Are You From Here? (Issue 1100)

In which we are reminded to clarify the intent behind client and prospect questions.

In the Swiss Alps, there’s a cogwheel train that runs from Lauterbrunnen up to Wengen, about 1600 feet higher. Wengen is “car-free” (also, possibly, care-free, we’ll cover that another time). From Lauterbrunnen and all points, the cogwheel train is the only access point to Wengen. In the winter, Wengen is a ski town. In the summer, hiking, tennis, and other summer resort activities and the 9:30 am July train was packed with people shepherding bags, backpacks, and filled-to-bursting suitcases eager to start those activities.

During the 15-minute ride up the mountain, the views from the train are breathtaking and a mere downpayment on what’s visible from Wengen and Mannlichen, the mountain behind it. From happy faces, lots of pointing and “ooh, look at this” and “ooh, look at that” in English, German, French, and languages I didn’t recognize.

When the train stopped in Wengen, we travelers in the second train car shuffled toward the open door to the station. We passed a man, still seated, accompanied by his (I’m guessing) spouse and child, surrounded by three large suitcases. Looking directly at me with “I’m not sure what to do now” distress, he blurted, “Are you from here?”

With a gentle, apologetic smile, I replied, “No, sorry,” shuffled past him, and stepped down to the station platform.

I walked away from the train in silence for about 30 seconds.

“That wasn’t what he was asking,” observed my travel buddy.

“Yes?”, I replied.

“He wanted something else: Was this the right stop or where’s his hotel or something. He assumed he needed local knowledge.”

“So, I could have asked… what was he really needing?”

“Right… You could have asked.”

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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