answer if there isn’t. The point is, when you hear “maybe,” investigate.

2. Another phrase that communicates very little—the use of the word “fine.”

For example, “How is everything?”, you ask. “Everything’s fine,” says your prospect.

Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. You can’t know unless you do a little more digging. People will often say “everything is fine” in lieu of “go away” or “totally horrible, but I don’t feel like engaging in conversation about it.”

If you find yourself getting a lot of “everything’s fine,” make subsequent inquiries. If you ask something specific, you’ll learn more. “Which part of the meal was your favorite?” is hard to answer with “fine.” Instead, you’ll most likely discover what your customers liked and what they didn’t.

3. When customers begin a sentence with “why,” they are usually expressing displeasure of some sort. Why is this so expensive? Too often, service and salespeople miss the real meaning behind these kinds of inquiries. “Why is this so expensive” translates to “this costs too much.” You get the idea.

Listen for “why,” and respond with something better than “I don’t know” or “you’ll have to ask my manager.” Although your customers aren’t jumping up and down with steam coming out of their ears or carrying gigantic flags with the word “why” emblazoned across them, somewhere lurking behind the question are people on their way to unhappy.

Whether you’re uncovering the details behind “maybe” and “fine” or recognizing that “why” is often a complaint, better listening can help you build your relationships with people, improve your sales, and enhance the service experience. Take the time to slow down, ask questions, and get to the core of a customer’s message.

Source: Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised.