Customer Lessons Learned at the Poker Table

By Jennifer Maul
March 4, 2012

A peer recently asked me, what are the top traits needed in a customer executive. My top ones are: establishing rapport, learning from mistakes, good listening, and sound decision making. These skills are requisite in any role designed to serve customers. By using these skills effectively, you demonstrate to customers that you understand their issues, and when coupled with excellent follow-up, you have the winning combination to expertly serve. So how does one hone these skills? Well, I play poker.

The corollaries between being a good poker player and a good customer service executive (and I would argue a good business person) are many. I am not the only one that has made this connection; Harvard has as well (check out the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society website).

PokerFirst, playing live poker puts you in situations with people of very different personalities. Every time I sit at a poker table, there will be business people, professional poker players, gamblers, and newbies to the game. They are from all walks of life, and good poker players learn about their fellow players by observing them – in conversation and in how they play the game. In poker, I figure out quickly who the best players are, and I react differently towards them than I would other players. It is uncannily like a customer meeting – a table full of people with varying personalities from all walks of life, and in that setting you use poker-like skills to connect with people, observe them, and determine where you need to focus.

Second, playing poker teaches you to take a good walloping. Hopefully, we all learn to be good winners and even better losers in childhood, but you need to practice this skill, and there is no better place to do so than in competitive situations, like at a poker table. When dealing with customers, I am not always going to be successful. Every meeting will not go perfectly. We will not win every new deal. At a poker table, odds dictate that you will lose on occasion, and losing a pot, especially a big one, is a swift kick in the gut. Good poker players do not let it faze them – they take the hit with a smile and immediately try to replay the hand in their minds to see what they can learn from it. The very best executives in charge of customers do the same thing – learn from mistakes made with customers and make sure it never happens again.

Finally, poker is about making excellent decisions. You must fold big hands like pockets Aces if you know you are behind. You have to know when to check, to bet, and how much. Each hand is different – there is not a formula. There is not a hard and fast formula with customers either. They are different and have varying needs and issues. You best serve them through approaches designed just for them, and that can only be done through good listening and sound decision making.

– Jennifer Maul


    Jennifer Maul

    Jennifer holds Bachelor of Science degrees, magna cum laude, in Business Management and Management Information Systems from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter: @jmaul_svp