I've long found Marketing Communications a misnomer. More often than not, it should be called Marketing Monologue... but I get it. It's tough to have a real dialogue with a customer who isn't right in front of you. That's fair. But when you do have them on the phone or right in front of you, are you making the most of it? Are you really getting to the crux of public relations?

"Can I help you?" It's the most commonly used phrase when customers enter your store, check into your hotel, visit your law firm, etc. But beyond the pleasantry, do you really mean it? Are your employees empowered by a culture where they are really there to help—or do they just sell things?

Let's say you sell dresses. A woman walks into your store. "Can I help you?" asks the clerk in a monotonous tone.

"I'm here to buy a dress."

"Great, dresses are in the corner by the dressing room. We just got some new black slimming ones I'm sure you're going to love."

But instead of simply selling the dress, a relationship will be better formed by evaluating the customer's need state. Solve the need before it is stated—or ask enough questions to understand the need. WHY is she buying the dress? WHY does she need the dress?

Your need states will vary by industry or environment. For instance, a customer in an airport bookstore at 7 AM likely has a very different need state than one in a downtown bookshop on a Saturday afternoon.

But taking time to understand customer need states will help you establish not only customer loyalty but increase sales exponentially as well. You will develop customers who come back time and time again, and they will not help but be able to refer you to their friends.

Let's carry out the dress shop analogy to illustrate the point. A typical customer might have one of 6 need states. The quicker your associates can establish that need state, the quicker they can have a meaningful and sales-generating dialogue.

Customer Need States

1. Envy/Pride

Jane has to have the next new thing before anyone else. Why? She wants to be the talk of the PTA meeting or the cocktail party. She feels best when she has things first and wants to be at her most stylish. She is proud of her ability to have it, and yes, wants to be envied a bit. Deep down. Or maybe not so deep down. She needs to feel like an insider.

2. Aspiration

Mary normally shops downscale, but she has stepped into your shop because she aspires to be something else. She wants an evening of glamour and to step out of her life. Now, she finally has a place to wear that great dress. It's her husband's boss's birthday party at the country club. She is a bit nervous as it's out of her comfort zone. Help her feel that she belongs at the club, not just the soccer field.

3. Companionship

Alison just wants to chat. She wants to tell you about the date she had last week with Shane, and how he was really cool, except when he had spinach in his teeth, but, hey, no one's perfect. So now, she's going out with him on Saturday, and, of course, she can't wear the same blue striped maxi-dress she wore last week, and she is thinking a red manicure, what do you think of a red manicure, or should it should be pink? What does red say? Oh, yes, the dress, so what do you think Shane would like. If you listen, and note whether Shane is a hipster, or a banker, you'll be in a better position to style Alison accordingly. And she'll come back for next week's dress.

4. Knowledge

Evelyn may or may not buy the dress that day, but she wants lots of information about the style. Are minis in this year? Strapless or straps? She wants to understand why the dress is on the rack, who designed it, and maybe even where it was made. Keep Evelyn in answers, and she'll feel more comfortable about her purchase.

5. Reassurance

Andrea bought a dress elsewhere last week that fell apart. She's reluctant to spend $525 on a dress that she worries might also tear. She needs reassurance of its quality and in your return or exchange policy. She needs reassurance that you stand behind the products in your store and have her back—or at least the clothes on her back.

6. Belonging

Tammie wants to be part of your community. She wants to be an insider not only with fashion but also with your brand. She has chosen you as her retailer of choice—but don't take that for granted. Remember what you have sold her, and help her expand her wardrobe her accordingly. She wants to know you remember that this dress would look great with the green belt you sold her in the spring.

The more marketers realize that a dress isn't just a dress, and a book might be time passing or self-help, the more loyalty they will engender from their clientele. Understanding need states is the first step to a long and happy dialog and mutually beneficial relationship.

Yes, I said mutual.

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Rachel Honig is Principal at Shankman | Honig, a customer-service strategy firm with a marketing focus. She works with global retailers, technology providers, hospitality brands and nonprofits in identifying the best way to communicate with existing and new clientele.